Kelley Tanner

Kelley Tanner was educational planner and researcher fueled by her desire to make a difference in education.

For most of her 25-year professional career, Kelley was involved with the planning or design of human-centered environments, with primary focus on how people learn and defining authentic learning environments. Through her work and experiences, Kelley developed a valuable understanding of the intersection of learning and place.

With an ability to connect with a diversity of people and perspectives, Kelley was a valuable member to any team. She was known for her no-nonsense, approachable style of communication and her ability to embrace multiple viewpoint. As detail-oriented and organized person she could balance the “big picture” and overall vision to enable creative solutions and successful consensus building. Her approach was always to first listen.

As founder of the research arm of BrainSpaces, “BrainSpaces | Connextions”, Kelley practiced as an educational planner, researcher or communications strategist with many local and national educational organizations/foundations, school districts and architects. She served as the Association for Learning Environments (A4LE)  International Board Member representing the Pacific Northwest Region at the time of her passing.


The Kelley Tanner Innovation Award

In honor of her relentless pursuit of innovations to improve learning, the Association for Learning Environments established an annual award in her name. Excerpts from the A4LE award submittal website:

The Kelley Tanner Innovation Award showcases ideas and initiatives that explore and implement inventive approaches to navigating complex and changing external contexts for teaching, learning, supporting and operating educational facilities.

This award is designed to showcase and celebrate – and even stimulate – innovative and pioneering practices that enhance learning, our profession, and the communities we serve.

In her career as an educational facility planner and in her role as A4LE International Board Member, Kelley Tanner rigorously supported innovation. She believed in the need to innovate to thrive in a world shaped by shifting priorities, politics, research, and technological advances. Her personal and professional values were intertwined as she sought to positively affect the lives of youth through both ideas and actions. Kelley lived graciously and courageously with cancer until the very end, inspiring and teaching us along the way. A4LE shares her commitment to innovation, and we are excited to support her legacy through the Kelley Tanner Innovation Award.

We invite innovators at all levels to share your ideas and achievements!

To learn more, go here.

May 29, 2020 – The Wait is Over

Kelley and I started working on this a few weeks ago, and I want everyone to know that this post includes some things she wanted me to write.

As you may have heard, our beloved friend, colleague, sister, daughter, aunt passed from this world on Friday afternoon after roughly 3 weeks in hospice.  

During those weeks, she and I spoke, zoomed, texted daily, often on the phone for hours at a time. (Apologies if some of you were trying to call her and couldn’t get through).  She was scared, emotional, scrambling to say what needed to be said to all of us.  Our conversations focused on fun times, memories, her awesome niece and nephews, the love of her brother, sister-in-law and mother, some work stuff, and this. Her haunting question:  what does one do while they’re waiting to die?  Waiting has been the grueling, frustrating, sad and painful norm for Kelley throughout the past 18-months or so – from waiting for insurance to kick-in, to waiting for appointments and treatments, to now.  Kelley, my love, the brutal waiting is finally over.  

Showing strength and wit until her last days, she wanted me to adopt and to share a title she wished to be remembered by: “a kind pain in the ass”.  Not a “kind-of” pain in the ass – a distinction she wanted made crystal clear. 

Kindness was a gift of Kelley’s, but as she admitted, one needs to be an asshole to know how difficult it is to be kind sometimes.  Kelley wanted you to know this.  She made it look so simple that we didn’t even see the “ass-hole” side, but she felt it and always seemed to power through and speak her mind with kindness and respect.  I think I saw her rolling her eyes when she caught me saying something stupid, but she would never admit it.  Oh, by the way, she was usually right.  Kelley refused to play “politics” (ever), which she said was her “downfall”.  For the record, I refuse to see it as anything other than her relentless pursuit of the truth – which I guess makes some folks uncomfortable.  

For me, Kelley was my wing-man.  I did a better job of whatever I was doing (work-related and otherwise) when we were together.  Mostly, I knew she would call me out (kindly, of course) whenever it mattered, and I have come to rely on that.  I know she’s watching me now, forever and always, and I hope to continue to rely on it.  Mostly I hope to be up for it, to make her proud until we meet again.  And I know she would want me to take my time, she’s become really good at waiting…

Goodnight sweet princess.  May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. 
(that’s Shakespeare/paraphrased, in case it matters).

love love
your forever friend, Amy


“Dear A4LE Friends,
As you wind down this
evening please take a moment to remember our friend and colleague, Kelley Tanner, who passed away last night. After a short but fierce battle with cancer, she succumbed peacefully with her family in Alaska by her side.

Kelley will be remembered for, among other things, her love of A4LE. She believed deeply in our mission and served the association through leadership at every level. Most recently Kelley served as the Pacific-Northwest region’s representative to the international board of directors where (as Phil Idle noted when he recognized her at last year’s international conference) she asked the defining questions that helped shape our conversations and, indeed, the future of the association.

Trying to capture in a single narrative what Kelley meant to so many people would be futile – her reach was vast and her impact profoundly deep … As for me, as much as I appreciated Kelley’s knack for asking just the right question at just the right time, what I’ll remember most is her laugh. I can hear it now. …
Rest in peace, Kelley.” –

Bill Bradley, friend and A4LE colleague