I’ve started my journey as a flexible seating classroom. Yes, it’s a journey. I do love hyperbole, but that’s not what’s happening here. Flexible seating is a mixture of bumps, smooth trails, and hills while embarking on the arduous journey to what I think of as the Emerald City. I view true flexible seating to be a classroom Utopia. That’s why I made the change. When I started teaching eight years ago, I always wanted my classroom to resemble my home. I’m comfortable there. I love to spend time there. I get so much done when I’m there.
Flexible seating. I love it; I’m scared of it; it makes me smile; it gives me the nervous butterflies. This mixture of emotions might seem extreme to you non-teachers out there, but it’s not. For those teachers who haven’t taken the “flexible seating” plunge, you probably know what I mean.
You might be asking, “What is so scary about flexible seating?” Well, like with any educational initiative, it takes time, energy, and a whole lot of procedure/routines to handle. Most of all, it’s a risk. Now, to you, it might not seem as high stakes as investing in that stock, but it is for me. I have a lot to lose. Norms. Procedures. Routines. Expectations. Order and organization. Sanity. Just to name a few.
If you’re not a teacher, you might be thinking, “Is this girl serious? Does she really think changing seats is this big of a deal?” Well, here’s my best comparison. For those of you in the medical field- it’s like changing your patient’s meds from a tried and tested medicine to a trial drug. You’ve researched it. It has worked before, and it’s worked extremely well. But, you’re not sure how it’s going to work for your patient. You’re not sure if it WILL work, but everything you’ve researched shows it’s the most effective means. My circumstance is not life or death, but it’s challenging the century-long norms of education. That’s kind of a big deal. The well-being and success of my students is my responsibility.
In Education, establishing norms is paramount to the successful classroom management of any teacher. Changing up those norms mid-year is a risk. It’s a risk for me as an instructional leader. My classroom management procedures, routines, and expectations will have to be different. I am going to have to be different. This flexible seating model is going to test the Type A side of my personality that craves order and organization.
As of one week ago, I had “assigned seats” in my classroom. Students sat at the numbered desk that matched their alphabetical order number. Seeing 250 little ones each week takes management … some serious classroom management founded upon routine, procedure, organization, and high expectations. That’s all before you add flexible seating to the mix. Students need to know where they sit. They need to know where their space is. The need to have boundaries about who they sit next to. At least that’s what I used to think. With flexible seating, things are much different. A child’s space is where ever they feel works for them. Their space is where they feel comfortable. Their space is where they can get the most work done. Their space is where they can focus the best. Their space is not fixed; it’s fluid. It’s their choice. I am empowering them to make their own choices. I am not telling them to sit somewhere just because “I said so”.
I had so many questions and concerns when I started researching flexible seating a few months ago. What happens when there is a substitute? How do I explain this philosophy to a teacher who went to the same type of school I went to- one with rows and columns of desks? What if my administration comes to observe me, and they view children changing seats during class a distraction? The novelty of new furniture. What if it never wears off? What if this model only works with a few classes? Well, I shared all of these concerns with my students. I wanted to be open with them. When I asked them what they thought my concerns would be, they understood.
At one point, I had a 7 year old child say, “I think you’re nervous because what if it doesn’t work?” What if this doesn’t work? Right there. She just … got it. That exact moment reassured me in so many ways. While I was thinking so much about my concerns, I forgot why I originally wanted to make this change. My students are amazing. My students astound me every day. My students work hard. Above all, my students and I are a team. I care about my students just as much as they care about me … maybe more. These kids deserve a classroom that they want to come to. They deserve to not sit in a hard plastic chair all day when their little bodies are craving movement. They deserve the best.
I got rid of all my desks and chairs. Every. Single One. Like I told my students, those plastic and metal pieces of furniture are certainly durable, but they are by no means comfortable. Not for eight hours a day. I traded my traditional furniture out for bean bag couches, ottomans, stability balls, a café style table, wobble stools, giant pillows, a kneeling table, a sitting table, and the carpet. It sounds like a lot, and right now it is. But, it’s one step closer to my Emerald City … my Utopian classroom.
After years of continuing with the status quo, I’m breaking out. Flexible seating isn’t just a change in furniture. Not at all. This is a fundamental shift in how I view my students, and how we view OUR classroom. It’s not “my” classroom anymore. It’s “our” learning environment. We are a team. I know this new approach will be successful because I have so much faith in the little learners I see every day. I have faith in myself. I have faith in change.
I love change. I love to create change. Flexible seating is change. I’m ready for it.
I missed those nervous butterflies. I’m glad they’re back. What have you done in your classroom to give you the nervous butterflies?