Transform Your Classroom to Flex Seating for Free! A Comprehensive Look at the Flexible Seating Environment

This is a story that must begin with the ending…because the ending will blow you away!

I transformed my classroom throughout the school year…with kindergartners! Crazy right? It evolved from traditional seating to flex seating without spending a single penny – no Donors Choose and no Go Fund Me.

This article has evolved over the past couple of months. I shared with my growth partner that it began to baffle me as to why it was transforming so much, why there were many days that something said, “don’t work on it,” and why it was taking so long to finish. Now I know…it was timing. The article was waiting for this ending

The videos you’re about to click on below show what the post was waiting on to be complete!

Just a couple of days ago, I sat in the best of PD sessions. It started as a math session and ended as an impromptu field trip. Every kindergarten teacher on the east side of our school district headed to my campus to check out my flex seating transformation.

(Quick back story) My teammates were so inspired with my journey last year that they all decided to transform their classrooms into flex seating environments this year. Unbeknownst to the field trip participants, they would be visiting all our classrooms. (Note: rooms are still under construction in the teacher collaboration videos – school has not started at this time.)

Most teachers on my team also transformed their rooms for free (some have spent a minimal amount on specific items). Their Amazon wish lists are at the end of the article if you’d like to contribute to their transformations.

Impromptu teachers only field trip checking out teachers blazing the flex seating trail!
THIS is collaboration at its’ finest! Teachers sharing thier classroom transformations to inspire other teachers!

Back to the field trip. Every teacher left our building with plans to process what flex seating could look like in their own classrooms!

See why I had to begin with the end?

You will be inspired by this article and I’m cheering for you to read to the end and enjoy the videos as they take you inside my classroom. Learn about my inspiration in Dallas Voyage’s online magazine.

Now, back to the beginning!

You’re reading this because like me, you’ve always wanted to have that classroom, right?

It’s much easier than you think!

When you finish reading this post, you will have everything you need to start acquiring flexible seating for your classroom.

But first, let’s talk pedagogy.

Stephen Merrill, Edutopia.org’s Chief Content Editor, published an article titled, “Flexible Classroom: Research is Scarce, But Promising,” (2018). The research referenced in Merrill’s article was conducted by researchers at the University of Salford in the United Kingdom and included 27 classrooms.

Opinions live on both sides of the fence when it comes to flexible seating. Some educators believe there is no impact on academics, or that their administrators would not be supportive of flexible seating. While others emphatically support and speak of the benefits of flexible seating.

My journey with flexible seating is the most unique transformation process of which I am aware.

What makes it so unique?

That’s the exciting part!

My flexible seating transformation took place throughout the entire school year. Yes, as in my classroom would look one way when the kids left for the day, lunch, or enrichment. They were completely surprised when they came in to find it different from when they left. This happened multiple times throughout the year. “Wow!” became a normal part of their vocabulary. Join the discussion by visiting my brand new Flex Seating Collab Lounge Facebook group.

You are about to learn:

Why I did it

Benefits

Academics

Classroom Management and the Flexible Seating Environment

How I Did It

Why I Did It

Every child has special gifts. My students thrive because I am committed to learn about, understand, and build an intimate relationship with each child in my class. To know your students as individuals and not just ‘your class’ gives students purpose, helps them find their voice, and allows their individual gifts to begin to be revealed.

The child everyone else knows as shy, has the funniest personality and loves talking to me. The trust between the two of us is priceless.

My little spunky student is inquisitive and curious about my life. She’s fascinated with my hair. Our texture is the same, but she longs to have hers full of body and curls like mine so she asks lots of questions about how I get my hair to look the way it does. I was able to give her time in the mornings to eat breakfast because she would tell me how hectic her mornings are and that she rarely gets to school in time to eat in the cafeteria. I couldn’t tell you this if it weren’t for the taking time to build a relationship with each child.

I could keeping going and tell you things like these because I invested time with each one of my students. If there is only one thing you take away from this article, let it be this – not anything about flexible seating.

I started this section prefacing the special gifts of students. Building and investing in these one-on-one relationships is my compass to learning about the special gifts of each child. This is the knowlegde and these are the gifts that I use to build character and leadership within each one of my students.

I wish every teacher would make a commitment to have every year be the best year yet (and perhaps they do). Can you imagine the experiences our children would have? How eager they would be to come to school ? How passionate they would be to be recipients of the commitment they didn’t know existed?

Each year, I commit to taking off in my expansive vessel that others call a classroom with twenty two passengers to give them an amazing year. One full of excitement, anticipation, surprises, collaboration, team building, and teamwork. Teaching never gets old with this perspective!

Before you go any further, pause and reflect on your why. Why do you do teach? What is your commitment each year? Why are you reading this article?

Benefits of Flexible Seating

That depends.

All flexible seating is not created equally, but before I elaborate, let’s look at what flexible seating is and what it isn’t.

What it Isn’t…A Word of Caution

Flexible seating is not a tool, solution, or replacement of classroom managment.

Complete explanation about flex seating and classroom management.

Flex seating is not the answer for a teacher who is growing in the area of classroom management. Students need consistency and clear expectations in order to thrive and learn. Think of flex seating as an external enhancement to a classroom with students who do what they’re supposed to whether the teacher is present or not. That is the evidence of sound classroom management.

Expectations must be clear, concise, and consistent in a flex seating environment.

Alternatively, for teachers with sound classroom managment that still think, “Flex seating is not for me, that’s letting go of too much control.” Listen to Mrs. Hawkins explain how her thoughts changed after a year of living across the hall with my flex seating environment.

Stimulates Creative Thinking

When student own their space and are able to choose the place that fits their mood and learning style they are poised to not only think, but they are poised to think openly, freely, with new perspective. They have the space to do things they could not do in a classroom crowded with tables or desks and chairs.

Enhances Critical Thinking

It is not uncommon for the flex seating teacher to be the innovative, outside the lines teacher. It’s not so much that flex seating fosters critical thinking (although I think it does to a certain degree), it’s the learning environment that the teacher creates. It’s the assignments that students have. Are the assignments products of the classroom teacher or team planning lessons in advance team or grade level planning in advance?  Or…is the learning driven by student inquiry, exploratory or problem based learning? Do students explore real world problems, connect learning to the real world, technology or subject matter experts?

The best of both worlds exists in my classroom!

I’m highly analytical.  I read the TEKS.  I research best practices, I plan with my team, I dissect the TEKS vertically and talk to first grade teachers regularly.  I’m one of the founding teachers of vertical planning sessions at our school.  I am a staunch supporter of teachers planning together and sharing best practices.  There is something to be said and respected about getting teachers of varied backgrounds and experiences together to develop robust, rigorous lessons and activities for students.  However, something magical happens when empowering students with the freedom to sit in the driver seat of their learning.  Student realization of ownership of their own learning ignites and unlocks the imagination and sets forth a flood of creativity.

Collaborative

Ever felt like it can be difficult to work in a cluttered environment? You realize you’re spending more time looking for what you need rather than actually working. Then, in a moment of sheer frustration, you clean, declutter, reorganize, and are able to get to work. Not only do you get to work, you thrive, you excel, your ideas are overflowing.

Collaboration in a flex seating environment works the same way. When students have a more comfortable, free thinking, creativity inspiring space within which to think and work, collaboration occurs naturally. The spirit of collaboration is as natural a presence as is the students and teacher in the classroom.

Without big, clunky tables or desks spreading kids far apart from each other, students find themselves talking about what they’re learning, asking questions, helping each other, brainstorming to solve something they don’t understand. I watched my classroom become an environment of independence through flex seating and collaboration. Students work together more because they are closer to one another, and they feel empowered to be collaborative. This environment yields substantially less of me and dramatically more of them.

See for yourself!

The room screams collaboration as these kindergarten students find solutions in problem based learning. Students were tasked with deciding what they think next year’s incoming students should know about kindergarten.  Just listen to the collaboration.

Inviting/Fosters Community

This classroom doesn’t just belong to the students in my classroom, this classroom was built by community and belongs to the community.

Attendance/Tardy Improvement

Pleasant surprise alert! The videos speak for themselves in this segment. The first video captures the element of surprise. The flexible seating transformation took place during the school year right before the kids eyes. You’ll see the surprise when the kids walk in and see the additions and changes. This is only one example of this happening multiple times throughout the year.

You’ll learn more about how my flex seating works later, but for now, I have to tell you it is a first come, first choice environment. When you watch the videos, notice how fast little feet are moving to get completely unpacked and choose their seats.

Surprise when more flex seating is added. Students rush to choose their seats for the day. Improved attendance, academics, reduced tardies.

Unexpected, unanticipated, but absolutely welcome pluses to my flex seating classroom:

Students wanted to be at school.

Students were eager to get to school.

Students began asking their parents to hurry up in the mornings.

Parent Testimonials

Release of Control

By nature, teachers are control hoarders. It’s quite logical, given that we are responsible for upward of 20 students. Upper grade teachers are responsible for more than 100 students depending class rotation structure. Historically, teachers have always owned the larger part of the control of the classroom. Something magical begins to happen, however, when teachers realize that the learning environment flourishes, excels, and even changes, when the teacher releases control.

Students who are normally quiet begin to take risks, while students who are leaders begin to freely help others and boost their confidence. New learning opportunities such as inquiry, problem based, and explorative learning develop from conversations and collaboration. All of this is purely student-driven versus teacher-led.

The level of student ownership grew exponentially as I joyfully and freely placed students in the driver seat. I posed questions and they voted or came to a consensus on how things would run in our classroom. Students thrived the most when they owned their learning, were able to pose questions, discuss, learn to listen to each other, and come to a consensus.

2nd Graders & Kinders working together to retell and create illustrations based on stories they read while getting #LostInLit together! Three students working one creating!

You will not believe this is kindergarten writing! Let students go as far as they can, don’t limit them. You’ll be surprised where they take you.

Pride

Another pleasant surprise? The sense of pride! Students tidied up regularly throughout the day without prompts from me. They cleaned with wet paper towels at the end of the day, scrubbing everything they possibly could and placing everything in appropriate places. Let me be clear…I gave no instructions or requests – this is all on the students in my class!

Students developed a sense of pride and ownership of their flex seating classroom and developed a cleaning routine without teacher request or guidance.

Fun

By now you should be realizing that flexible seating is only a piece of the puzzle in terms of placing students in the driver’s seat.

Students caring, cleaning, loving, playing, happy!

How I Did It

If you’re still with me you are truly ready to begin the journey of creating a flexible seating environment for our students. You should now have a clear understanding that flexible seating is not something done in isolation.

Flex seating is an experience for students that comes from the heart of the teacher.

It is imperative that you know that I did not pay for ANY of my flex seating…not one penny!

I live in a tight-knit community. My son was in the first kindergarten class when the school opened. I started working at the school the following year. That was twelve years ago.

When I started thinking about how I was going to fund a complete classroom transformation through flexible seating, I realized there was NO WAY I could afford to do it on my own.

I didn’t want to host Donors Choose or Go Fund Me. I wanted my community to embrace my classroom! I had to think, “How am I to make this happen?”

Then it came to me.

I decided to use the Nextdoor app and Facebook to share my vision with the community.

I first had to think about my vision. One phrase came to me. I wanted my classroom to look and feel like home. I started by looking on Pinterest to find a flex seating class that was similar to my vision.

PD session turned impromptu teachers only field trip to check out my flex seating!

My next step was to craft a post to send out along with the pictures.

The responsiveness and outpouring of support were mind blowing!

People were so happy and willing to help. I had to consistently monitor my Nextdoor private inbox because there was a constant flood of support and offerings of new and very gently used gorgeous items. I’m talking Pottery Barn kitchen set (and we all know Pottery Barn’s price point), brand new futon, rocker chairs, custom wreath, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

It became second nature for me to leave immediately after having dinner to pick up donations. It became a family affair, sometimes I’d grab one of my boys, other times, my husband. My husband and sons were also my moving company and received multiple five star ratings for superb delivery of goods to my campus.

I gathered small collections, we’d add that small collection and remove a table or two in the clasroom like ninjas while the kids were gone. The surprise videos above happened several times throughout the year as donations continued to come in.

It still amazes me how my room came together so perfectly.

I did not stress about color scheme because my goal was to create a fun environment. I do consider myself quite the fortunate one that everything blended so well.

It was very important to me to share with the community my final results. I wanted them to see how their generosity impacted my classroom.

I have taken you on quite the journey! If you made it through the entire article, I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! Where were you before you began reading the article? What made you read the article? How have your thoughts changed now that you reached the finish line? Are you already doing flex seating in your classroom? If not, what will be your first steps?

Clear My Teammates Teacher Amazon Wish Lists

All four teachers on my team are working very hard to create an unconventional space for their students this year using flexible seating. Please take a moment and visit their wish lists on Amazon to be a part of the movement toward putting students in the driver’s seat! #clearthelist

Mariesa Hawkins

Kaleena Kelley

Renee Simpkins

Reference: Merrill, Stephen (2018, June 14). Flexible Seating: Research is Scarce, But Promising. Edutopia.org

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