To implement flexible seating in your classroom successfully, you will need to start with a plan. From there, you can commence sourcing alternative seating options and begin to make physical changes to the room. It’s important that you maintain open communication with students, parents, and your school’s principal throughout the entire process.
A flexible seating classroom is dynamic and will evolve with time. After initially introducing flexible seating, you should continue to develop the learning spaces according to the changing needs of your students (and of yourself). To ensure the continued success of your flexible seating environment you should reteach the rules often.
Make a Plan
Before you implement flexible seating in your classroom, sit down and make a plan. Think about the types of lessons that you will be teaching throughout the year, and what kind of spaces will be necessary. For example, consider how to create areas that support 1:1 learning, partner work, and small group learning. Then, plan for how you can accommodate whole-class discussions. Seats that can be re-arranged and moved around easily by the kids are best for flexible seating.
Your plan should also include ideas on storage space. Students will no longer have their own desk space to store their personal materials. Using shared storage bins is a popular and effective choice. Alternatively, you could use lockers, bookcases, or other furniture around the classroom.
Flexible seating is just one part of creating a flexible learning environment. It requires a shift in your mentality and your overall approach to teaching. Asking yourself “why” you want to achieve this change in classroom culture should help you with understanding “how” best to get there.
Think about what the benefits will be for the students; how the new layout will improve the way that you teach; and what effect this new pedagogy will have on the functioning of your classroom as a whole.
If you’re new to flexible seating, there’s no need to jump in head-first and overwhelm yourself. The beauty of flexible seating is that it is, by nature, flexible: you can transition gradually by swapping out one piece of traditional seating at a time.
This is a big change for you and for your students, so going slow is perfectly fine—even advisable. This will give you all enough time to adjust your teaching style and will ensure that by the time you have completed the transformation, everyone is on the same page and understands the rules of flexible seating.
Begin with easy and inexpensive flexible seating options like bean bag chairs, garden chairs, pillows, or seats made from milk crates. This is a simple way to dip a toe in the water and test how flexible seating will work in your classroom.
Source Your Seating
If a total classroom makeover sounds like it’s way too expensive, don’t panic. There are plenty of options when it comes to sourcing economical seats or getting external funding.
Donors Choose should be your first port of call. You can create a project and receive donations to help you reach your goal. Be proactive in promoting the project: share the link on your social media and spread the word. You may be surprised just how many people out there want to support your classroom.
Yard sales and estate sales are fun places to look for inexpensive yet sturdy furniture. You can also keep an eye on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Let Go, and other similar resale platforms. It’s worth asking around, too—speak to parents, school staff, post on social media, and even speak with local businesses who might be interested in providing materials to your cause.
Choosing the Best Flexible Seating Options
With so many varieties of seats to choose from, picking the most appropriate options can be a case of trial and error. Popular choices include bean bags, ball chairs (yoga balls), crate chairs, or even simple cushions or squares of carpet for the floor. A lot of students and teachers also like standing desks, as they promote physical health. Standing has been shown to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, improve mood and energy levels, boost productivity, and lower the risk of various health conditions.
We recommend holding back a few traditional desks to cater to students that prefer more structure and have trouble adjusting to the new flexible learning environment. Some kids will just always prefer traditional seating, and that’s okay, too!
It’s inevitable that parents, students, and your admin will have questions about your plans to introduce flexible seating. There will probably be some concerns raised by all. To ensure a smooth transition, it’s wise to have your answers to their questions ready in advance. Encourage open communication about your project at every stage and through a variety of channels.
Parents of your students may not even have heard about flexible seating before or know what it is. An effective way to address their doubts is to host an open house. Hand out brochures, flyers, or a sheet that contains information about what flexible seating is and why it benefits students’ learning. You could also send a newsletter home that explains more about it, and post picture updates to social media, or the school’s website or blog.
Especially if you are in early childhood education, parents may need reassurance that this is the best choice for their child. Worried parents may ask you things like, “What if my child cannot cope with the change in classroom culture?” and “How will you deal with situations when more than one child wants to use a particular seat?”
It’s vital that your kids understand why you’re implementing flexible seating and the philosophy behind it.
Ensure you have an effective feedback loop in place. The whole idea of flexible seating is to create a student-centered environment to boost their learning ability. Let them take ownership and tell you what is and isn’t working for them. This will change as time goes on and the kids discover which seats suit their learning styles better.
You can use an interactive form or voting system on your SMART Board, if you have one, for students to leave their opinion. When they understand that they can influence the flexible seating arrangements, they feel a sense of responsibility and buy-in. This results in them taking better care of the seats.
Go to your admin prepared. Explain your entire plan about how you intend to introduce flexible seating, from initial investment right through to completion. Give them a solid understanding of the benefits it will bring in terms of students’ academic results and you will be sure to garner their confidence.
Reinforce the Rules
Having steadfast rules in place will help your transition go smoothly. Set out clear expectations from the get-go about how students should choose and use each seating option. Reminding them of these important rules frequently is a good tactic. The students should understand that flexible seating is not a free-for-all, or an opportunity to sit with their friendship group: it’s a valuable tool to improve their education by creating comfortable and targeted learning spaces.
The rule “Smart Spot” applies to the way in which students decide on their seating choice. They should choose the spot that is best suited to their learning style for a given activity—not for any other reason.
If a student is unhappy with their choice of seat, they can ask to move. You might want to cap this at one move per student per day to avoid unnecessary and disruptive frequent movement.
Use Seating Correctly
Before any type of seating can be used, you should create an anchor chart (or charts) about the proper way to sit on it. These Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) can be referred back to at any time and will provide clarity for both you and the students about what is and isn’t acceptable.
When it comes down to it, the teacher has the executive decision about where students will sit. Sometimes it’s necessary to wield this power when students break the rules, for example, if someone is misusing a seat and it is disrupting student learning.
Ongoing Management of Your Flexible Seating Classroom
The work doesn’t end when you’ve completed the initial implementation of flexible seating in your classroom. Don’t be scared and feel the need to ‘get it right’ the first time around. Using feedback from your kids, you will probably end up changing your classroom layout multiple times throughout the school year.
The most important thing to remember when implementing flexible seating is that you will also need to be flexible yourself, and should encourage others to embrace the change for the right reasons. Such a shift in classroom culture can take time for everyone to accept and adapt to. Being consistent, clear, and positive in your implementation process will support a smooth transition for all involved.