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The walls still speak: the stories occupants tell

Cynthia L. Uline (National Center for the Twenty‐first Century Schoolhouse, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA)
Megan Tschannen‐Moran (The School of Education, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA)
Thomas DeVere Wolsey (The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership, Walden University, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 8 May 2009




Accompanying the recent concern for the quality of our nation's educational infrastructure, a growing body of research connects the quality of school facilities to both student outcomes including achievement, behavior, and attitude as well as to teacher attitude and behavior. Less is known about the mechanisms of these relationships. This paper aims to examine the link between school building quality and student outcomes through the mediating influence of school climate. Results build upon those of a recent study that confirmed a link between the quality of school facilities and student achievement in both English and Mathematics, as well as the mediating role of school climate. This qualitative follow‐up study explores the complicated intricacies of how a school building's physical properties influence teaching and learning.


The study is structured according to a collective, instrumental case study design. Individual, focus group, walk‐through and photo‐interviews, as well as observations inform the inquiry. Two high‐poverty schools are identified from the earlier quantitative study because the ratings of the quality school facilities by their faculties fall within the upper quartile. These two schools, one urban and one rural, are selected purposefully for this study, maximizing learning from cases rich in information.


Results of the research indicate that ongoing interactions between the original design, the day‐to‐day reality of the built environment, and the occupants of that environment help to define the learning climate of these schools. Reciprocally, the climate helps to shape the interactions that take place, fostering environmental understanding, competence and control and supporting academic learning. From the data, several broad themes related to building quality emerge as central to this interaction between the built environment and building occupants, including movement, aesthetics, play of light, flexible and responsive classrooms, elbow room, and security.


Through the stories told by occupants of these two schools, we gain further understanding of the interactions between certain building conditions and design features and how these reinforce and enhance the social environment of school, helping to foster a sense of belonging within a place, a sense of control and competence, and a sense of collective commitment to the place and its purposes. As school designers balance considerations of durability with flexibility, the voices of these occupants may serve to argue for the inclusion of design features that allow occupants some measure of control over comfort and use factors. The broad themes related to building quality that emerge from the data include movement, aesthetics, the play of light, flexible and responsive classrooms, elbow room, as well as safety and security.



Uline, C.L., Tschannen‐Moran, M. and DeVere Wolsey, T. (2009), "The walls still speak: the stories occupants tell", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 47 No. 3, pp. 400-426.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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