At many of the world’s top schools, the incentive to maintain the status quo often overrides the incentive to embrace change. Why alter programs when students are already performing well?

Singapore is a global hub for education, finance, innovation, manufacturing, and technology. The city-state’s schools are considered the best in the world, and students in Singapore consistently rank at the top in international assessments. At Singapore American School (SAS), one of the premier international schools in the region, and the largest on the island, there was little incentive to change. But school leaders recognized that the world is changing rapidly, and so teaching and learning must continue to evolve to produce “exceptional thinkers prepared for the future”.

SAS wanted greater flexibility in the learning environment to support its vision for teaching and learning, but like many schools was struggling to communicate the why to parents and teachers; to explain how space might improve learning, and what the learning environment would be like. As a high performing school, the risks of change seemed too great. “How do we know this is the right direction? How do we know it will work?”

To answer these questions, and many more, Fielding International introduced our Pathfinder process to SAS while developing a master facilities plan for the 4,000 student campus. Pathfinders are small-scale, relatively inexpensive prototypes of the kind of innovative, flexible learning environments envisioned for the future of the school. Fielding initially designed four of these Pathfinders as summer renovations to existing spaces, and now 11 have been built. Our team of educators and architects facilitated an inclusive design process that supported teachers as they envisioned a more flexible space, and new ways of working together to deliver the kinds of learning experiences that prepare thinkers for the future. The Pathfinders now serve as “learning labs” for teachers to continue to evolve best practice, for school leaders to learn what works in the spaces, and for families and to see an example of what learning and learning spaces could look like in the future.

(Above) The Middle School Pathfinder emphasizes project-based learning spaces.

What We’re Learning

From the very first year of implementation, these spaces have been a powerful learning tool. Over 400 parents have toured the Pathfinders on “learning walks” or guided tours of the spaces, which has helped build community support for SAS vision for learning and learning space. These prototypes have provided data on the impact they have on teacher relationships, student relationships, and student development of future-relevant skills.

Over 90% of middle school students say being in a Pathfinder has improved their relationships with faculty and 100% of Kindergarten faculty (14 teachers) would not return to a traditional environment. Already, six other international schools have visited the Pathfinders to learn more, and the data about what works and what could be improved is providing guidance for the design of new spaces in the larger scale campus renewal.

As a design team we are also learning more about the features that support introverts and extroverts alike, and the way professional learning communities (PLCs) evolve in shared space.

What We Have Learned

Over 90% of middle school students say being in a Pathfinder has improved their relationships with faculty and 100% of Kindergarten faculty (14 teachers) would not return to a traditional environment.

Already, six other international schools have visited the Pathfinders to learn more, and the data about what works and what could be improved is providing guidance for the design of new spaces in the larger scale campus renewal.