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  • Writer's pictureMike Cobb

The Physical Space is important (3rd Teacher)

Updated: Jun 3, 2023




Innovation requires space for creativity. If you know me, you know that the idea of the 3rd teacher concept is huge in my thinking on design and innovation. The concept of the "third teacher" was an epiphany to me as I led innovative teams in the early 2000s. I considered the great lengths we went to seeking and sorting through the "first teacher" candidates and the great lengths independent schools went through managing the "second teacher". Yet our "third teacher" had been hired years ago and never considered again. I realized that it was imperative that the physical space we occupy, and share contribute to our goals of collaboration, creativity, and invention. Our "third teacher" should create opportunities to think outside the box and go beyond their normal limits. Our learning environment is a powerful pedagogical tool.


The idea of the third teacher was first introduced by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. Malaguzzi believed that the environment in which children learn should be seen as the "third teacher," alongside parents/educators, and co-learners. He reasoned that the physical environment should be designed to inspire curiosity, creativity, and exploration in children.

Third teacher thinking emphasizes the importance of the physical environment in shaping learning outcomes and designing learning spaces that are flexible, adaptable, and responsive to the needs of learners.

Here are a few of the things I have learned designing and delivering "third teacher" solutions over the years, with some examples of spaces:


1. Enhances Student Engagement

A well-designed physical environment can enhance student engagement and motivation. By creating a space that is inviting, stimulating, and anticipates the needs of the learners. Additionally, a great third teacher will foster the involvement of all parties. Outdoor Learning Center


2. Encourages Collaboration

Collaboration is a key skill for our modern learners, and a well-designed learning environment fosters and facilitates collaboration. A third teacher that drives collaboration allows the first teacher many more opportunities to facilitate and guide to more creative outcomes. Center For Innovation and


3. Promotes Creativity and Innovation

A third teacher that reflects creativity and innovation will inspire students to think outside the box and develop new ideas. By providing a space that is an embodiment of our learning goals, our students benefit from spaces that are flexible, adaptable, and responsive to create an environment of creativity and innovation. Science Explorium


4. Different Learning Styles are Honored

The third teacher allows a learning space to honor every student and their unique learning style The physical environment plays a significant role in supporting different learning styles as a well-designed learning environment provides opportunities for students to learn in different ways, such as through visual, auditory, or kinesthetic modalities. STEM Zone, OASIS Lab and Learning Farm


5. Supports Wellness and Mental Health

At the core of it all, a well-designed learning environment supports student wellness and mental health. By creating spaces that are safe, calming, purposeful, and aesthetically pleasing, schools can promote a sense of well-being as students feel ownership and relevance. Learning Villages and Learning Farm


By acknowledging the power of the third teacher as a pedagogical tool, schools can create learning spaces that are flexible, adaptable, and responsive to the needs of students. In a time when our first teachers need more support than ever, we must make sure we focus effort on our third teachers being the best co-teachers they can be!

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