Sharing Studio Space

It’s too bad that “study” is often associated with dutiful plodding, as the word has such wonderful etymology.  The Latin stadium, which also gave us “studio,” suggests zestful pursuit and spirited application, that edge-of-one’s seat, time-suspending sense that the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed flow (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper and Row, 1990).

Chances are you’re here because you’re seeking just this, bringing restless curiosity and an urgent desire to engage and support your students. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could reclaim the notion of “study” to encompass all that we’ll accomplish together?  But for now, let’s begin with its less-sullied cousin, imagining this as our studio space.  We’re looking around, checking out strangers, wondering what’s here and how to begin.

I’m finding that my own wonderings are shaped by three questions:

  • “What can I learn here?” An oldie-but-goodie that I find an always-helpful filter, quieting critical distraction and focusing my gaze on opportunities.  To be a teacher is to be positioned as an authoritative knower—but what all those media images don’t tell us is that the work demands incessant questioning.  We’ve so little time to waste with imagined ideals, holding everyone’s efforts (worst of all our own) to some standard of perfection.  If we’re to find answers together, we need first to be vulnerable, curious learners.
  • “How can we adopt a collaborative inquiry stance?”  Lots of different kinds of people have explored classroom teaching and learning, including teachers, school administrators, university-based researchers, and educational evaluators.  Every so often, they engage together in deep listening and mutual learning, taking time to understand the challenge and opportunity their differences present. This is demanding work, and it takes wing only where a strong commitment is sustained over time (to date, an all-too-rare scenario). 
  • “What if?”  Isn’t this the key question for studio workers of all kinds? What if teachers reclaimed the notions of “study,” “research,” and “inquiry,” bringing myriad perspectives and resources to bear?  What if published research informed teachers’ own classroom-based inquiries—and the fruits of these wonderings were made available to those who set policy and fund initiatives? What if knowledge-making was regarded as a necessarily collaborative process, engaging the best efforts and respective knowledge of all of us who care about students and schools?

My artist friends describe their studios as places of bold trust, where work and play, process and product are all part of the same dance. Their studio time is sacred, carved out of the most crowded schedules because it gives energy back. Where they share these spaces—coming together to celebrate, reflect, and challenge—there’s a hum of intense, focused activity, but also affable collegiality, the palpable relief of knowing it’s ok to be a learner here.

Well, why shouldn’t our studio be like this, too?

Telling stories is a natural part of a shared studio space.  Here are some tales of teacher inquiry shared on the Exchange site: 

Sometimes a shared question can lead to unexpected results. Read how a team of librarians found that an interdepartmental collaboration ended up changing student attitudes.

In this vignette, a member of a teacher inquiry group talks about how they moved from talking about their practice together to wanting to share their learning with the entire school staff.  

In "Coresearching and Coreflecting: The Power of Teacher Inquiry Communities," Diane Waff says that "moving out from the isolation of the classroom to the shelter of inquiry communities" helped her to develop "a critical reflective stance" with regard to her own teaching and school reform efforts. Learn how her work as a teacher researcher was influenced by participation in three different teacher inquiry communities.

Many groups on the Exchange site have opened their group spaces up so you can follow their ongoing stories. You might also consider setting up a studio space for your own group's work.

Most Recent: December 31, 2012

NCTAF learning studios

The National Center for Teaching in America's Future (NCTAF) has established learning studios in a number of schools that bring together students, teachers, and community experts to generate knowledge together through active projects. I was intrigued when I heard about these sites that the concept of studio was chosen to illustrate the kind of inquiry and learning that the teams desired in process and outcome.


"Learning Studios"

Thanks much for this, Barbara.  I love hearing about all the great work going on around the country through the Exchange, and I'll look forward to learning more about the NCTAF.