Flexible Seating 101: All You Need to Know Before You Transform Your Classroom

Flexible Seating 101

Ready to try flexible seating but aren’t sure where to start? This guide will help you find your way through the sometimes-confusing world of flexible seating. Follow it step-by-step and get ready to transform your classroom!

1. Read the research and understand the benefits 

Be prepared for administrators, families, other teachers and even students to ask why you made the shift to flexible seating. What is the point of rearranging a classroom to look more like a living room than a traditional classroom? The research, as yet, is inconclusive though promising – and with the newfound popularity of flexible seating, more research is sure to follow. 

There are many benefits of flexible seating. One that research does wholeheartedly support is the benefit of getting students up and moving. Former teacher and current researcher Eric Jensen concludes in his article “Moving with the brain in mind” that “active learning has significant advantages over sedentary learning. The advantages include learning in a way that is longer-lasting, better remembered, more fun, age-appropriate and intelligence independent and that reaches more kinds of learners.” 

A 2012 study in the Journal of Learning Spaces titled “Space and Consequences: The Impact of Different Formal Learning Spaces on Instructor and Student Behavior” concludes with three findings about how space influences classroom learning. 

First, the study concludes that “space shapes instructor behavior and classroom activities;” next, that “instructor behavior and classroom activities shape on-task student behavior;” and three, that “ therefore, space shapes on-task student behavior.” 

Many teachers cite anecdotal evidence about the benefits of flexible seating. Teachers who have used flexible seating report that it increases student comfort and allows them choice in their environment, both of which are important to optimize focus. Other teachers say that flexible seating facilitates increased collaboration among students. 

Read: 16 Awesome Flexible-Seating Classrooms That’ll Blow Your Teacher Mind

2. Consider your goals

The way you will re-envision and rearrange your classroom should be shaped by the goals you have for your instruction. For example, the 2012 study cited above demonstrated that a traditional classroom space in which rows of desks face the teacher are best in a lecture-based classroom, whereas small groupings of seats are best for discussions and group activities. A teacher who plans for hands-on learning might want lots of table space for students to conduct experiments and build projects, while yet another teacher might want to design their classroom with comfortable nooks to facilitate reading and creative writing. 

3. Talk to your administrator

Any classroom shift as major as moving to flexible seating requires administrator support. Given that flexible seating has taken the teaching world by storm, your administrator with likely be familiar with the concept and, possibly, the benefits. Be prepared to address concerns your administrators might raise. Expect to address concerns about cost and perceived advantages for your students (see below for more ideas about getting the most bang for your buck in terms of funding flexible seating). 

4. Talk to custodial staff

After you get the stamp of approval from your admin, you need to pay a visit to your school’s facilities manager and loop in your classroom custodian. Custodial staff have additional concerns you need to address, such as making sure your new furniture is up to fire code. Your custodian may want to make sure they can easily move between furniture to vacuum and clean your classroom after students are gone for the day.

You, too, may want to consider cleanliness as you plan your new classroom layout and before you invest in new types of seating. Traditional classroom furniture and flooring are designed with industrial cleaning in mind. Desks are easier to wipe down than a soft, fabric-covered easy chair, and the same applies to floors. The age of your students and the materials commonly used in your classroom (glitter versus formaldehyde, for example) will influence what types of furniture you are comfortable bringing into your room. 

5. Draw up a plan

Take the measurements of your room (length and width) and then look into online floor-planning software such as RoomSketcher, Floorplanner or SmartDraw. (A quick search for “floor plan software will yield all sorts of results). The digital age makes drawing up a classroom blueprint really easy. You simply give the program parameters such as the square footage of your classroom, and then you can digitally insert fixed furniture (such as your desk and cabinets) and play around with the remaining space. 

This pre-planning will give you an idea of how your classroom will look without you having to actually move any furniture. You are also able to plan for walkways and storage space when drawing up a room rearrangement plan. 

6. Decide how you will assign seats

Different teachers approach seat assignments in different ways, and you will have to decide what suits you best. No matter how you design your new classroom, there will always be some seats/spaces the students deem more desirable than others, and it’s up to the teacher to decide who gets these spaces and when.

Some teachers have a seating rotation or a seating chart, where students rotate through the flexible seating options in your space. Students might sit in a given seat for a day or a week before moving on to the next space.

Other teachers use the desirable spots in their classrooms as good behavior rewards. Say, for example, that your students covet your new classroom couch. You can assign the couch spaces to students who demonstrated particularly good behavior or citizenship the week before. 

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I purchased flexible seating options for my classroom 2 years ago and they are still going strong ? I don’t do flexible seating in my entire class…it personally doesn’t work for me with 32 1st graders. However, we do use them every day during centers, for early finishers and during group work and that works perfectly for our class. I purchased all my seating options from @amazon ?? What types of flexible seating do you use or want to use? P.s. I made the crate seats 4 years ago and I love that students use for seating and they work as storage ??‍♀️ if you search on Pinterest, there are tons of diy directions for crate seats. #flexibleseating #centers #flexibleseatingclassroom #flexibleseatingoptions

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Read: The 10 Most Popular Seat Types For Today’s Flexible Seating Classroom

7. Consider costs

No doubt about it, switching to flexible seating is expensive, and while you may have a supportive administrator, chances are you will be setting up your new space with funds from your own pocketbook. 

First, start slow. Budget a set amount of money out of each paycheck, and start purchasing flexible seats a few at a time. Perhaps you can afford one new seat (be it a bean bag or scoop chair or stool) with each paycheck. Set a goal and you’ll get there soon enough.

Also, consider shopping around at thrift stores and garage sales. Sturdy, inexpensive furniture can often be found for a steal at these sales.

Finally, you might think about fundraising for your new classroom space on crowdfunding sites like DonorsChoose or GoFundMe. Or, there might be grants in your community that could support your flexible seating goals. 

8. Communicate with families

Most parents and guardians aren’t as versed in education trends as you are, so the concept of flexible seating may be entirely new to them. Consider sending a newsletter or email home explaining the new classroom arrangement as well as benefits to their students. 

9. Build in time to rearrange your classroom

Some teachers switch to flexible seating arrangements a little at a time. Say you buy one or two new seats a month. You may want to bring these to your classroom right away and start incorporating them with your current classroom furniture. This is a great option, especially if you plan to use the new seats as a reward for good behavior.

Or, you might want to make the switch all at once. If you go this route, plan to spend a sizable chunk of spring or winter break, or even the summer, setting up your new seating arrangement. Make sure to coordinate with custodial staff in terms of where your old furniture will go.   

10. Teach expectations

Flexible seating is new to students, too, and as with every other classroom routine, they need to be taught your expectations. You will certainly want to cover seating arrangements, so students know where to sit when they enter the classroom and so you avoid any tussles over the most popular seats. In addition to your new seating chart, you will also want to cover learning behaviors such as how to hand papers in, and how to take notes or do work without a desk surface (in the event they are sitting on a couch, cushion, or bean bag chair). 

11. Be flexible and adjust as needed

Finally, flexible seating isn’t just a space rearrangement – it’s also an attitude rearrangement! The most successful teachers are the ones who are able to go with the flow, to identify problems and adjust as needed so both teachers and students can be successful in their new space. 

Read: Are Flexible Learning Spaces the Future of Education?

Flexible Seating 101

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I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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