The Steward Mindset

The Steward Mindset

keys to successful school facility planning

The Starting Point

Many clients begin their quest for new or renewed school facilities with a Master Planning initiative.  Within the context of seeking the greatest value in a completed project, planning is certainly advisable.

Confirming program and activities and associated facility needs; considering the potential for change, and working within the context of potential funding is prudent.  Done well, the end result is often a tool that can prove to be a valuable asset in the delivery of programming and the management of resources.

The Difference – Maker

Good planning is important.  But it is the mission of a faith-based organization that must drive decisions.

Too often, clients in schools whose core focus is preparation for life as a Christian, take little if any notice of the mission statement before beginning the planning process.

In the end, mission-based or not, the building created out of the planning process may have spaces that perform well but that look little different than any public school.   But when the planning is girded by an active and prescient reference in the minds of all planning participants as to the core of their purpose, the overall facility achieved may well stand above all others as a place in which young minds aspire to a greater life rooted in Christian faith.  This then is the foundation on which to be truly good stewards of all that you plan for and create.

. . .  a note about Visioning

Defining a place where young minds aspire to a greater life, if that is a goal, may suggest that the planning team or an expanded group of stakeholders consider creating a vision statement; a vision all can see in their mind of a facility that embraces all that your organization finds valuable in a teaching/learning setting.  Such an exercise can prove to be of great value in developing support for a project.


The Steward Mind

Working within an understanding of the mission of the school must be the always-present reference for all subsequent planning decisions.  But the question for a planning committee then becomes, “how do we translate mission into planning?”

The use of the term Stewardship carries with it a responsibility to carefully consider all of the ramifications of the decisions to be made.  To do so requires a mind-set among committee members that is always open to ideas and possibilities – but with a governing sense of objectivity based on mission, on pre-determined standards, an understanding of elements to be included in a facility that are non-negotiable absolutes, and on  a pre-defined method for making collective decisions.

Keep in mind, we have yet to do any planning. . . . . .


The Standards

Until your planning team comes to consensus on the parameters that will govern planning decisions, any outcomes are likely to be less valuable than they could be.  While there are many elements and attributes of a school that can become part of a planning standard, we recommend the following as essential:

Sustainability   The Christian life is deeply rooted in respect for God and for one another.  The term “sustainability” is most often associated with the responsible use of materials and the management in one form or another of energy usage.  While there should certainly be standards set with regard to this definition of the term, there must also be consideration for standards in creating spaces and physical environments that not only function well, but that demonstrate the highest level of respect for God, and for the well-being of students.

This is not as difficult as it may appear.  What is important is that the committee   decides what standard is to be the guide in being responsible stewards of construction resources, and of the impact of the facility on the perspective of students. (i.e.; the mission)

Pedagogy   Teaching methods are critical elements of planning.  Your school may differ from others in that regard, particularly if your use of technology in the classroom is significant.  Obviously there will be differences among your staff, but it is vital that in a facility planning initiative the planning group be aware of the manner in which your staff teaches and interacts with students.

Do your teachers lecture from the front of the room with students in rows?

Or are your teachers facilitators of small groups of students seated in pods?

You get the idea. . . .

Student Center for Enews_Computer Lounge

Space   If you go to a standard school planning text, and if it is a few years old, you may well find a table with allotments of classroom space in square feet per student based on elementary, middle or high school models.  This may be the most egregious method space planning if indeed it is your intent to be good stewards; egregious as preliminary budgets are often set on the basis of dollars per square feet of space.

If you have established a budget based on the square feet of classroom space that does not support the pedagogy, have you really been a good steward?

Or if you set a budget based on classrooms that yield a claustrophobic environment for the students, have you created a facility that is not respectful of the personal space needs of the student?

You can begin to see the connection between the standards you set. . . .

Any planning professional you engage should provide the expertise to keep you out of trouble, but it is your responsibility to engage that professional in making sure they understand all that is unique to the teaching /learning process in your school, and all that is vital to you in the manner in which the facility supports the needs of students.  Only then can the professional advise as to the space you will need, and only then can you truly be the steward you want to be.


BAHS Library

Flexibility   Many of the spaces in a school need to have some degree of flexibility as to the manner in which those spaces can be used.  Setting specific parameters for flexibility may not be prudent at the outset. What is more important is that your committee always consider the need for flexibility as the planning work progresses.

For example, state of the art libraries in many new public high schools do not look as they did in years past.  Book stacks may be gone, replaced with computers; open reading rooms may now be a mixture of small group meeting rooms and a larger coffee lounge (yes . . . even at the high school level).  The point is not that you should consider a coffee lounge, but that change is constant and the configuration of critical functional spaces may need to be flexible in order to respond to change.


Safety   Planning for the safety of students and staff has always been prudent.  But it is indeed unfortunate that safety and security in school facility planning today is now imperative.  Given the variables from school to school and from community to community, it is probably not appropriate to set specific parameters for safety in the planning process.  However, if ever there was an area of concern in which the highest degree of stewardship must be attained, it is in the area of safety and security.              

To that end, planning for safety and security must be a constant part of the process and when appropriate in that process, the counsel of professional consultants should be sought to review and advise before setting a final master plan.


Technology   Technology, technology, technology . . . the mantra goes on.  If there ever was an element of facility planning that needed to be considered within the context of flexibility for change, it is in the realm of technology.  It goes without saying that technology systems will be increasingly part of our lives as time moves forward . . . in and out of schools.  But when considering that valid assumption, it must be said that providing for technology needs separately from all other planning parameters may result in a system that is not utilized to its fullest . . . there’s that issue of stewardship again.


Quality   Quality may be the toughest standard to define. The best approach may be to tour other similar facilities, take notes regarding the level of quality observed, and develop a document that references what you have seen that meets with your expectations as a committee.

Keep in mind that if you are in the planning phase, quality standards should be more about the configuration of space, and the overall attributes of those spaces, (circulation, safety, security etc.) not about things like finish materials, lighting, furnishings or specialties.


a note about standards . . . .

Standards are not to be set as absolutes.  The planning process is often about comparisons of options and making decisions about which option is the best, which sometimes may mean a compromise to the standards you have set.  The value of the standard is as a foundation on which to intelligently compare the value of the options.


The Absolutes

The process outlined above is intended to provide a flexible basis for effective decision-making.  Having just said that standards are not to be considered as absolutes, it is important to note that your mission may indeed compel you to define characteristics or elements of a facility that cannot or should not be compromised.  This may be particularly true if there are behavioral expectations within the culture of your institution.  Or a much more direct example – the chapel may be an absolute regardless of the budget, and despite the need to be flexible in the overall use of spaces, that chapel may need to be exempt from any other use.  And so on.

Defining a list of absolutes may be easy, or not.  The important factor is that your planning committee include possible issues in early discussions so that all agree as to any element or attribute of a facility that needs to be considered carefully.


The Method

It is reasonable to assume with some degree of comfort that a group of people committed to the mission of an organization will work together in a respectful and collegial manner to make decisions in a planning process.

It is not, however a certainty.  Much like defining a commonly held set of standards, it is crucial that the planning committee define an approach for discussion, debate and decision-making.  In so far as possible, that process should be based on an objective application of the standards you define together, on your commitment to the essence of the mission, and on a commonly held view of what it is to be a good steward.

Defining such a process may be done together, within your planning group, or with a planning facilitator.  You may choose to hire a consultant or seek guidance through your synod or local non-profit organizations.


We trust this brief overview of stewardship in the planning process will help you as you get started.