How Buildings Teach Kindness; inspiring social emotional learning in an Illinois School District that chooses kindness as their mission


Susan Redell
Dr of Education
Medinah School District 11

Robin Randal
Legat Architects

John Butts
Dr. of Education
Medinah School District 11

Loren Johnson
Project Architect
Legat Architects


2 Learning Units (LU)

How applies to HSW:

Social emotional learning is key to a healthy and happy life. Medinah School District 11 in Illinois ‘Chooses Kindness’ as their mission and priority to emphasize the importance of social emotional learning. Medinah is implementing the Castle curriculum and programs within their school year to support this mission. To further this initiative, very grade level chooses a charity or community cause that they sponsor and work towards each semester including raising moneys for the local food bank and collecting coats for families in need. These efforts embody a purpose and ethic that represent kindness in actions.   Legat Architects believes buildings can teach and be part of the curriculum inspiring learning, that the environment can influence the way we feel, think, and learn. So how do buildings teach kindness? This is the question we would like to explore through this presentation/workshop. Our team will first identify the precepts of social emotional learning and identify challenges and success in supporting teaching kindness. Our educators will use Medinah School District 11 outside of Chicago as our precedent. We will then break into small groups to reflect and discuss tools for teaching, personal experience with social emotional learning, ways to support this important educational program. What does kindness look like in architectural space? Our team will present examples that support social emotional learning including:

  • Space of Self Reflection
  • Sensory space for calm and quiet
  • Flexible space for small group connection
  • Adjustable seating for standing and fidgeting
  • Community space for volunteerism
  • Shared space for diverse group gathering

After sharing these examples, we will break into small groups to brainstorm other ways to support social emotional learning through design. By using an underutilized library, computer lab, and patio as our precedent, we will design an environment centered around kindness. Small groups will report back to the large group and the session will end with a list of goals and objectives to implement in their own projects.

Learning Objectives:
  • Define social emotional learning, strategies for implementation, sharing challenges and successes at Medinah School District 11 in Medinah, IL.;
  • Identify vehicles for community outreach and demonstrate how helping others in school neighborhoods can help students learn the importance of being kind.
  • Explore opportunities to improve learning environments to support social emotional learning activities both in existing schools and new learning environments.;
  • Design a new community learning lab centered around teaching kindness and community outreach with areas for interior and exterior learning.
Primary Competency:

Design of Educational Facilities: Acts as a resource to the design team in providing ongoing guidance and support to ensure that the emerging and ultimate design aligns with the established community vision, education goals, future programming, written design standards, best/next practices and education policy.

Primary Domain:

Learning: Content of this session/workshop will focus on how we learn and/or how the physical environment responds specifically to various methods of instruction, pedagogies, learning styles, or learning trends.

Secondary Domain:

Context: Content of this session/workshop will focus on the circumstances that form the setting for the design and construction of specific learning environments and characteristics that distinguishes the project from other applications.

Additional information:

The goal of the session is to expand thinking beyond traditional design and support curriculum for social emotional learning. Architects and Designers rarely think about environments in this way.