Guiding principles for designing effective schools

Guiding principles are critical to the work of effective school design and conversion projects. Such frameworks help focus the work, prove invaluable as projects unfold, and clarify important decisions when individual interests and desires come in conflict with overall goals.

Some like to think of guiding principles as the filter through which important decisions are made. (And in a world of limited resources, leaders can expect to choose between a number of good and viable options.) For example, if collaboration and interdisciplinary learning are valued, judgments regarding how spaces, teachers, and students relate to one another take on new meaning. If physical autonomy for small learning environments is a priority, preferences as to where to locate classrooms or whether to plan for separate entrances are sorted out with more clarity. If inquiry and performance-based assessment are prized, discussions about creating places that support student work, projects, and exhibitions become more deliberate.

Certain proposals will make it through the guiding principles filter, and others will not. Then as new information, data, and insights emerge, consistent use of guiding principles keeps projects on track and focused on core values and purposes.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is investing in schools, districts, and networks that reflect research and best practices shown to create rich teaching and learning environments where all students thrive. They offer seven Attributes of High Achievement Schools to guide and focus their work. Architects of Achievement has taken those attributes and offered further insights into how they might apply to facilities projects as school systems across the country work to design learning environments that work for all students. Download SchoolAttributes.pdf