Schools That Make You Happy If You Work In Them

In an article on Fast Company’s Co.Exist website posted in November, the author describes the efforts of his design firm, Gensler, to create skyscrapers that are not simply designed with sustainability in mind, but moreover with human engagement and well-being at the heart of their design.

He references a building that PNC Financial Services has commissioned:

The people at PNC Financial Services Group clearly, adamantly want a building that drives performance, with all the bells, whistles, and energy efficiency that will entail. But the game-changer here is that they (and particularly Gary Saulson, PNC’s executive vice president and director of corporate real estate and a longtime advocate of sustainability) interpret “performance” differently than others. . . Performance includes a building’s ability to make employees comfortable and happy and ultimately, hopefully, more productive. (Bold added)

I’m thrilled that some enlightened business folks are catching onto the fact that well-being is integral to performance. My question is, when will we begin to consider the well-being of children at the heart of design when we create or retrofit schools?

Entrepreneurs and other interests in education continually promote the notion that we must foster creativity and innovation in public schools. I question whether such lofty goals can be adequately pursued in environments that are all too often “outmoded” at best, and toxic at worst.

Maybe it’s time, as the author does in the article, that we adults imagined the ideal experience of what it might mean to be in a positive learning and working environment, and then designed accordingly:

Picture yourself sitting on a park bench with your laptop in your lap, shoes kicked off, and a breeze coming across your face. This is your workplace.

4 thoughts on “Schools That Make You Happy If You Work In Them

  1. Na, I can't work without shoes.
    But at my job, where I'm working for my third principal in as many years, I'm happy to be working there (for the first time in as many years).
    The reasons for that have, of course, everything to do with the approach of the new principal. He doesn't say much, trusts the teachers to approach their job as leaders and seems to find the right level of challenge for each teacher.
    In other words, the building has leaders who make teachers feel autonomous, trusted, challenged to grow and, as a result, are happy where they work.


  2. I did work without shoes once – but that was long ago and far away but in a place where the principals did what NYCDOEnuts did – let teachers teach and kiddies learn. I've not met that in a while – now on 5th principal in this school in 5 years – no concern with making employees comfortable and happy – misses that bit about productivity, which sadly does translate poorly to the students. Still as education is simply more change I await more change and see if I can work without shoes again.


  3. If there were grass under my feet, I would happily work without shoes!

    You are right on that leadership is one of the most fundamental aspects of a positive work environment, a topic that we've also poked at on this here blog:, and which I also delved a little into in my last post on GothamSchools:

    Beyond the essential aspect of the vision and leadership of a workplace or school, the physical environment also can have a significant impact on well-being–especially for students who may returning home to chaotic, toxic, and stressful environments.

    Imagine a school where it not only feels good to be there because the professional culture is one of trust and respect, but furthermore because the environment is warm, filled with light, has refreshing access to air and greenery, and has various cozy nooks and crannies for contemplation and study.

    If Google can design a campus like this for tech employees, doncha think our kids could get the same?


  4. Now if we could just take some of that long ago and far away place and bring it here and now to NYC . . . I've ordered “barefoot” style dress shoes because my feet can no longer take wearing normal dress shoes.


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