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Comfort and space are valuable. So why aren’t schools cashing in?

Posted October 26, 2017

Waiting to board a flight recently, I watched and listened to a fellow traveler talking with the gate agent hopeful for a seat upgrade to first class. And I thought to myself, if you have the extra dollars or frequent flyer miles to spare, who wouldn’t? I’m not sure that flying is something I would ever consider comfortable but at least the first class option comes with some flexibility, room to recline and stretch and a decent meal. A sure better experience than what you get in the general cabin. There’s not much that’s more miserable than being crammed into small seats and straight rows with no leg room and little space to move for hours on a flight.

The travel industry gets it. They know the value customers place on comfort and great space. That’s why they can charge a pretty big premium for first class seats. Heck, now they’re even charging for a little extra leg room in the general cabin as well. It’s in the cruising industry too. Pay a little more and you get a port hole in your cabin for some natural light. Pay even more and you can get a breath of fresh air thanks to a balcony. And there’s nothing better at a hotel than a room with a view! Yep. Space matters.

And while there’s not extra money to be made from the students in our classrooms by creating better spaces, views and comfort, there is perhaps something even more valuable ready for the taking — higher engagement, more learning, greater creativity and happier kids. And there’s research to prove it. In fact, classroom design can impact learning by as much as 25 percent — for better or for worse (Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, Kobbacy, A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning, In Building and Environment, Volume 59, 2013, Pages 678-689,


No surprise here. One of the best and most inspiring learning environments I’ve ever been in is SparkSpace in Columbus, Ohio. Their own description of the venue says it all: “We designed it to be a place where business teams could escape . . . to think, create, and collaborate with each other. It is a cool, fun, bold, playful, and super comfortable space” ( And that it is. There’s plenty of flexible seating. There are different spaces to choose for different types of activities and work. There’s lots of natural light. And everything is comfortable. No straight rows, hard seats or limited leg room!

So imagine if we take a cue from the travel industry and recognize just how valuable better space and comfort is to those who have to occupy it and cash in for better results. Or better yet, can’t we learn from venues like SparkSpace who “sell” environments to help professionals be more creative and collaborative? After all, aren’t we after the same thing? I’d love to be able to use their words to describe our classrooms:

We designed classrooms to be places where student can escape . . . to think, create, and collaborate with each other. They are cool, fun, bold, playful, and super comfortable spaces.

Doesn’t that sound great?

Now back to that flight. Maybe there is something more miserable than being crammed into small seats and straight rows with no leg room and little space to move for hours….It’s sitting in school, hour after hour, in small seats and straight rows with little space to move….

Steven Estepp is the superintendent of the Mariemont City School District in Cincinnati, Ohio.