This blog post was written by guest contributor Jessica Romeo of Hello 3rd Grade.
If your social media feed is anything like mine, it’s probably flooded with photos of beautiful, flexible seating classrooms. But there’s very little practical information on how to make that work, where to start or the complications that may arise and how to tackle them. In this blog post, I want to share with you a few of my best tips for anyone looking to incorporate flexible seating into their classroom.
1. Focus on the environment and your “why,” not the “stuff”
Focus on how flexible seating will shift the culture of your classroom, not just the look of it. I feel like this is an important step that many teachers miss, and it may lead to frustrations later on. So often, we get caught up in the “stuff” and don’t put enough energy toward how this is going to change our pedagogy and the culture of our classrooms. Some things you might want to think about when considering flexible seating are:
- What would be the benefit for students?
- How will this improve how you teach?
- What spaces do you want to create for students, and how will that be different than what you have now?
- Where will students collaborate, and where will they work independently?
- Where will you teach whole group lessons? Small group lessons?
2. Propose your ideas to your admin
Your admin is a stakeholder in your classroom and clueing them in to your plan will make the transition a lot smoother. Go to them prepared with why you want to use flexible seating, the changes you plan to make and, most importantly, the benefits those changes will have on your students. Even if your admin is hesitant, they will be more willing to let you try something new if they can see you are doing it for the right reasons. I would suggest going to them with research and a plan – not just a list of what stuff you’ll need.
3. Create rules and practice, practice, practice
Teach procedures for everything and practice over and over. Create non-negotiables about how to use each piece of equipment and be firm in their implementation. It’s important for me to share with my students why we are using flexible seating in the first place. I always start by telling my students it’s a tool to help us learn, and each area created by flexible seating serves a different purpose. I am very clear that flexible seating is not an opportunity to play or sit next to your bestie. I also explain it is a privilege and should be treated as such. I think going over the rules with them is mostly to help them understand that movement and comfort while learning can be a good thing if it helps us focus.
4. Start slow
Don’t feel like you have to completely change your room overnight; that will only overwhelm you. I would also highly suggest not getting rid of all your desks the first year you use flexible seating. Flexible seating is a big change, and it can be frustrating if you’re not used to giving your students a lot of freedom. Start by removing a few items and adding things slowly. Things like pillows, bean bags, crate seats, gardening pads and chairs are all great options because they’re inexpensive and allow you to try out flexible seating without having to go all in right away.
5. Don’t break the bank
Don’t feel like you have to spend a ton of money to find flexible seating!
Use Donors Choose first and foremost for materials. You can also post your project on your social media pages or send it to family and friends who you think may want to support your classroom. Consider going to businesses to ask if they’d be interested in donating. You never know who may want to help your classroom!
Another great option is to look for materials on resale apps like Let Go, Craigslist and Offer Up. I always find a great price for classroom items, and sometimes, sellers will give me items for free when I tell them I’m a teacher. You can also find awesome materials at yard sales, estate sales and moving sales.
6. Ask students about classroom needs and wants
I use a Google Form once a month to ask my students what their favorite and least favorite seat is and why as well as any suggestions they have for our flexible seating. This gives my students ownership over their classroom and creates buy-in. I feel like the students take better care of our materials because they have a say what is being used and how. They love when I take their suggestions and love it even more when I give them credit.
7. Be flexible, yourself
To me, the most important thing to remember is that your classroom layout is not the most important part of flexible seating. As your students change, what your classroom looks like will change, too. Know that something along the way is probably not going to work, and that’s OK! This past year alone, I drastically changed the layout in my classroom six or seven times because something wasn’t working. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to make changes as you or your students see fit.
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As you go through this process, remember that it’s not about how the classroom looks; it’s about the change in classroom culture and how that will positively affect student learning. If you put that at the forefront of your decision making, you will be successful. There is no right or wrong way to do flexible seating. Whatever works for you and your students is the right way.
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Jessica is a third-grade teacher in southern California. You can follow her on Instagram @hello3rdgrade.