With brightly coloured walls, and couches, rugs and coffee tables in every classroom, the learning spaces at the  International School of Estonia (ISE) feel very different to those of a traditional school – and the impact on students is profound. The Tallinn-based school has drawn on the latest research in neuroscience and architecture to create an environment that truly engages pupils in deep learning.

“A traditional classroom can feel more like a hospital space,” says Kathleen Naglee, the school’s Director, whose international teaching career has taken her from the US to Hungary to Estonia. “When people walk into our school they often feel a radical difference.” The school has studied research in areas such as how people’s bodies and emotions change in different environments and the science behind creating spaces that truly engage students. The result is a warm, welcoming school with walls painted in striking Mediterranean hues, and cosy corners where students and teachers can gather in a more relaxed, informal setting. “The emotional environment is so important,” says Naglee. “Teachers understand that if pupils are truly engaged they can go as far as they need to.”

The co-educational school offers the International Baccalaureate programme from pre-school level through to Grade 12. Some 30 different nationalities are represented among its 145 pupils and, although it is fee paying, 23 per cent of its pupils are on scholarships, making for a truly diverse setting. It is also highly progressive, with a particular focus on putting into practice new research into the neuroscience behind learning spaces.


Bright futures

ISE’s students achieve great things. Many have gone on to study at the world’s top universities, such as Yale and Oxford, and to work at global companies including Google and the European Central Bank. The school is very technology friendly – it embraced the use of iPads early on and has been noted by Apple for its practices. And it is particularly proud of its record in encouraging girls towards traditionally male-dominated STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Naglee is now working in a consulting role to help other schools design similarly progressive learning spaces. But there’s no resting on laurels, with plans afoot to renovate all of ISE’s building in line with the school’s vision of creating the very best environment for children to learn and flourish.