Saturday, July 8, 2017

Flexible Seating: The Pros and Cons

Are you heading back to school and considering flexible seating for your classroom?  Before you jump in, check out some of the pros and cons from an elementary classroom experience.

I have a love/hate relationship with flexible seating.   I love the idea of it.  I love the way it looks in my classroom.  I love the "flexibility" it gives my teaching and my students.  I love all the wonderful things about it when it is working well.  But over the last year and a half that I have been doing flexible seating in the classroom, I've also found some things I don't love about it and it doesn't always meet the expectations I have for how it should work.  This summer I find myself doing a lot of thinking about the pros and cons of flexible seating.   I'm moving into a new classroom and grade level this upcoming school year and I'm trying to decide my future with flexible seating.  Do we stick together or do we break up?

The Back Story
When I started flexible seating in my classroom, it was March.  My students were about to head off for spring break in a week and I asked them if they wanted to do an experiment.  Of course, they were gung-ho:  How exciting!  We get to choose our own seats?  We can sit on the floor?  I can stand up if I want?  I can switch seats every day if I?  We can sit next to our friends?  Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!  So we went to work, moving tables, taking off legs, raising tables, and stacking chairs in the corner.  Each day, students picked their seats for the next day and it worked like a dream.  The students took it seriously.  We talked about how it was going each week during our morning meeting.  After spring break, my principal gave me funds to buy some stools, yoga balls, and pillows.  Other teachers in my school noticed and were curious.  Some took the leap in their own classrooms.

Click to read about how I set up my room for flexible seating.  

This last school year, I started out the year with flexible seating already in place.  A new group of students, the same routines and expectations...  with a different result.  I'm not sure why it didn't go as well as the first year.  It could have been the fact that the first group of students had a part in the transition.  They were part of the plan, the implementation, and the ongoing monitoring.  For the second group of students, it was handed to them.  There was no investment in it.  I'm not sure.  What I do know is that with both class, there were pros and cons.
The Pros
Even though it didn't really work out the way I had hoped this second year, I still believe that there are many wonderful things about flexible seating.  Here are just a few:

  • Students love choice!  How often do students get to have a choice in where they sit in the classroom?  Not often.  Giving students that freedom, with guidelines, is powerful.  Many students really get to know what seating choices help them be more focused and productive.  
  • Everyone's idea of comfort is different.  I am a floor-sitter.  I prefer to sit on the floor or on a short stool.  I'm short.  This may have something to do with it.  Some students aren't comfortable on the floor, or in a traditional chair.  
  • The seating options can help students who struggle to sit still.  I have a lot of "verbs" in my class.  Kids who can't sit still.  Kids who jiggle their feet, wiggle their hips, or tap their fingers.  They're constantly moving.  Some flexible seating options can really benefit these students.

I read this book to my class every year. 
  • It builds independence.  Students start learning how to make decisions about their own learning.  They have to determine which space works best for them, which space is distracting or uncomfortable, which space helps them focus and be the most productive.  This self-awareness will be important throughout their academic lives.  
  • Where's the teacher?  One of the things I love about flexible seating is that it gets me away from the front of the room.  The students are never sure where I may present a lesson from.  
The Cons
  • It costs money.  The tables and chairs that came with my classroom were free...  flexible seating is an investment.  I was lucky enough to have a principal and PTA that helped me that first year.  The second year, I had more students which means more seating which leads me to the next con... 
  • Space.  When you have a large class size (think 32 or more students), flexible seating can be a challenge.  You really want to have enough seating options and spaces that students can really make a good choice of where to sit.  When you have 32 students and only 32 seats, some students are going to get whatever is left, which isn't always the best choice for them.  
  • Less broad friendships.  One of the things I noticed about this year's class is that the same students would sit at the same tables every time.  It wasn't about the seating choices, it was about their friends.  Because they had the free choice, they chose to sit together each day, everyday and other students were left out.  My first year of flexible seating this wasn't a problem because the first part of the year, we had traditional assigned seats and students were grouped a lot of different ways.  They got to know each other and appreciate each other for their uniqueness.   With this new group, it didn't matter how many times we talked about the reason for flexible seating, the importance of choosing a spot that helped you be a productive learner, the need for being inclusive and open to new friendships.  It. Didn't. Matter.  They still always chose to sit with their friends. 
  • Backpacks, backpacks everywhere.  Because my class does not have lockers or backpack hooks, my students have no place to put their backpacks.  I provided large rubbermaid tubs to house them throughout the day, but inevitably they, along with jackets, would end up on the floor getting trampled on by dozens of feet.  

About halfway way through the school year, we partially stopped flexible seating.  The different types of seats were still in the classroom, but I assigned table groups.  The floor table and standing table were taken out, the kids didn't like them, and more traditional chairs were brought back into the classroom. 

I was frustrated and sad.  I felt like I had failed at flexible seating!   How could it go so great one year and bomb the next?  

I'm trying to be reflective now and decide how I am going to handle seating as I start setting up my new classroom in August.  I don't want to give up on flexible seating.  It fits with who I am and my way of teaching... plus, I have a bunch of yoga balls and crate stools that I don't want to get rid of.  
Are you heading back to school and considering flexible seating for your classroom?  Before you jump in, check out some of the pros and cons from an elementary classroom experience.
Want to make your own crate seats?  Click on the photo to go to my Classroom DIY - Crate Seat post!  

So, as I end this blog post, I am trying to come up with ways to save this relationship.  My plan is to go back to what worked and go from there.  You have to be flexible when implementing flexible seating.  You have to adjust your expectations and focus on the basics of what works well.  Here is some advice for myself and for those of you who are starting your own relationship with flexible seating:  
  1. Don't start the year off with flexible seating.  Let students earn it.  Let students be a part of the process.  Let students share their ideas for flexible seating.  Involve them in the transformation. 
  2. Clearly articulate the reasons for and benefits of flexible seating with your students.  
  3. Set clear guidelines and expectations.
  4. Regularly monitor how flexible seating is going in the classroom.  Encourage discourse on the pros and cons students are seeing and be honest about what I am noticing as the teacher.  
  5. Have a clear plan for organization.  Where will supplies go?  Where will jackets go in the winter?  Where will backpacks be stored?  
  6. Don't be afraid to adjust your plan.  If it isn't working change it. 
 That's it.  That's all I have.  I'm not throwing in the towel.  I'm tenacious if nothing else, and I feel like this relationship is worth fighting for.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Are you heading back to school and considering flexible seating for your classroom?  Before you jump in, check out some of the pros and cons from an elementary classroom experience.
Thanks for pinning me!  

I know my experience with flexible seating is not the same as everyone else's.  I'm sure there are some people who start it and it is works out perfectly for them.  I also know that there are some people who give it a try and regret it.  If you are in either of those two camps or somewhere in between, I'd love to know what worked for you and what didn't.  Please share your thoughts, ideas, and advice in the comments!

Until next time,


  1. I'm so glad I read your post. I am trying to wrap my head around how to start this process. I have done a little bit of FS but students still had a desk. I'm also trying to figure out where they will keep their supplies besides a book box.

  2. I think that is one of the biggest struggles! Some people do community supplies and common storage areas for notebooks, etc. I haven't tried that yet, but I might this year.

  3. I, too, love the idea of flexible seating, but I don't love the idea of full-blown flexible seating! I have always had flexible seating options available, but I've also always had assigned seats. There are times I let my students "work around the room" and they can choose what and where works best for them, and there are times when I want them to work with their assigned group.

    1. That is how I started. I use the phrase "work around the room" too. :) . I'm going to start the school year that way again, with seating options around the room then we'll see how it goes. I'm moving to a 5/6 split class so I'll have students from last year and the year before in my class this year. It will be interesting to see how they handle flexible seating as we move through the year.

    2. I also, use the term, "You may work around the room." Due to limited space in my classroom, I thought of trying to get rid of my desk. I am so happy to read that so many teachers tried this and failed. Also, I make sure the student know that they can lose the privilege of working around the room. It does work. I am going to bring back my floor table, standing areas, and make sure to do it with student consultation. I think that is what makes it work when students are involved in all decisions of implementation.

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  5. Your original post is what got me started on flexible seating last year. I did it partway, and I think that's what I'm going to do next year. During whole-class instruction, I meet with students on the carpet or they stay in their assigned seats. When I say they may "work around the room" they know their are several additional options. I stopped saying the phrase though, because it started a rush just for the sake of moving. Instead, I told students if it was individual or group work time, they were welcome to work around the room. I also laminated a "free move" class list and if students were off task due to their seating choice (sitting by friends and talking instead of working, hiding behind the library shelves and goofing off, etc.), their name was crossed off of the list. They had to work in their assigned seats only until the next week, when the list was erased and everyone started fresh.

  6. Hi Tobi. I'm glad my post inspired you. I really do love flexible seating. It was just a struggle this last year, but I have high hopes for this year. I think I am going to start out the same way. Regular assigned seats and then options around the room like the yoga balls and crate stools. I was thinking of doing something like your "free move" list also. That honors the students who are making good choices and have shown they can handle the freedom of flexible seating. Thanks for sharing your ideas and experience. It is nice to hear how it is working for other people. :) . I hope you have a great school year!