Day 9: Dreaming of Better Space by @johntspencer #12DOD

@mr_brett_clark 3 Comments

Editor's note: My heart is heavy as we start the last week of the 12 Days of Dreaming. As we move forward with our dreams, there are 20 children who will never see their dreams fulfilled and countless people effected by this great tragedy. As we move forward this week, I hope we will all love a little more, reach a little further, and dream a little longer. This world will never be perfect but I refuse to think that we can't make it better. Take time today and hug a child, thank a teacher, encourage a parent, and remind somebody that they matter. 

Dream on my friends. 

“Ditch the Astrodome”

I remember watching baseball games in the 1980’s. I couldn’t tell if the Giants were playing in Pittsburgh, Cincinatti or Philadelphia. Every stadium was the same – a giant, donut-shaped behemoth meant for concerts, baseball games and football games. It was a one-size-fits-all mindset that ignored the nuances of the game.

Perhaps the worst of these stadiums was the Astrodome. Built in the sixties as a futuristic prototype of stadiums, it featured the world’s largest Jumbotron in the outfield and the trendiest yellow, orange and blue colors throughout. However, when the light blinded players, they painted the tiles and brought in Astroturf. The l turf injured players. The fans had horrible sightlines. The stadium grew into a modernistic relic.

So, it has me thinking about our donut-shaped behemoth schools systems. Some say we should crush them and build new places with iPads and Chromebooks and STEM centers. Think outside the box. Go futuristic.

I wonder, though, if we are simply setting ourselves up for a new Astrodome. See, I don't want to think outside the box. I don't want to demolish school altogether and start out with something new. I want to repurpose the box. I want to redesign schools so that they fit the purpose of learning.

My favorite ballparks are the ones designed with the baseball experience in mind. AT&T Park in San Francisco and Camden Yards in Baltimore come to mind. They are both high-tech without featuring tech as the driving force. There is an aesthetic and a purpose to the places that respects both the current context and the vintage past.

So, my dream for education is a little more like AT&T Park. Here’s what I mean:
  1. Respect the vintage while also thinking about the future: We need to recover nuance, paradox and a reconnection to the land. Some of the best ideas are vintage. Reformers need to be mindful that relevance is not the same as novelty.
  2. Open up the spaces: I’m struck by how open the best ball parks tend to be. Fenway and Wrigley fit this concept well. Why not open up the schools a little more? Create gardens. Allow for windows that open. Don’t tear down all walls, but maybe create some half-walls.
  3. Reconnect with the community: The newer ballparks open up to the community. They don’t feel as gated and guarded. You can see the beach or the skyline of the local community. What if schools were more open? What if they fit the identity of the community? What if we had more mentors, guest speakers and community experts?
  4. Be intentional: My favorite stadiums are built, not as stadiums, but as ball parks. They are designed for the game. We need to rethink the purpose of education and design schools that fit the purpose of learning. I would love to see more integration between subjects, more projects, more problem-solving and more critical thinking. I’d like to see fewer tests, packets and homework.
  5. Embrace creativity: The best ballparks have creative dimensions. Whether it’s the Green Monster or the ivy-covered fences or the home run porch, there is something creative to the place that fits the identity. I would love to see schools thinking creatively about space, curriculum and instruction. 
John Spencer is a sixth grade ELL teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. Over his nine years of teaching, his students have been involved in documentaries, murals and community service. He has also worked in doing professional development and coaching in technology integration. He blogs at edrethink and writes a column for Kappan Magazine. 


  1. Love the post, John. What strikes me most is the idea that we need to re-design our spaces with the experience in mind. If we begin with a bad experience in mind, we create bad spaces. Part of re-designing the space, then, is having a clear picture of the experience, the learner, the work to be done. That's the kind of dreaming I'm excited to do. Cheers!

  2. Brilliant post. Space defines experience. Full stop.

    Thank you for helping us with that great analogy (which most of us Canadians can't personally experience, but certainly relate to).

  3. John,

    First of all, thank you for being a part of this project and always being willing to listen as I bounce ideas off of you. You put together such a clear vision for "repurposing the box" that I think so many people could get behind and support.

    I love that you not only talk about the physical structure of the building but that you mention the people of the community. A school is much more than a building with a flag in front of it.

    Thank you for reminding me that a school is just as much of an idea as it is a place.

    Dream on,