I get way too defensive when someone sees my classroom and says, “so do you do flexible seating?” Seriously, way too defensive! It is a fair question, though. I have a reputation of always trying new things, yet my classroom RIGHT NOW has desks in rows – they’re slanted rows, but still rows.
I’ve done tables, I’ve done groupings of desks, I’ve done U shaped seating, I’ve done stand up desks, buddy seating and mixtures of each. I have come to believe over the past 16 years, however, that when we are adjusting our seating practices we are just addressing symptoms. Like adding vitamins to my diet, but not actually addressing my health.
When I say I “do flexible seating” I mean I “do flexible lessons.” It’s not just a different spot to work at for that day or that week. It’s not something cute or extra comfy that mimics working at a coffee shop on the upper east side.
Flexible lessons mean that I want students to be ready for the world. In the world, we are preparing them for where they will work in a variety of environments based on the situations they are in. Work will range from formal meetings to casual group planning sessions. The content they work with will range from free-flowing and hands-on to linear and content based. That means that is how I need to teach.
There are times we need to be formal and they need to hear me deliver content and they need to learn how to take quality notes or complete a high priority assignment – that means rows of desks and sitting strong.
There are times when they need the support of a partner to work through a problem or times they need a large group to debate with or build something with. There are times they need to work completely on their own and in my room, it doesn’t matter where they sit during those times – just as long as high-quality work is done.
Teaching our students that they can wander the room, never have to sit or can work without looking at the person speaking is not teaching them the grit they need to be successful in this flexible world. There are times for everything and it crucial our students know that.
These are a few basics I believe about seating and working:
- Different Seating for Different Instruction: Sometimes a row of desks is the best thing for your students. Sometimes a circle seems perfect or other times a smattering across the room. The truth is, life…which is what we are preparing our students for…isn’t one way. I need to know how to sit in a meeting. I need to know how to work in a group. I need to know how to work by myself.
- Your Mood Matters: Some days I just don’t want to work with others. Some days I need a group of people around me. Some days the work is too personal and some days I need the experience of friends. A classroom should allow students to learn these things about themselves and how to act on them.
To be clear, I’m talking about when they have the opportunity to work wherever they want here. When it is time for direct meeting mode, regardless of our mood we have to find a way to make it work.
- Every Student Needs a Home: By home I mean a desk, but it is theirs! It is a place they can trust each day will be what it was yesterday. It is a place they can go for safety and comfort. It is also a place where they learn to take care of and organize their materials and life. Those are skills as teachers we have to TEACH. Most students are not organized, but luckily, they have us as teachers to show them.
The reality of flexible seating is this. In a lesson, students should be moving – regardless of their age. In a lesson, students need to be able to work with each other, work with a teacher, work with the class and even work by themselves. They need to be able to do all of those things because that is what they’ll need to do in the world we are preparing them for.
In my room there are times when we are in our desks, in rows, and I require that. There are times when I don’t care where they work or who they work with, just need to get high quality work done. Teaching our students that learning and life is always one way, is dangerous. It creates students who can’t adapt and can’t cope when it doesn’t fall in line with how they want it.
I need to teach students to learn and work in a world that changes and works in more environments than ever before; our classrooms should mirror that changing flexibility.
Thomas Dennison is a 5th grade teacher, serving at Havre de Grace Elementary in HdG, Maryland. He has also taught kindergarten, 3rd and 4th grade and intends to stay in the classroom for 30 years. Thomas believes schools should be built on hope and believes it is their role to help each student figure out who they uniquely are. He works to make sure that each day can be fun and challenging, not either or. Thomas believes in the power of beards, the balance between chaos and control and the comfort of a worn-out pair of Cons. He has a master’s degree in Educational Computer Technology and a bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education both from Ohio University. Thomas is a National Milken Award winner and Milken Unsung Heroes Fellow. You can follow him on Instagram @mrdennison5th so see how each day can have its open piece of awesome.