Thursday, March 03, 2011

Lessons from the Architectural Firm

I had the great luxury of a liberal arts education. My father, who did not have the chance to go to college, advised me, "Study whatever you're interested in." That's what I did. I studied religion, English, science, art, psychology and more. I learned a lot and enjoyed it.

Then when I graduated, I needed a job. I didn't know where to begin. After some time, I landed in an employment agency in Boston with my art portfolio. The consultant met me, looked through my portfolio, and announced, "I have a job for you!"

She sent me to Sasaki Associates, Inc. in Watertown, Massachusetts.  It was a large-studio like building situated along the Charles River. When I walked in, I noticed the open spaces and white walls. I admired the renderings, photos, and art. I was excited. I got a job in the marketing department. The firm was vibrant. Architects, landscape architects, engineers, environmental scientists, graphic designers and planners were scattered throughout the firm creating.  I learned a lot while I worked there, and carry those lessons forward into my classroom today.

The Creative Process
I learned about the creative process. I watched projects evolve from the idea stage to completion.  I listened to the designers talk about their work, and I became more aware of the architectural world around me.  I bring that creative process to my classroom as we embark on our signature learning projects each year.

I experienced the charrette - the exciting, collaborative session when a group of designers draft a solution to a design or complete a design project often late into the night.  Our class "charrettes" when we get to the end of a project. We get to feel that excitement, and collaborate to complete our projects and learn.

Spread the Good News
While I was at the firm, they hired a consultant. One of the consultant's main pieces of advice was to "spread the good news."  He told us that every time we observed or heard something good about the firm, tell two more people.  I've continued that practice.  Bad news spreads fast, but often good news doesn't. Educators are shy to share their good work, and others often don't take the time to recognize the good work of students and staff.

Celebrate/Have Fun
On Fridays, the firm often rolled in snacks and drinks. Employees at every position gathered, relaxed, and socialized. Sometimes leaders and others offered a few uplifting words or stories. It was a time I looked forward to, and a time when I got to know the people I worked with.  The firm also had a softball team, service projects, and athletic events that the the staff got involved in.  These events fostered collegiality.

Brown-bag lunch meetings happened often. Usually people met to discuss an article or idea.  That fostered professional development in a casual, optional way.

Love What You Do
I really enjoyed working with so many passionate designers. They loved what they did.  It made me want to pick a profession that I could really invest myself in. While I appreciated architecture, my passion was related to learning and children, so I left Sasaki and entered graduate school.  Later my Sasaki director was the person that led me to my current teaching position. He raved about the Town, and I followed his lead.

While college and graduate school offered me a great education, I learned a lot at Sasaki Associates too. What I learned applies so well today as we move students and schools forward to 21st century skills and teaching.