Creating a Sense-of-Place for K12 Students




Joseph C. Kosiorek, AIA, Ed.D | Education Planner

Students have a better opportunity to succeed when they feel safe at school. While physical safety and security are top of mind, social and emotional safety play an integral role in academic success.

When a district establishes a strong sense-of-place, they’re creating a learning environment that is sustainable for the future. A place where students feel safe, have a sense of community and belonging, and that supports their self-esteem and mental health via authentic engagement. There are four components to creating sense-of-place: activities, meanings, individual features, and physical (space) features.

Component 1: Activities

What kind of environment has the district created for students to take risks? What activities do they offer? Not all students have the same abilities or interests. Establishing a strong sense-of-place means gives all students opportunities to discover their passions and talents.

Component 2: Meanings

When students understand the district’s mission and vision, they feel a sense of community and belonging. Students, educators, and staff unify under a singular understanding of how they are part of something larger than themselves. This understanding enables all to collectively accomplish their goals.

Component 3: Individual Features

Does every student understand how they fit into the community and what’s expected of them? It’s easier for students to create goals and opportunities for themselves when they understand what is expected of them. Schools must help students understand those expectations and give them the knowledge and confidence to achieve their goals.

Component 4: Physical (Space) Features

A student’s learning space should make them feel physically and emotionally safe. Flexible learning environments create safe spaces for students to confidently take risks, be celebrated when they succeed, and supported when they fail. This student-centered method of teaching gives autonomous opportunities in how, when, and where they learn. This approach addresses inequities and provides opportunities for all students, including those that don’t thrive in the traditional classroom environment.


Sustainable K12 educational and cultural environments are grounded in strong sense-of-place. Districts and educators can achieve equity and inclusion for all students by supporting student-centered learning with flexible space and by applying the four components of sense-of-place. Flexible learning environments support the physical, social, and emotional needs of the future.


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