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School Environments Matter

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Dear Educators,

I worked as a secondary school Art teacher for 11 years. And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the school experience centres around the clock.

You are performing within a time slot, usually 40 minutes, and how you use that time is a very personal thing. There are so many variables at play, the subject you teach, the time of day, what students are in attendance and what students are not, the time of year, the weather, etc.

The one constant, on entering a school, whether as a principal, a teacher or a student, is the building. And how that building makes you feel, matters.

Think about it.

Environment Impacts Mood | Mood Impacts Performance

Staff and students spend up to 30% of their day in school.

Schools can be stressful environments. Days are filled with challenges. Teachers have a responsibility to deliver a curriculum and manage student behaviour, with forever limited time and resources. Decor may be at the bottom of a very long list of priorities but, what if it wasn’t?

When I think of my experience of learning environments, my greatest memories are based in primary school. Primary school had a touch of magic about it. Even when my mind wandered from what the teacher was saying, I still remember the visuals on the wall.

Giant clocks with movable dials, words and lists written in bright colours, nature corners, reading corners, even sleeping bags for 'reading hour'. As a creative little girl, this was an environment I could blossom in.

I remember the copy books that were lined at the bottom and blank at the top. There was a blank space for a drawing to go with every story. I truly believe if I had that ‘blank space’ to welcome my creativity during the secondary school learning process, I would have remembered historical facts a lot easier.

One thing is for sure, my relationship between words and imagery began in those blank spaces. It worked for me and so I nurtured and fostered that relationship and it has become part of who I am.

School, Re-imagined.

The importance of the school environment as a teacher became apparent to me when I was given an old, converted, metalwork room. It was big, it was empty and it was now our art room.

On one particular open night, I had some work displayed and as the parents were having a walk around, a visitor from Dulux walked in. His name was Eamonn Oglesby and he became a very important part of Greenhills College.

Eamonn walked around the room and then introduced himself to me. He casually asked ‘Would you use some paint if I was to give it to the school?’ It was like music to my ears. My Answer, was YES.

Sure enough, the cans of paint arrived and ‘it’, the ‘what I do’, began.

The classroom slowly became like an Aladdin's cave of creativity (an untidy one) . All the walls were painted white as the backdrop, which by the way is so important in an Art room. I then hung every piece of student artwork I could fit.

The students and I painted old desks lots of different colours, we hung 3D work from the ceilings, any old piece of wood that was put out for the skip was grabbed and reimagined as a group-work desk.

Teachers and students began experiencing and expressing an emotional response to the now transformed room. Their relationship to the space changed. They never said, ‘I like that orange desk, or that yellow storage unit, it was always ‘I love the feel of this room’ or ‘I love spending time in here’.

As it was teenage boys I was working with, they were not likely to say,

‘O miss, I love that shade of blue’, but they let me know in their own way that the transformations mattered to them.

We became proud of our space. We enjoyed spending time there. It mattered.

Environment, matters.

Word began spreading throughout the school. The corridors and doors were painted. The staff room was transformed overnight by a group of teachers. We were amazed at how quickly we could make an impact.

It was often remarked on by visitors and then other teachers started painting their classrooms. I remember overhearing a particular student, who was not known for his enthusiasm might I add, remarking:

‘What have we got now?’

‘Maths’, came the reply.

‘Oh. Actually, I don’t hate doing maths as much in that room since it was painted, it’s not as depressing.’

‘Really? What do you think makes the difference?’

‘I think it’s because there’s a colour behind the teacher, it keeps my attention.’

As far as I was concerned, that was high praise coming from this student!

So, why am I telling you all this?

Because I’ve hung up my teachers hat and set up a new and exciting business venture.

Meet ‘Julie the Genie

Yep, that’s me and I’m on a mission to re-imagine, design and transform school environments throughout Ireland! I have the experience to know how schools work. I also have the skills, the passion and the imagination, to know how schools work, BEST. I create dynamic, customised designs to suit your school ethos and your budget.

We can’t always control what happens in our students lives but we can make school a more inspiring place to learn. After all, “Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitude and expectations” - Earl Nightingale To find out more about how your school could benefit, contact me at: - In memory of Eamonn Oglesby, who awakened a new passion in my life.

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