Flexible seating is the buzz word of many educational blogs and websites these days as teachers rethink the traditional paradigm of desks in rows. Wobbling and wiggling furniture has boomed into the marketplace as we are realizing that children learn best when they can move and not focus totally on ‘sitting still’. I have watched this trend emerge since I designed the Primary Innovation Studio years ago…. but….(clearing throat here)….I am realizing and learning some new caveats for this age of the chair (or not) in our classrooms of today.
It is not all about the chair or where the kid sits (flexible seating). Of course, I believe in modern environments and choice for kids, but there is more, alot more.
I hear the mumble, “Hey, whoa Nellie, aren’t you the modern furniture girl who teaches people about ways to ‘rem-imagine their space? What’s up, you are contradicting yourself….”
No. I am not. I am proclaiming some stuff that I have seen and am polishing my
understanding of what kids need for learning today. Call it chair evolution.
After some contemplation, here are some MUSTS for today’s learning environments, and they are free:
A Safe Culture
This does not mean physical comfort first. This means psychological comfort first. If a child feels that he/she is heard, seen and respected within a culture of other caring humans, in a place where it is okay to make a mistake and try again, he/she is safe. This means that the student has a voice in his/her world—a voice to proclaim a suggestion, a good idea, or a grievance where he/she is heard. Many of us say we’ve been doing this for years; however, the ‘new’ safe culture is deeper. It is truly spending a more concentrated amount of time allowing the student to have a voice and be who they are in the environment…and the ‘getting to know stuff’ is not completely driven by teacher designed activities; moreover, student voice and choice within the walls of the school–it’s all about *co-creation of the environment, students and teacher, together.
A Part in It
Trust me, I WAS the ‘pretty classroom’ lady—-everything was there for me (and the parents loved it too–and not to mention my teacher colleagues’ oo-ing and ah-ing). I literally pulled out all the stops from fringed curtains to grandma’s pie safe–ornamented with stuffed book characters (out of kids’ reach), pictures, trinkets, etc. When the first day of school arrived, my students came into this world to find their desk with an amazing name tag taped on.
(I know now that all of the decor over 4 feet went unnoticed by them—-really??? ugh!)
The kids entered MY environment. It was never theirs.
As I have evolved in my thinking over the past four years, it is clear that students need to be a part of the design, operation and manufacturing of their learning space. For a teacher to begin a year like this, his/her quest should be to design a variety of flexible seating and work spaces and have it there (casually) for kids to see. The kids, when acclimated in a genuine way, will share what they need as learners during those first few crucial community building weeks. That is when the kids ‘build their house of learning’.
Assignments & Desk Tags
I knew a teacher who had a variety of seating, and decided to rotate her kids through the options (weekly) so they could find their favorite type of seating. This sounded good at first; however, in the end, the kids went home saying, “MMMMOOOOMMM, Mrs. # is making me sit on the floor!”
Obviously, this became a problem for the parent community.
But here again, this is part of the creation of environment which takes place during the first weeks of school, when students are introduced to a room which is ‘theirs’, and they are charged with making it work for them. When the room belongs to kids, it can be bucket seating from the hardware store and kids will be really happy and content.
Is this easy? No. Is it possible? Yes. It just takes the courage to start the year with a plan to give the environment to the students.
(Yes… it is more of that lessoning of our control that we ALL struggle with, including me.)
Second story, I talked to a teacher (halfway through the school year) who was questioning giving environment to her students as she explained a ‘train wreck’ that occurred when she tried. When she brought the subject up, in circle. One student said, “I want a beanbag pillow!” So, guess what, they ALL wanted the same. Of course, this did not work for her. Warning: When kids have been in environments which are sorted out for them by the teacher, they don’t know what they want. They do not know what is best for a learning environment. They do not know themselves as a learner, they know what they need to do for the teacher.
Students have been conditioned to be adapters not self proclaimers. If this is the case, the teacher must facilitate and incorporate a series of self discovery experiences allowing his/her students to understand themselves on a more personal level and not by the ideas of their peers. Ideally this is done at the beginning of the year.
A Bunch of Money Spent on Furniture?
I am not convinced that money on chairs and such is the answer for addressing the needs of today’s students. It would be unfair to push all of our funds into new and expensive furniture before instructional supports such as more teachers and more technology were addressed. It is all about balance. The new furniture items are great, don’t get me wrong.
The classroom hacking movement offers tons of ideas for making a classroom more flexible and kid centered. In this case, I suppose one needs to strike a pose of balance and fiscal responsibility, because furniture is pricey.
HOWEVER, (louder voice here) I also believe in solid professional development to help teachers move into a more coaching and facilitating roles as opposed to the way they learned to teach in college, and this was a role of complete teacher management and control–management in regard to assigned seating, created environment, and boxed lessons. (That is the way I learned to teach too.) So many teachers can create a ‘space’ from the pictures collected on Pinterest boards and visits to ‘innovative’ classrooms; however, they need to know ‘how’ to teach ‘this’ way–because it is not the way they (we) were trained. And ‘that way’ needs to be insulated with myth busting power to defeat the naysayers who feel this new personalized ‘movement’ is: kids choosing their own curriculum, political, kids running wild, teachers not teaching, and all that jazz that is not true. It’s about today’s students.
So, to sit or not to sit? That is the question. Flexible seating environments are EASY when the teacher introduces them with the kids in mind and ON BOARD. The focus is not the chair. It is the heart of a child who is growing up in a very different world than we did. This child has to navigate confusing media, non stop schedules, and much more ‘stuff’ than we did. So, the chair is not the answer, but it does help with the wiggles, that is for certain.