Why inspiring teachers are not enough to ensure academic success

While few dispute the crucial role teachers play in a child’s education, many underestimate the extent to which a school’s environment can affect academic success.

When a classroom fails to meet a student’s basic needs, students must expend time and energy addressing these shortcomings, valuable time and energy that could have been spent on their studies. This has been known for a long time; some would say it is simply common sense. But a growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that a school’s environment affects learning more profoundly than previously realized.

In 2004, the researcher Glen Earthman found that temperature, air quality and lighting all had a significant impact on a student’s academic achievement. Unsurprisingly, researchers also discovered, teachers weren’t immune to the negative effects of poor school facilities either, and were far more likely to seek employment elsewhere if building conditions were poor, meaning students in schools with substandard facilities were also likely to suffer from the detrimental effects of high teacher turnover.

A working paper published last March by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools added weight to these arguments. It said that students who learn in positive environments effectively receive a month and a half more instruction than those in poor learning environments. What’s more, it added, positive learning environments can lower teacher turnover by 25%, meaning students develop more constructive relationships with their teachers.

Investment in modern school facilities is, therefore, crucial. The International School of Paris, an English-speaking school that teaches students both the widely acclaimed International Baccalaureate Diploma and the Advanced Placement Diploma, is a good example of a school that understands this.

After sitting down with parents and students to learn more about what they thought constituted a positive learning environment, the school, in conjunction with a leading architecture firm, set about designing a new campus in line with its core educational philosophies.

Dubbed ‘the 21st Century campus’, the collection of new buildings, while not entirely finished, live up to their futuristic name. Not only are they home to state-of-the-art equipment, they were built with the students’ needs in mind. Classrooms are well-lit and spacious enough to encourage collaborative learning, and, in a nod to the respected Montessori method of teaching, designed according to the developmental and instructional needs of the students.

Such developments should be actively encouraged within schools, as should the promotion of extracurricular activities that encourage complex problem solving, creativity and critical thinking, skills that, according to the World Economic Forum, will become the most sought after in workplaces in 2020.

Ultimately, as the greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”.

For schools to get the best of their students, they must make sure students feel safe and secure, and are taught in classrooms that inspire them to reach their full potential, by teachers that accord equal importance to academic and non-academic subjects. All aspects of a child’s development must be taken into account. Halfway measures won’t cut it.

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