The Key to Understanding School Design? Collaboration!

School design can help ensure that students are provided with an environment conducive to increased levels of engagement. School design is most effective when complemented by a rigorous, creative, and innovative curriculum that puts students first every step of the way. Here’s how.

By Team XQ

Did you know that the way a school is designed can have a huge influence on the learning that goes on within its walls? From the way technology is integrated into the classroom to how the physical space, indoors and out, is used, school design has the potential to inspire curiosity among the students who experience it.

Further, when done well, school design can help ensure that students are provided with an environment conducive to increased levels of engagement. 

Rather than a standalone measure, school design is most effective when complemented by a rigorous, creative, and innovative curriculum that puts students first every step along the way. 

As part of our ongoing “How-To” series, here are tips from XQ school staff about how schools can engage with educators, families, and communities to help them understand present and future learning goals.

Tips from Alex Campbell, Director at Elizabethton High School

Here’s how to start:

  1. DEVELOP THE NEXT LEVEL OF LEADERSHIP. When more people are involved with the work and the process, people feel valued and buy into the change.
  2. BE TRANSPARENT. People sometimes assume if they are told something it is for selfish reasons. Do this even if it means being vulnerable or exposing problems.
  3. CREATE A WAY FOR EVERYONE TO ASK QUESTIONS. Stakeholders will have many questions. Make it easy for them to ask them and receive a timely answer. Consider making the answer public for others with similar questions.
  4. DO NOT WORK ON MORE THAN THREE BIG GOALS AT ONCE. You don’t have to change everything at once. Find the three most important things to work on and tackle those first.
  5. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH PEOPLE. Nothing beats face-to-face communications and relationship-building with stakeholders. It takes more time but pays huge dividends.

Top Tips:

  1. LET EVERYONE FEEL INVOLVED. Find a way to allow every stakeholder to get involved with the development/iteration/implementation of the new design.
  2. HAVE A CLEAR MISSION AND VISION. This way, stakeholders understand that every change aligns with this common mission and vision.
  3. DEVELOP A PORTRAIT OF A GRADUATE. This helps people understand why a new design is necessary to develop the kind of students the stakeholders desire.
  4. GATHER FEEDBACK FROM ALL STAKEHOLDERS. If you do not include everyone, then not only will your product not be as good, but those groups will not feel they are valued and not buy into the final product.

Tips from Christian Martinez, Dean of Students at Latitude 37.8 High School

Here’s how to start:

  1. IDENTIFY YOUR AUDIENCE. Whom should you engage? Are you trying to engage students, families, advisors, and teachers?
  2. THE CONNECTION. You can engage families through parent meetings and home visits, but you can also engage them through student-led conferences and presentations of learning.
  3. SHARE THE INFO through workshops, data talks, and celebrations. These are ways you can build upon your community and tailor information to the individual, whether they are a parent or a school leader.
  4. STAY IN THE LOOP. Don’t simply send emails and make robocalls to parents. Use newsletters, podcasts, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram as a way to say connected with and further engage your stakeholders.
  5. RE-DO. Try to engage with your stakeholders more than once a year. Whether it’s bi-weekly, monthly, each semester, or only twice a year, they will appreciate the creative ways in which you incorporate them into the school culture.

Tips from Tammy Ortiz, Partnership Development & Educator at PSI High

Here’s how to start:


Initiate an introduction call with each parent. Express the importance of the family and school culture. Find out what the parent values and speak to that as often as possible, then make authentic requests for feedback. Offer parent-friendly resources to provide the highest level of information and support—then encourage the parents to check the resources regularly.


Once a quarter or semester, host an open house or create a lounge area where parents can hang out and visit. Create skill sessions such as competency-based learning and assessment, understanding the grading process/cycle, reading a rubric, operating the available online collaboration tools, and any other areas specific to your school or region. Invite parents during the school day to see their child work on or present their project during feedback cycles or less formal events like game/movie/craft night. Provide opportunities for parents to experience workshops held either by students or other parents.  Consider establishing a parent-focused advisory group or including parents if a group already exists.


If there are challenges, focus on determining the barriers and make strides towards reducing them. A survey can help generate and encourage direct feedback and provide guidance to overcome the obstacles.


Family Engagement, 7 Questions to Ask Parents at the Beginning of the Year, Proven Tips for Getting Parents Involved at SchoolDo you have teaching tips you’d like to share with XQ readers? Be an XQ guest blogger! Check out this form for details.