Flexible Seating: Your Questions Answered

Hello! I'm Kelli from the Tenacious Teacher and I'm thrilled to be sharing on Not So Wimpy Teacher's blog about my experience rolling out flexible seating!

I took the plunge (it was more like a graceful belly flop) last year and blogged about some things I realized both here and here. However, today I'm sharing some answers to the "But what about" questions that hold people back from trying it. If you are someone still on the fence, take a read to see if this can ease your mind!

But what about the desks? Do I get rid of all of them?

I originally wanted all my desks out of my room but due to furniture options in my school, I didn't have access to the tables I wanted. However, I think I loved it even more having a mixture of table top options. Remember, flexible seating shouldn't mean that everyone is now sitting at a table with a yoga ball... because that is not what all students prefer. It's about having options. So I kept about 16 desks. I had one student who was on the spectrum and she was allowed to stay in that spot the whole year and even use the inside of her desk because that is what worked best for her. The other desks though stayed closed to students. Here are some perks for keeping desks:

You can use them for storage. 

We have science groups, so each science group kept all their materials inside one of the desks. When it was science time, the getter would go and get the materials out of the desk and return them at the end. It didn't take up other valuable countertops. Also, I keep copies of book club books organized in the desks, art projects, etc. There's a lot you can do with them!

You can create different sized groups. 

I had two groups of 5, one group of 4 and 1 group of 2. Some students preferred not to sit next to a lot of other people, so they preferred the spot with 2 desks. I could easily pull desks out of groups too (or my students for that matter if they wanted an "island").

So if it were me... I'd say no, don't get rid of all the desks. They can be a great asset and work best for some students.

But what about money? How do people afford all those "options?"

I'm with you on this one. It can be very easy to see the beautiful classroom spaces on Instagram and think you need to have fancy seats and table spots. And yes, it would be wonderful to have! But try to ease into buying different options. Again, you don't know what will work best for you and your students until you jump in. So spending a bunch of money on things that might not get much use will leave a negative impact on the experience (and your wallet). You are looking for different options to offer your students and they don't all have to cost a lot of money. I got a 2 wobble stools which were a little pricey but I only got 2 to start. I got 2 low floor seats, 4 yoga balls, 2 reclining chairs, and some of the IKEA stools. I also kept lots of normal chairs in stacks around the room because honestly, a lot of students prefer those depending on the task they are doing (reading vs writing vs math). I also had some floor pillows already and a bean bag which was a popular spot. I'd love to add some taller Hokki stools, but they are expensive, so we'll see in time. Also, I look at garage sales all summer long to see if I can find anything to snag for the classroom. Last year, I found a toy box on the side of the road for free in great condition (see right). It became one of my students' favorite spots with some cheap cushions from Walmart and IKEA (that can also be taken on the floor if kids want). Not to mention, I had storage for extra homebases in case I got more students during the school year. The take away- pick a few options to start and slowly add more as you go. 

But what about all their stuff? Where do you keep it all?

I think it's important to say that I still struggle with this one. And you may too. I wrote a blog post that shared this. There was a time early on (like week 2) of doing flexible seating last year that I thought I made a huge mistake and maybe I should abandon it all. But I had already invested money, time and effort into it, not to mention working with my students on establishing rules, routines,  expectations, etc. So I said I would give it at least until winter break. But what was making me have doubts was storing all their stuff.  The key is to spread it out so that you avoid traffic jams. But they have a lot of stuff: folders, notebooks, planners, writing tools, library books... So here's some of my solution.

Create a "homebase" system.

I really loved these drawers from Target and I hate to report they discontinued them for 2017. Which I'm mourning because my class size is increasing and I need at least 2 more. So I'll be problem solving myself. But that reminds me of a good point: be flexible yourself. You're first solution to a problem may not work and it's ok to try something else. Anyways, back to my point.

I used the drawers for reading. They kept their reading notebook in there along with 2-3 library books and their personal whiteboards. That's it. On top, they had a cup for extra pencils, their editing pens, highlighters, expo markets, etc. If they ever needed a new pencil, they checked their homebase first. We also kept their scissors here, a small stapler, a pencil sharpener and erasers. Students also left their water bottles here at times too. They worked great because I spread them around the room and only 3 kids would be at one homebase. 

Use bins either on countertops, shelves, or in cupboards

So what about their other stuff? I used the IKEA boxes at the homebases too that kept their writing and math notebooks. However, IKEA changed the size so folders didn't fit. This drove me bonkers and it's what forced me to invest in larger boxes this year (which I'll share about over on my blog closer to the school year starting). Folders we kept in our "book bags" which I had from IKEA from my first year of teaching- and not one has busted on me yet. Students kept their nightly folder, their planner, journal, and other folders in there. It wasn't perfect, but it got us through the year. Students hung their bags on their chair if they had a normal chair or hung them on hooks on the curtain. Since I plan on doing flexible seating again next year, I'm allowing myself to spend some more money on adjusting some things with material storage. But DON'T feel the need to do it your first go around. Ask your students for solutions since it impacts them directly!

But what about Meet the Teacher Night? How do I set up and inform parents?

This one I hadn't thought about until a few weeks before. At our school, we invite students to come meet their teacher the week before school starts. I started to panic as I didn't know how to properly "roll" it out. Especially to parents. Here's a few tips that may help:

Put student names on post-its for the night.

You could do this a few ways. You could put them out randomly at a spot so when they came in, they felt like they had a "space" for them. When I've done it this way, I let them know that these will not be their permanent spots- just a spot to claim for the first day. This year, I'm going to do it a bit differently. I'll have their names on a post-it on the board. When they come in at open house, they can pick the spot they'd like for the first day. This will help avoid a slightly uncomfortable issue that happened last year at open house where a parent was NOT happy that their child was not at a traditional desk. I can respect their opinion, but I believe that students, with guidance, can make the best choices for themselves. Which is why I also leave a spot on the post-it for students to tell me what name they'd like to go by. Sometimes they have a nickname (Sam for Samantha) and their parents want to call them one way, but they'd prefer another. I personally will use the name my student wants me to use and allow them to voice that at open house, so this post-it can help with that. 

Have a letter explaining it to students and families. 

You don't have to get super specific, but let them know why the room looks the way it does and how it may look over the year. Once the year got rolling, I explained more in our newsletter and had students sign a contract and have their parents sign it too that went over the expectations in class we discussed.

Have a supply drop off plan.

I had little signs that told them what to leave at their table spot (and how) and what to put in our communal bins. I did have 2 that opened the desk and put stuff in, but we fixed that on the first day of school. I just had them stack their notebooks and folders and then on the first day of school, we put them in their new homes around the room. Having materials scattered around the room (but in an organized way) meant no one ever "lost" thing materials, materials didn't get damaged, and we used our transition time as a "social" transition time to let them interact socially a bit while they put their things away and get ready for our next lesson. I found giving them that 3-5 minutes to be social at a transition between lessons (I'm talking between math and writing and reading) had them prepared and focused for the next one. 

Don't feel the need to set out all the "goods" yet. 

Because we haven't gone over expectations yet on how to use all these options, I don't have them all available at open house night. I put the yoga balls in my class bathroom out of sight so they don't even see them until after we model how to use them... same with the wobble stools. Most of the chair options at open house are just stools or normal chairs. In my explanation letter, it discusses that other options will be introduced during the first week.

Honestly, I've really loved making the switch as it has challenged me in many ways. You have to have strong management skills, high and clear expectations for your students, and some flexibility yourself in order for it to be successful. My best advice is to listen to your gut and involve your students, as it impact their learning and experience at school and that should be your top priority.

You can connect with Kelli on her blog or her Facebook page!