Top 3 Reasons to Use Flexible Seating in the Classroom

I have been an educator for 30 years, and I truly believe in the words of teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe: “I touch the future. I teach.” I get to touch our future every day, so when I learn about new practices that will benefit kids, I wholeheartedly jump in.

I recently switched my classroom from traditional to flexible seating and I will never go back. The idea is to create a more comfortable environment that helps students be their best learning selves. My classroom now looks more like a coffee shop or a living room than a traditional classroom. My administrator was thrilled when I approached her with this concept. I did my research and looked at examples, including “Why the 21st Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks” by Kayla Delzer. Delzer’s words and other success stories of teachers around the country convinced me to go this route.

There are many reasons to make this switch, but I want to share my 3 biggest. After you read about what this has done for my classroom, you too will ask yourself, “Why haven’t I done this sooner?”

1. Greater Student and Less Teacher Control

I have given control of my room to my students. They choose where they want to sit daily. There is a variety of high, medium and low seating, including a couch, seating cushions, camp chairs, small rugs and stand-up tables. Students choose where they sit daily, but wherever they choose to sit, it has to help them be their best learning self. Students move the furniture based on their needs; even laying on the floor is acceptable, and sitting by friends is allowed. If a student can’t abide by these rules, I simply move his or her comfy chair somewhere else, and students also move their own seating when there is an issue.

2. Commitment to Learning

My teacher space is less; I spend my time in the room working with students. The room has become “ours” instead of “mine,” and this has given my students a sense of ownership and enabled them to become invested in their own education.

I have witnessed a change in their commitment to learning and behavior. Being comfortable somehow allows the student to stay vested in the task, and their behavior is equally positive. They are willing to work with others, share ideas and move around the room.

There are enough options for everyone, and they take their comfortable seats wherever they go. I have come to realize that not everyone can learn sitting up in a chair. With so many options, students find what works best for them in the room.

3. Less Is More

My students learned to give up their personal desk space and simplify their supplies. Each student has one bin for supplies, and common items are in one spot for easy access. Dry-erase boards fill my room instead of fancy posters, which allows the kids to generate what we need. Necessary posters are on a hanging-chart stand in one common place for easy reference.

Getting Started

You may ask how I started this classroom transformation. It took one summer to start the process. I have 30 fifth-grade students in my not-very-large room, along with 30 desks and 30 traditional chairs, plus my bench, Adirondack chair, 7 tractor stools, a cowboy-themed bookshelf and 4 other bookshelves for storage. Here is the path I took to create a new arrangmenet in my very full classroom:

  • I turned to Pinterest for advice from teachers who have been successful in making this change.
  • I took the legs off 12 of my students’ desks, creating desks that sat approximately 8–10 inches off the floor instead of the standard desk height. Twelve students could now choose to sit at these short desks on the floor.
  • I purchased cheap cushions for their new seating.
  • I purchased two tall tables and eliminated 6 more desks.
  • I also made cute clothespins with each student’s name on them and a sign designating the maximum number of students who could use each seating spot.
  • On the first day of school, I introduced the basic rules for flexible seating.
  • Each day the students had to try a different spot. Their clothespins reserved their spots for the next academic day.

Student Reactions

With seven different types of seating available, it took about 2 ½ weeks for students to try all of them. After that time, I allowed students to “free choose” each day. It became obvious after the first several months that students could handle working with their friends, and we eliminated the signs.

I had a few issues with students not being able to focus, but when I did, I simply asked the student to move to a new spot with his or her comfy seating. It wasn’t a problem because they couldn’t argue with my philosophy that students should be able to be comfortable and learn at the same time.

I was able to get more teaching done, and the students were able to get more learning in, as they quickly got ready each day so as not to lose their choice spots.

After the first month, the students were ready to eliminate even more desks. I asked if any students wanted to “desk/locker share” with a partner. This brought on a HUGE response. Pairs quickly formed, and students moved desk items into one space instead of two. We eliminated another six to eight desks.

Collaboration and neatness came into play for those sharing storage space. Desks were becoming a place to work instead of “homes” for individual students.

We finally had only six desks out of the original 30 by mid to late September. I placed a tablecloth over these after we emptied them and gave the remaining students cubby bins. Now that all students had a bin on one of the bookshelves against the wall they no longer wanted the desks.

The chairs that were left for the two desks-turned-tables were cumbersome and took up too much space. We wanted to get rid of these as well, so I purchased two coffee tables with shelves underneath. These replaced the final desks and chairs.

I also eliminated the overhead fluorescent lighting and replaced it with six classroom lamps to add to the calming mood and living-room-like setting. My blinds stay open all day for natural lighting.

Explore Seating Options!

From bean bags to cushions to stools and powered furniture, the options are endless. Students will love having alternative seating options, and you’ll love the positive impact on your learning environment.

Challenges

We did face a few challenges along the way, but not many.

1. Extra Furniture

Moving the desks out created a bit of a headache for our building’s custodian. I also had the coatrack removed from my room. This created a HUGE amount of freed-up space that we didn’t realize we had. The coatrack is now in the hallway, and we have to keep that area clean. We are deliberate with where backpacks are hung up (by size and weight now), as well as coats, boots and lunchboxes.

2. Storage Room for Cubbies

My principal purchased two movable cubby holders for my classroom. The bins are smaller than we would have liked, but they work. This space helped us to downsize our materials. We don’t need so many folders and spirals, and it’s easier for the students to keep track of their items. There’s no more “desk diving” to find something.

I also keep one shelf of extra supplies, including pencils, sticky notes, paper and markers. Students no longer waste an entire session trying to find a pencil.

3. Arguing Over Seating

Yes, whenever a new piece of furniture appeared in the process, everyone wanted to sit on it or use it. Simple solution: draw sticks. This solved the problem.

4. Teammates’ Classrooms and Other Students’ Responses

I have had my teammates’ students ask if I can convince their teachers to change their rooms too! I have created a wave of enthusiasm in my building, for the better. Other students will literally run to be first in the room so they can go to their choice spot. What a fun dilemma to have — to have to rush to get into the room to learn!

The Benefits of Change

To make this change, it required me to believe in it wholeheartedly. I had to change my mindset and be open to the idea of the constant movement of the students sitting where they wanted in order to be comfortable.

I used to have to schedule “brain breaks” about every hour when we were still in our seats. The brain break activity would get the kids up and out of their hard plastic chairs and desks and moving for a few minutes before we would go back to sitting again. We no longer need that resource.

The students automatically move when they need to and change positions in their seating arrangements. In fact, I notice they are so comfortable that they no longer complain of having their bottoms fall asleep or their backs hurt like they did when they were in desks.

They can stretch their legs out and not worry if their feet end up under someone else’s desk or in their personal space. I often see kids working back to back in camp chairs with their feet up on the table, unaware of anyone else by them, even their best friends.

The benefits of flexible seating far outweigh any negatives. After making all these changes, I will never go back to traditional seating.

At this year’s parent-teacher conferences, all of the parents stated that their child has a completely different attitude about school now. The kids love coming to school and learning, and they couldn’t be happier.

I couldn’t be happier either. We have noticed we have so much more room, and everyone remarks on this since the change. As I continue my classroom transformation, I’ve added a small popcorn machine, hot cocoa on cold days, a jar of snacks (each student can have one snack per week from the jar), and I have plans to add more greenery with live plants.

If you want to make this change in your learning environment, it’s important to remember to have a positive mindset and recognize that this process takes time. To create an environment that looks like a living room or a coffee house, be deliberate with your choices and remember to color coordinate the room.

All of my boards are navy blue with red trim, and my theme is “cowboy,” with western antiques on the walls. My furniture is also color coordinated. Students can handle the real thing, so when you add furniture, make it nice by painting it or covering it. Take that extra time and your students will truly appreciate it.

If you start small and seek out the advice of others who have gone through this process, it will help ensure a successful transformation. The results — a more active, engaged, enthusiastic, and relaxed room of students — are worth the effort.

For more information about my journey, visit my blog at studylikestarbucks.blogspot.com. Post your comments below, and I will happily respond to any questions you have and support you in any way I can.

Author

Kelly Almer

Kelly Almer

Kelly has been an educator for 30 years in Littleton Public Schools in Littleton, CO, and has taught grades 4–7. Her areas of focus include gifted and talented, technology and instructional coaching. She has presented at the Innovative Education Colorado Conference, as well as the ISTE International Conference in 2016. Kelly loves being an educator and is constantly learning and striving to improve and try new methods. Along with teaching, she is also an accomplished painter. You can follow Kelly’s blog.