October 27, 2010

[ #msief ]: Sue Redelinghuys, St Cyprian's School, on Creative Buildings, Spaces, Learning and Teaching

When schools talk about "innovation labs" or "creativity centres", it's normally a sign that the mavericks have been sent off to their own corner so as not to get in the way of the serious learning going on in the rest of the establishment. Not so in Sue Redelinghuys' school.

Sue heads up Cape Town's St Cyprian's school, an independent school for girls in the city, that's just become on of Microsoft's global pathfinder schools. Innovation in pedagogy and school building is constant - the building and rebuilding doesn't stop on this hillside patch of learning in the shadow of Table Mountain.

The 'burbs have grown around the school in the hundreds of years it's been there, originally as a homestead and, when the farms moved out to the countryside, as a school. The result is a school that's hemmed in on all sides, presenting a constant struggle to the school as it rebuilds and renovates its older buildings while trying not to disrupt the learning of the students on what is, relatively speaking, a cramped campus.

This means that as new buildings are built or old ones renovated, they somewhat reflect the pedagogical push of that moment. Injecting the creativity one might see in the art and music classrooms at the bottom of the hill into the learning that takes place elsewhere in the school has resulted in the recent completion of a "creativity centre", but its style and student-centred thinking has already infected other parts of the school in small, meaningful ways.

St Cyprian's feels like it's worked out how to hothouse creativity and innovation in physical space, without sidelining those working in more traditional areas of the school. In my video, above, Head of School Sue Redelinghuys explains how.

The library area feels like the hub of the school and really capitalises on many of those spaces of learning I've tried to mark out in the sand:

  • Secret spaces abound, with soft, personal reading areas scattered under stairwells and up in the attic space, away from the prying eyes of adults.


  • Group spaces, such as the three self-enclosed discussion hubs, remind us of Roman baths or fora, where students can talk without disturbing those around them - electricity points are available, as is wifi and laptops for loan. The Head of Technology at the school feels it's only a matter of time that some of these students, admittedly better off than most of their counterparts elsewhere in the country, start using the internet-enabled smartphones they have, and will be getting more of this Christmas.

    Learning Hubs

  • Participation is encouraged through shared communal space, where work is put on show next to the spaces where students can hang out. The steps to the attic are more reminiscent of an Italian marketplace, where young people hang out and share stories, than a library where young folk are expected to belt up and be quiet. The nursery, as you'd expect, is nothing but participation space, outdoors for the nine months of good weather.


  • Watching spaces are celebrated, including the inclusion of a small outdoor amphitheatre.


  • All the senses are included - the consistent smell of lavender around the school is genuinely relaxing. If we planted more of it I wonder what the effect would be on some of our more challenging students.

See more photos from St Cyprian's on Flickr, and the video of its Head on creative spaces and creativity in learning on YouTube.


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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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