One of the hottest trends in the education world today is flexible seating in the classroom. We know you’ve heard about it, seen millions of pictures on Instagram and Facebook or seen it on your Pinterest feed.
We all know that pictures taken of classrooms to post online are often times staged (aka….you won’t see any messy papers jammed in the desk, pencils on the floor, and all the books in the library are perfectly placed and color coordinated.)
This blog post is as real as it gets! You’ll get to see our classroom in action and a true picture of how we implemented flexible seating. We’ll share with you 10 mistakes teachers make when starting flexible seating and how to avoid them! Make sure to grab the FREE resource below as well.
Mistake #1 Not Having a Plan
Before you introduce flexible seating into your classroom, it’s important to make a plan for organization of your students’ materials. What will you do with their notebooks, textbooks, and writing supplies? Will you share materials at tables or will everyone still use their own supplies? We decided in our room to have students keep their own supplies in a zippered pouch. They store all of their notebooks and supplies in a cubby that is attached under our tables. These cubbies are great if you’re lucky enough to have them. We assign each student to a “home base” which is where they keep their things. It’s also nice for taking attendance in the morning so you can quickly take a look around the room and know who’s absent that day. Throughout the day, our students visit their home base often to grab supplies needed for the activity we’re currently working on, but they don’t have to stay there if a different spot works better for them.
Mistake #2 Not Making Your Expectations Clear
You’re probably thinking right now, “Of course I would make my expectations clear!” Our tip here is to encourage you to take time to really show your students how to correctly use and take care of their new seating options. For us, we took a good chunk of time to first go over our general expectations for any of the seats. We had our students help us create a poster that we keep on display all the time. We also took a class period and went into detail with each seating option and talked about what a student should look like and sound like using that seat.
As with any procedure you teach at the beginning of the year, students will do it best if you MODEL, MODEL, MODEL and then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. It’s helpful at first to give each student a chance at trying out each of the seating options so that they can practice using it correctly before you allow them free choice.
Mistake #3 Teaching Your Expectations but Never Revisiting Them
One of the biggest mistakes in implementing flexible seating is to initially take the time to teach expectations, but never revisit those expectations again. As teachers, we all know that it often takes several opportunities of hearing information before a student truly understands and can apply it consistently.
The same is true with your expectations for flexible seating, especially after a long weekend or Spring Break. We keep our expectation chart up all year long as a constant reminder to students and we often refer to it if we see a student not using a seat in an appropriate way.
Mistake #4 Forgetting that You’re Still in Control
Some people think that giving students the choice to pick a seating option that works best for them means that they no longer have any control over the classroom environment. This is simply not true! The most important rule on our expectation chart, and one that we revisit often, is: “Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Warnock have the ability to move anyone at anytime.” This is such an important guideline to put in place because there will be students who make unwise choices with their seats.
They will choose to sit next to their best friend and try to talk instead of focusing on their work. Having this rule on our expectation chart gives us the power to allow student choice while also ensuring a successful work environment for all.
Mistake #5 Redesigning your Entire Classroom Overnight
When we first heard about flexible seating, we were excited about the possibilities and wanted to dive in head first! While it’s exciting and tempting to completely overhaul your entire room overnight, we found that it works best to start small. Can you use anything you already have in your room and repurpose it? Are you able to take the legs off of a table to place it lower to the floor?
Sometimes making small changes and implementing them slowly allows both you and your students to better adjust to the change. It’s also helpful to only introduce one new seating option at a time and wait until your students have mastered using it before introducing a new one.
Mistake #6 Spending Tons of Money Out of Pocket
How much money did you spend on your classroom last year? If you’re anything like us, it was probably a lot. Implementing flexible seating will require an initial investment, but there are options that can save you a lot of money. Almost all of our seating was purchased by a grant through Donor’s Choose. All it required was a short explanation of our classroom and project to be posted. We signed up during the Target match, so much of our project was funded by Target.
There are often companies that offer match opportunities, and you can sign up to receive email notifications when one is available in your area. Here is a link to our funded project if you need ideas on writing your own. Your school PTA/PTO might also offer teacher grants, so make sure to check with them too!
Mistake #7 Buying Everything New
While it is fun and exciting to open new boxes and packages, you can find many great seating options that are used. Think outside of the box! Look around your house (and your classroom) and ask yourself, “How could I use this in my classroom?” Garage sales and Goodwill are also great places to purchase things.
In our classroom, we repurposed some old crates and turned them into seats with just a few dollars spent on plywood, fabric and foam. We’ve also seen pictures of teachers getting old tires from mechanics and adding a pillow inside (what a creative idea!)
Mistake #8 Forcing your Students to Stay in the Same Place All Day
In our classroom, we allow students to change their seat throughout the day. We often notice that students might choose to sit in the morning because they’re not quite awake yet and stand in the afternoon after coming in from recess. If you think about yourself throughout the day, you probably notice that you have different levels of energy too. Allowing students the opportunity to pick the best seat for them at that point in the day is very beneficial.
We have a rule that says, “If a spot is not working for you, ask to move to a better spot.” Having this rule allows students to become self-aware of their learning styles and helps them become more self-directed learners. Notice that we don’t allow them to move whenever they want (remember you’re in control!). Rather, we have them ask us if it’s a good time to move so it’s not too disruptive.
Mistake #9 Not Informing Parents
Flexible seating is a huge shift in thinking from what “traditional school” looks like. In our experience, parents and administration were much more open to the idea of flexible seating once they were informed about it. We included a paragraph in our teacher introduction letter that is sent out to parents during the summer. In this letter we stated that our classroom looks different from what they’re used to and gave a short explanation of how flexible seating works.
This cuts down on the shock parents and students might feel walking into our room on Meet the Teacher Night. We also send home a more detailed letter explaining why we do flexible seating. You can get this editable letter for FREE by clicking HERE.
Mistake #10 Being Afraid to Try Something New
We all like to be comfortable and, let’s be honest, it’s sometime easier to do things the same way over and over again. It would be easier (and sometimes quieter) to just assign seats to students, but is it what’s best for kids? Sometimes it’s necessary to step out of your comfort zone because the benefits far outweigh the risks. This has proven to be true in our classroom. Implementing flexible seating has empowered our kids, increased student engagement and has helped us prepare our students for the real world. What an amazing journey that would never have happened if we stayed “comfortable”.
We wanted to create a resource to help you whether you are just starting out, or need to revamp the flexible seating environment in your classroom. Click below to grab our editable Flexible Seating Starter Toolkit.
We wish you the best of luck on your flexible seating journey!