Back to the future: redesigning spaces for the two-metre school
By Dave Strudwick and Lene Jensby Lange

We will not be going back into school in the way we left it. Leaders and staff will have new challenges to resolve – without a handbook on how to do it. The school community will be back together, and yet not; social distancing and splitting into smaller groups will prevent children being with their friends as they were before, and learning will look different too. How can we create scenarios that help our students feel that they are back together, albeit in a new way, and connected purposefully?


When you are designing your spaces for a safe return, keep a focus on the types of learning you want to develop and the needs of your young people and staff. One size will not fit all.


The following questions will help you begin to address three key areas of school life for reopening: hygiene and safety, wellbeing and ownership, and teaching and learning.


Redesigning for hygiene and safety

  1. How can we organise the school facilities in ways that prevent virus transmission, creating small self-contained villages, or even families in our town of learning?

  2. What things will help us to feel safe in a time of uncertainty?

  3. How do we ensure that spaces can be easily cleaned each day?

  4. What new habits might we want students to develop and have prompted, and what does that mean for space?

  5. How many children will return at the same time and will there be a staggered day or week?

  6. How will social distancing be supported, prompted and taught safely?

  7. Do students bring their own resources? Are any resources shared? If so, how might they be cleaned?

  8. What will hygiene and handwashing look like? How often and where? How is this taught and promoted?

  9. How do parents hand over their children at the beginning of a session and how do we pass them back? Is this as a group or more personalised?

  10. How might we safely tweak what at the outset will be a barren learning environment to feel homely and comfortable?


Redesigning for wellbeing and ownership

  1. How are we greeted each day and how do we enter the room?

  2. We need to recognise that, for each one of us to be well, we all have a set of needs that relate to areas such as meaning, attention, social connection and belonging, intimacy, autonomy and contribution, status, fun, community and achievement. How will these needs be met proactively?

  3. How will staff and students be able to own their spaces? Ownership has a real impact on wellbeing and how much we engage.

  4. What spaces might be required to support staff wellbeing? How do we cater and respond quickly to the insecurities, questions and needs of our staff?

  5. Will parents all want their children to return, or can this flexible? Parental anxiety impacts the best of intentions.

  6. How can young people and teachers be involved in the design process to give a sense of control and ownership?

  7. What signage and visual cues could students make to support your school culture?

  8. Are there spaces that can help those with more extreme anxiety, or who are struggling from trauma and bereavement?

  9. How do we use social and emotional aspects of learning to help children feel safe? What stories might help this?

  10. If there are no assemblies, how do we share important messages and stories? Are digital assemblies an option and could these be fun?


Redesigning for teaching and learning

  1. How do we facilitate social connection in learning when we can’t sit side by side?

  2. What learning behaviours do we want to achieve: research, making, quiet focus, collaborative discussion, presentation, feedback to improve?

  3. What digital tools might enhance learning and what does this suggest about space? What forms of remote learning will continue?

  4. How are families and communities used as a resource with increased engagement? How do we meet with parents virtually until it is safe for them to come to school?

  5. How can we continue to develop our understanding of ‘the classroom’ as our local area with all it has to offer indoors and outdoors?

  6. How can we learn from the asynchronicity of learning that we have experienced during the last weeks, and bring the best of it into how we now design learning in school?

  7. What signage and visual cues might support learning in new ways?

  8. How do we create a variety of pathways to meet different needs?

  9. Could you identify unutilised spaces in your school that could help expand the area available for more distanced learning?

  10. What can be leveraged – in your school and in your local area – to nurture curiosity, exploration, collaboration, prototyping of ideas and creation of products of all kinds?


The process of transitioning your learning spaces and the learning itself will not happen overnight. The classrooms of a post COVID-19 lockdown may not immediately be the most conducive places for building 21st century skills. They will be stripped-down rooms to eliminate any surfaces that can’t be washed and disinfected easily, with no shareable tools or resources to rule out any risk of transmission. Curiosity, creativity and collaboration will have constraints and will need new approaches.

Lene Jensby Lange founded Autens, which co-creates the future of learning, schools and learning spaces. Contact her at





Lene collaborated with Dave Strudwick to write this feature. Contact Dave at

©2020 International School Leader