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Creative use of spaces in schools can boost performance
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]
Published: 19/05/2021

Transformative leadership and the creative use of spaces in schools can help improve learners' performance, promote their emotional well-being, and keep them in school until matric.

This is one of the core messages of a new book by Dr Johann Burger, District Manager for the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), and Prof Aslam Fataar from the Department of Education Policy Studies at Stellenbosch University​. Burger completed his doctoral studies in 2017 under Fataar's supervision.

The book, entitled Skoolleierskap en die skep van produktiewe leerruimtes in skole, shows how two principals of diverse schools – one in an urban working-class area and the other in a rural middle-class area – apply unique leadership and the use of specific spaces in schools to create excellent learning environments that inspire and motivate their learners and teachers to excel in what they do.

The authors mention that the principals created physical, emotional and social spaces by incorporating, among others, artworks, light, colour, sound, maps and diagrams in the learning environment.

“One school transformed a certain social space that consists of several seats under shady trees into emotional zones. There are between six and ten seats where the learners, away from the hustle and bustle of the playground, can sit in a fairly quiet space and chat and socialize with each other.

One of the social projects that was launched was the establishment of a 'restaurant' for learners that could help prepare them emotionally and socially for the future."

According to the authors, the book shows how limited resources and spaces in schools can be utilised to create learning environments that foster relationships between teachers and learners based on respect, compassion and educational dignity. Furthermore, it provides insight into the possibility of innovative and inspiring leadership in the creation of educational spaces.

"This book focuses on the problem of poor performance in the majority of South Africa's schools. It addresses the worrying question of how to improve education in poorly performing schools.

“We suggest school leadership is one of the key dimensions to improve schools and that such leadership is crucial to creating learning environments to improve school performance."

The authors believe that newly created and productive learning spaces will have a positive influence on learners and say that this will inspire and excite them about going to school.

“Their performance will improve and they will be retained in the school system for longer periods. Learners' emotional and social needs will receive more attention, and their discipline and behaviour will improve. They will also be more motivated to make productive contributions to their own lives, their communities and our country in the future."

The authors point out that productive learning spaces in schools do not develop spontaneously. It requires agency and leadership.

“Regardless of which space is selected for learning and teaching, continuous careful consideration should be given to unlocking the potential of each learning space in the best interests of the learners or students, as this would have a direct influence on the learning outcomes and academic achievements."

The authors believe their book can serve as a resource or route map for any student, educator, education district staff member or anyone else who is involved in the teaching and education of people and who strives for improved learning outcomes.

The authors and the two principals, in collaboration with the WCED, will be doing a series of school and education district-based training workshops where they will be focusing on the conceptual and practical school leadership dimensions related to creating healthy school learning environments. 

  • Skoolleierskap en die skep van produktiewe leerruimtes in skole is published by African Sun Media and is available online at Google Books, ITSI, Amazon and Takealot.

Photo: An example of a classroom that's been converted to a creative space to address learners' emotional and social needs.


Prof Aslam Fataar

Department of Education Policy Studies

Faculty of Education

Stellenbosch University



Dr Johann Burger



Martin Viljoen

Manager: Media

Corporate Communication and Marketing

Stellenbosch University