Traditional understandings of educational facility management emphasize the physical components of place, the maintenance of building systems, custodial upkeep and cleanliness, and building maintenance and operations, a set of functions too often conceived of as separate from the school’s core purposes of teaching and learning (Tanner and Lackney 2006). More recently, facility management as a professional discipline integrates the principles of business administration, architecture, the behavioural and engineering sciences, and, in the context of schools, educational theory and instructional practice (Tanner and Lackney 2006). In fact, the functions of managing school facilities take on new meaning as we acknowledge the primary role schools play in children’s development as learners and, in particular, the role the building plays in supporting students’ learning and well-being.
As educators, researchers, policy makers, and publics consider our schools’ capacity to ensure accountability and excellence in curriculum, instruction, and assessment for all students, rarely do they foreground the physical environment within which these activities take place. Those who share responsibility for managing the physical environments within which teaching and learning take place are wise to consider research that examines the relationship between the quality of the school facility and educational outcomes, together with experimental studies that have investigated the impact of physical variables on learning. This body of work includes investigations of the discrete characteristics of the school’s physical environment, seeking to isolate the independent effects of school facility features and conditions on students’ achievement. Additional studies have posed important questions about how school facilities enhance or detract from the learning process and what constitute mediating variables. Deeper understandings of the interplay between the physical and social environments of school, and how these dynamics influence student attitudes, behaviours, and outcomes, may help educators build a compelling case for the importance of maintaining a high-quality educational infrastructure for all students, including those who reside in poorly resourced urban and rural school districts.
As twenty-first century educational leaders are called upon to promote each student’s academic success and well-being (National Policy Board for Educational Administration 2015), they are wise to consider the role the physical learning environment plays in students’ physical, social, emotional, and cognitive health and well-being. In concert with their facilities colleagues, these educational leaders have the capacity to manage healthy and safe learning environments in ways that leverage the three-dimensional textbook (Taylor 2009) students and teachers inhabit day-to-day. As they extend an open invitation to their educational facilities colleagues, acknowledging their capacity to support larger educational goals, they reap important organizational benefits associated with building bridges between the historically divided curriculum and instruction and operations sides of the academic house.