The Third Teacher

The term “the third teacher” is derived from Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning and who wrote about the three teachers of children: adults, peers and the physical environment. Environment, said Malaguzzi, is “the third teacher.”


The above quote was taken from a brilliant blog post called

Redesigning Education: Why Can’t We Be in Kindergarten for Life?

This blog entry is highly significant. The author, Trung Le, is a principal education designer at Cannon Design. Over the past two years he has helped lead an interdisciplinary group of designers and educators from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany, to collaborate on a research project that resulted in the publication The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning ( )

I feel that we have not given enough thought to the effects of the environment for learning to learning outcomes. There is a school that I regularly go to as part of my job as a Consultant. The entrance to the school (built about seventy years ago) is forbidding, it is dark and grey and every time that I step inside I feel uncomfortable.

The teachers have tried to brighten the dark and dismal corridors but it just hasn’t worked. I see children walking along with very few of them smiling. Just down the road is another school that I go to. It is bright and airy and has been designed to promote flexibility of movement. The outside environment is exciting and there are sculptures in strange looking gardens that ask questions and promote thought. There is a play area which has as many different types of surface and material that you can get into a confined space… the children can explore texture, softness, hardness, and they can use the space to let their imaginations run riot… they can be pirates in the Caribbean or mountain climbers in the Himalayas…. then, when they come back inside they can use these experiences to write, to research or to discuss.

I often think of the fact that these two schools are geographically very near to each other and yet they are a million miles apart in terms of their approach to the use of the environment to facilitate learning.

As we think of the skills that are needed in the “flat world” of the 21st century, we also need to think of what environment we want for our children to learn in. I am excited to read blogs such as Trung Le’s “Design Education Blog” because it is people like him who are getting us to ask the important questions that need to be asked… just what is school learning in our changing world? How can we create the best environment to facilitate collaboration and creativity?

I would strongly recommend that you read Trun Le’s blog.. he also has a very interesting entry about school corridors which made me think about the “factory” approach that we take in our school design and how this leads to so many High Schools becoming places where teenagers wander listlessly and bump into each other or push and shove one another as they go from one box to another in cramped desks centred on the “sage on the stage” in front.

It is good to know that we have such innovative designers as Trung Le around who are bringing school design into the 21st century. In his blog post he has the following quote: “The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind–creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people–artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers–will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.” —Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind

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About malbell

I am a retired Teaching and Learning Consultant. Previously I was a Primary school headteacher and deputy headteacher. I enjoy reading, doing MOOCs and learning new things.
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