PUBLISHED: Friday, February 6, 2015

Linda Zane

Published: 2015

There is an exciting new area in education—the intersection of design and learning. In the new book, Pedagogy and Space, author Linda Zane helps educators create spaces that support children’s growth and development. We recently chatted with Linda about her road to teaching children, writing this book, and what inspires her to keep going.

Image of the book Pedagogy and Space

Can you share a brief timeline of your educational and professional life?

Looking back, life is amazing and has brought me full circle from my original desire to teach in a college setting. As an undergraduate Business & Psychology major at the University of Pittsburgh, I fell in love with the university atmosphere—the hustle and bustle of both students and faculty engaged in learning. But it took me 15 years down a winding road of career choices to bring that thought to fruition.

From an assistant buyer in a department store, to a toddler teacher, to obtaining my master’s degree in teaching, to the assistant director and then director of a child care center, and finally to the university classroom and achieving a doctoral degree in education—each experience allowed me to gain invaluable expertise that I am privileged to share with those I teach at Slippery Rock University of PA. And I am thrilled to have fulfilled my dream of teaching in a college setting, albeit via a very long and circuitous route!


What sparked your interest in architecture and space design, and how did that interest grow into the desire and knowledge to write a book focused on the approach?

My older daughter is currently in graduate school for architecture. When she was an undergraduate architecture major, I stumbled upon one of her books—A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Alexander et al, 1977). I was fascinated by the authors’ view of ‘patterns’ within our built environment—suggestions that, above all, humanize the places we inhabit. Because I have always been very sensitive to and aware of the physical environment around me, I immediately began to envision how this information could be translated to the early childhood classroom environment. This vision inspired me to put pen to paper, simply because I was convinced that these concepts could also be helpful to others within the field of early education.


Tell us about Pedagogy and Space. How does this resource help early childhood professionals work better with children?

Teachers are always trying to improve their ‘pedagogy’ (the art and science of teaching), as a way to fully support children’s growth and development. But the ‘space’ that a child inhabits, whether it is her early childhood classroom, her home, or the outdoors, plays an equally critical role in her learning. Children build upon prior knowledge, through engaging with both people and the items in their environment. Spaces that are rich with materials, and that encourage inquiry, critical thinking, and collaboration, will certainly enhance their learning, as compared to bland, sterile environments that are devoid of resources. This text explores these notions, but also takes the idea one step further, introducing early educators to design patterns and suggestion—enlivening their classrooms by giving attention to interesting lighting, seating, entrances/exits, and the like. Schools and classrooms do not have to be institutional and boring; rather, they should be places to which both adult educators and children love to come daily!


Do you have a favorite design idea for classrooms?

In my opinion, the one design idea that is the easiest to implement but the least utilized is the creative use of lighting. The lighting within a room can create an immediate ambiance, setting the mood for any number of activities. There are times when the room should be bright with light (such as playing a physically active game with the entire class); in this case, it’s appropriate to use both natural lighting and overhead fluorescent lighting. There are other times when a warm atmosphere and ‘pools of light’ seem more appropriate; the availability of a variety of lamps, hanging lights, and/or track lighting placed strategically throughout room will provide warmth and interest within the classroom. And when a more magical ambiance is desired, utilizing twinkle lights, differently colored light bulbs, and placing gauzy fabric near the room lighting will provide an enchanted atmosphere. If ‘pedagogy’ represents the art of teaching, then lighting can represent the teacher’s palette, upon which he is able to build a more varied repertoire of instruction.


What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you began your career?

I am not one to have regrets, because I am a believer in educational scaffolding—each life experience builds on the previous to increase one’s level of proficiency and expertise. However, I do wish I were more aware of the variety of interesting design aspects that could enhance the classroom experiences of both teachers and children. When I began my career as an early childhood educator, or even as Director of a NAEYC-accredited program, I was always more concerned with the quality of student-teacher interactions and curricular best practice. But if I knew then what I know now, I would be looking at classrooms as palettes, upon which light, color, and design assist in creating pedagogical masterpieces.


Where can we find you on a typical day?

I do try to begin each day on the treadmill, since it gives me the energy to tackle the day’s challenges. If school is in session, I am then either out the door to visit student teachers at local schools, or driving my 50-mile commute to campus. I generally teach multiple sections of a course entitled Theory and Practice in Early Childhood Education. I also occasionally teach Child Development and/or an Early Childhood Education Curriculum Integration course. During the summer I don’t teach, so there is no typical day! However, I have found that summer is the best time to work on additional projects, like writing my next book!


What’s on your bucket list, career-wise or personally?

I have a great interest in global education, and my bucket list includes visiting early childhood classrooms around the world! I have had the opportunity to visit classrooms in France and Sweden, and in 2013 I began taking students to visit early childhood classrooms in Sweden during spring break. There is much that one can learn by spending time in a variety of different classrooms, within the realms of both pedagogy and space. I count it a privilege to share this with my students as well, since they invariably return from Sweden more enlightened than they ever thought possible.


Do you have any special moments from your own childhood teachers or examples of how education changed your life?

The teacher who most impacted my life was Miss Susan Radanovich. Miss Radanovich was my second grade teacher, and I was a student in her very first class as a new college graduate. She breathed life into each day’s lessons with her enthusiasm and boundless energy. But her biggest impact was made by her interactions with the students; each student was convinced they were her favorite. Somehow she shared equal amounts of interest and attention with all of us, and her loving care for us as people shone through daily. Likewise, my greatest satisfaction from teaching comes from the connections made with students. I can only hope to have the lasting and loving impact upon my students that Miss Radanovich had upon hers, such that the positive memories linger, even after forty years!


Learn more and see a full list of titles by Linda Zane.