I love using flexible seating in my classroom, but it is not something that students are ready for on day 1. It takes us about a month or so before rolling out flexible seating so that students are finally ready. Once everything is successfully rolled out, my students benefit from very flexible seating without using a sign-up sheet or having to earn the right to a certain type of chair. Getting to that point, however, takes a lot of patience and community trust.
Rolling Out Flexible Seating: Initial Set Up
When initially setting up the space, I ensure a desk or tabletop spot for each student and don’t put out other seating options like stability balls or wobbly chairs. I put signs that say “Currently Closed” on other furniture that can’t be put away like a futon.
We begin the school year with name tents and assigned seats. This helps me get to know the students and provides students with a more traditional seating feel they are used to. This provides the class with a good “home base.”
After the first few weeks, I share the flexible seating vision with my class and tell them that eventually, they will be able to pick where they sit and what they sit on. I explain that as a class, we will have to build a community that is ready to handle the privilege and freedom of being able to select our own seating. As a class, we can build community trust and help each other to make the best choices.
Since students are aware of the end goal, they are motivated to work toward it. Starting with just table tops, we slowly add different elements of a fully flexible seating classroom. I find that adding each layer bit by bit allows students time to learn the expectations and fully understand the procedures.
We will spend a few days or longer as needed introducing each new piece. It is unusual, but at times I have pulled back on the flexible seating rollout based on my students’ responses or needs. As with any routine, working hard to establish clear expectations and procedures from the beginning helps routines run more smoothly throughout the rest of the year.
In general, this is how I roll out the flexible seating in my classroom.
Rolling out Flexible Seating: First weeks of school
Have students in more traditional seating with chairs. Students have name tags and assigned seats. During this time students focus on learning general classroom routines like how to line up, sharpen their pencils, and turn in their work. In addition, they start to learn flexible seating routines like where to store their materials, how to share common supplies, and how to stay organized.
Once when good routines have been established, I will start letting students select where to sit for just one portion of the day. For example, I have selected math class as a time that students can first try self-selected seating.
Students will meet in the front of the room for direct math instruction. When it is time for independent work, they are directed that they can select their own seat option while still just using the traditional seating. This means they are still sitting on a chair and sitting in front of a desk or table.
Before just sending students to decide on their own to pick a spot, we will spend time discussing how we know where is a good place to sit. We talk about sitting by classmates that will not distract us and making responsible choices.
Teacher Can Change Spots as Needed
I also let students know that as the teacher, I can ask students to change spots if needed. If someone is asked to move (by myself or another adult) they need to quickly and quietly make that change. We discuss how this move is only a temporary move as they will have additional opportunities to pick another seat and make better choices. Following these seating prompts the first time is an important part of community trust.
In the beginning, I might need to give a handful of prompts, but as more options open up and students get used to the process, this heavily decreases. Once flexible seating is in full swing I very rarely need to prompt my students to make better seating choices.
One of the things that we discuss is that students are in school for 180 days and they will have multiple opportunities throughout each of those days to pick their spot. Therefore, it is not worth getting upset if they can’t sit in their first pick spot. Students know there will be ample time and chances to sit there in the future.
Increase Time with Self-Selected Location
I usually start with one subject area when students can pick their spot. Once students try this for a day or two (or longer if needed), I will add additional times when students can select their own place.
We will discuss how it is not necessary for students to go to the same spot or sit with the same students each time. At the beginning, I encourage students to try different locations with different people to see how this can help (or hurt) their learning. Students need to reflect on how where they choose to sit can impact their focus and work production.
Slowly Add Soft Seating
Once when students are getting into the swing of picking their own tabletop place to sit, I start rolling out flexible seating like the futon, sitting on carpet squares, and different soft chairs. I add these options during silent reading time.
As a class, we decide on the ground rules for the different types of seating. We decide how many students can use each piece of furniture or space and how it can be used.
At the very beginning of soft seating, I invite students one by one to select their spot to prevent a stampede of students rushing to the “best spots.” I also do not have enough soft seating spots for everyone. The only time I somewhat monitor who has had a chance to try the soft seating is during the rollout. Once all students have had a chance, picking these areas seems to calm down.
Depending on your classroom and procedures, you might start using these soft seating options during additional work time. For example, I leave clipboards by some of my soft seating so that students can complete worksheets or independent work in these areas, too.
Add Additional Types of Seating for Tabletops/Desks
Finally, the last thing I add is additional seating for the desks and tables. In my classroom, I keep the type of chair in one specific spot all year. For example, one table might have stability balls while another one has wobbly stools. Students are not allowed to move around the type of seating anywhere they want. Instead, they need to select the location to sit to get to use a specific type of seat.
When adding a new type of seating, we go over the expectations of every kind of seat. For example, you can have small bounces on stability balls but shouldn’t be getting “air” while bouncing.
Just like for the soft furniture rollout, I make sure everyone gets a chance to try out each type of seating. Once everyone has had an opportunity, I no longer keep track of who has sat where or how often.
We do talk about how being part of a community is making sure that we allow other people to have the opportunity to use certain seating options. In certain years there have been more preferred areas to sit. We talk about how if someone was just using that area, it is kind to wait back to see if anyone else wants a chance before heading there right away.
I make sure to keep a few desks and traditional chairs for students who prefer this type of seating. In the past, I have had students who feel more comfortable having their own space. If these students prefer not to move around throughout the day, they do end up using only a desk that other students are not allowed to use.
Rolling out flexible seating varies with each class
With each classroom of students, the length and order of the rolling out flexible seating can vary. Some students need additional days to practice routines with new seating options. Other groups can spend only a day or so on each new aspect.
Establishing clear guidelines and expectations from the start is necessary to have flexible seating work in a classroom. This past year, I restarted this process after Winter Break because students needed the reminder. If it is a restart, I go through the steps much quicker. If starting after winter break, make sure to take time during the roll out. Sometimes it feels too slow, but if it is rushed it is harder to fix later on.
I hope this rollout helps you feel confident about rolling out flexible seating in your classroom! Now that I have used this setup, it is hard to imagine anything else! Those couple years during Coivd, when I was teaching with lots of seating restrictions, were tough. Coming back to flexible seating was one of the best feelings for me!