WMS has built many new spaces for open space learning & collaboration. Learn more about their unique education space in this podcast with Head of School Tim Breen.
John Maher: Hi, I'm John Maher. I’m here today with Tim Breen, Head of School at The White Mountain School, a private college prep day and boarding school in New Hampshire. Today we're talking about White Mountain School's new construction and spaces. Welcome, Tim.
Tim Breen: Thanks, John. It's great to be here.
New Education Space at WMS
John: Tim, The White Mountain School has seen a lot of recent construction, can you tell me a little bit more about the spaces that were created?
Tim: Yes, we're really in a great position, in many ways blessed, to be able to renovate and expand the way we have. A couple of the projects that are most important, we've relocated our library to be in the center of the school, kind of a hub of the school.
John: Was it in a different building before and now you've moved it?
Tim: It actually was on the top floor of a building, and we've put it in a spot now that's right near the dining hall, that's right near where all the traffic is in the school. That's on purpose, that's to get a sense that at our heart is this focus on student research and inquiry. So at the heart of the school should be where the library and research center is. We were able to do that and at the same time sort of update it, make it a better gathering space for students and make it more a comfortable space to work alone and to work in groups and collaborate.
As part of that renovation, we also built some beautiful new classrooms, and these are open airy spaces with lots of windows and can be used for multiple purposes, including small gathering spaces for students. The other large piece of the renovation is, we renovated a wing of a building to be our new Chapel, and it's a beautiful light-filled inspiring space, where we gather every morning for our morning meeting as a community. It sends us so often to the day really well.
John. That sounds like a unique opportunity compared to a larger school where you would never be able to get the entire student and faculty body together in one place, certainly not every day, and be able to start the day like that.
Tim: There's something really important about seeing each other all together each day. We laugh and we smile and we joke together, and it's a great way to start the day.
Inspiring Spaces at WMS
John: What are some of the other driving ideas behind the design of these new spaces, especially the spaces in the library?
Tim: I think we believe that beautiful spaces can inspire students, and we really want to inspire them to have new ideas, to develop their own intellectual curiosity. We also believe that we wanted to create spaces where ideas bumped into each other, where people bumped into each other, and ideas bumped into each other for that type of collaboration. That's built into our library spaces. Sometimes we think in the library spaces there are times when you want to study and be alone-alone.
John: What do you think about a typical library, where everybody is quiet and they get a book out, they do some research, but they're basically working by themselves?
Tim: Right. We've got some of those spaces, some where you're alone together, like a typical reading room setup where you're working quietly but there are people right around you working. Then, the together-together learning where you're collaborating in a small group, so we built all of those spaces. Another nice part is we've built some beautiful faculty offices so that the faculty members are collaborating more, because they're sitting together in an office. The English teachers are all together in an office sharing their ideas and sharing their books, and that's the type of collaboration that we're really trying to support here.
John: Does that give the students more access to the faculty as well?
Tim: I think it's a little bit easier to find people and to really feel like, "Of course we're here together." Now, I think any great boarding school students know that their teachers want to work with them, but the relationships with students built with teachers here are really incredibly strong.
Building Space for Academics & Learning
John: How does the design and creation of the new spaces at White Mountain School help to shape the school's wider goals in terms of academics and learning?
Tim: One of the nice things about the renovation was it was really driven by the academic program, not in the reverse direction. We were able to gather groups of teachers and students together to think about what we want our spaces to look like. This came from the faculty saying, "Here are the kinds of changes we would like to see." It was having shared offices; it was having classrooms that had whiteboards all over the place so we could put ideas up on the walls. What we want to do is really build a culture of inquiry here, and so we want students' questions to be visible. We can put them up on the wall and keep them there for days. Other classes can come in and see them. We're really building this sense that this is a school where of course you're going to be curious, of course you're going to think of new ideas.
John: How all of your classes can tie together and what you learn in one class can reflect in something that you're studying or pursuing as a topic and in another class as well, and how those all tie together. Having that opportunity in that space for those students and the faculty and the different classes to kind of combine and share information together like you said on the whiteboards, must be really great to be able to just tie everything together into one learning experience at the school.
Tim: Great new ideas often emerge from juxtapositions of two ideas that might not seem related at first, and then a student makes a connection that nobody else was going to make. That becomes their unique focus moving forward. We've often seen students make connections of cross classes they have, and then pursue those later in their LASR projects, what we call LASR projects, because of the independent studies that students do. It's a great opportunity and we believe the more we can get students kind of sharing those ideas, the more powerful the learning is going to be.
John: All right. That's great information, Tim. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Tim: So glad, thanks.