Comfort in the Classroom with Flexible Seating

I’m excited to be teaming up with more than two dozen secondary ELA teachers to give you ideas on how to incorporate comfort and joy into your classroom (and to give you the chance to win a $200 Amazon gift card). Enter the giveaway here!

For the “comfort and joy” theme, I decided to write about something that has brought lots of comfort and joy to my classroom: FLEXIBLE SEATING!!!

Take a second to imagine the optimal environment for comfort, collaboration, learning, and productivity. You’re probably not thinking of the stifling rows of desks and harsh fluorescent lighting that dominate most classrooms today, but something refreshingly different, with enough structure to support learners but enough flexibility to adapt to unique needs and preferences.

OldRoom

This was my previous classroom. No matter how many times I rearranged the desks, I could never find a layout that supported my teaching style and my learners’ unique needs.

This is flexible seating, and the most empowering part of it is that flexible seating will look and function differently for each educator and student.

Ultimately, the goal of flexible seating is to better engage students and empower them with choices by providing diverse seating options. Flexible seating facilitates student-centered, collaborative learning, fosters a positive classroom community, and even promotes healthy, kinesthetic learning.

This sounds great, right? Or does trading desks for more comfortable flexible seating make you uncomfortable? You may be used to the stability and structure of the rows of detached desks that face toward you, the teacher.

I, too, was initially a little hesitant, but then I realized that flexible seating was not only a physical change, but a mental one, too: a part of shifting educational paradigm. Flexible seating is more than just a few new pieces of furniture and a cute, comfortable classroom. Rather, it represents a shift in my own teaching philosophy to support more student-directed, 21st-century learning. 

After fully embracing this change last year, I was able to begin planning for this year’s flexible seating. Luckily, I had the opportunity to move to a larger classroom for this year, so I jumped at the chance for an entirely fresh start and a completely redesigned classroom.

By empowering students with a choice, even one as seemingly small as where to sit for a 42-minute class period, I have been able to foster a more authentic learning environment that adapts to the unique needs of ALL of my students. With flexible seating, I am a better teacher and they are better students. It’s that simple.

ViewfromDesk

Here’s a partial view of my flexible seating classroom. Admittedly, my new room IS larger, but flexible seating frees up so much space.

If you are intrigued by the freedom flexible seating can offer, but overwhelmed with how to get started, here’s some step-by-step advice to help:

Research and think about how flexible seating will transform your teaching.

You might be here because you’ve seen my coffee shop-esque flexible seating classroom, and others like it, on Instagram or Pinterest. But don’t let Insta-envy be your reason for implementing flexible seating. Some people already have the perception that flexible seating is just a fad or an excuse to make your classroom look cute. IT’S NOT!

Flexible seating is best practice and supported by research, but make sure it’s the right decision for you and your students. To do this, I recommend you spend some time researching and reflecting upon how flexible seating will transform your teaching, and consequently, your students’ learning. You will need to be able to clearly articulate the purpose and goals of flexible seating in your classroom–first to your administration, then to your students and their parents.

Luckily, my administration was incredibly supportive of my flexible seating plan, so I didn’t have to rationalize my decision to them.  But when I decided to apply for a grant, I was forced to think more deliberately about flexible seating and how it would change my teaching. The grant application even asked for a 6-10 word summary “describing the impact your grant will have on others.” 10 WORD MAX?! My English teacher self simultaneously hated and loved that word limit. By forcing me to be precise and concise, that word limit helped me articulate the purpose of flexible seating in my classroom:

Flexible seating engages and empowers students while promoting physical health.

In my grant proposal, I specifically outlined my vision for a student-centered fluid workspace, a malleable learning lab that supports instructional best practices and promotes collaborative learning. I explained how flexible seating would empower me as an educator, allowing me to structure better lessons and increase student engagement. I also talked about the simple power of choice in order to illustrate how flexible seating could build classroom community, promote accountability, and minimize off-task behaviors. The theme of my proposal was that flexible seating helps meet the unique needs of all learners, so I also explained the positive impact this would have on students with ADHD, Autism, and other needs.

I hope the above information gives you ideas if you find yourself writing your own grant proposal. If you would like to see a copy of the entire proposal, email me at writeonwithmissg@gmail.com. Here are some links to other articles I found helpful during the grant-writing process:

If you find any other helpful articles or blog posts, please let me know in the comments!

Find funding and cut costs!

Futon

I purchased my futon and coffee table from Walmart.com, thanks to a grant I received from my district’s education foundation.

Admittedly, the price tag of flexible seating can be the most intimidating factor. But it doesn’t have to be! There are ways to secure funding and even more ways to be thrifty when spending your hard-earned money on flexible seating. Although I did not receive funding from https://www.donorschoose.org/, I know many teachers who have successfully used it for flexible seating purchases. I was lucky enough to receive a grant from my school district’s education foundation. This grant money helped me purchase my big-ticket items, including my futon, coffee table, round bistro tables, bean-bag chairs, and exercise balls (all from Walmart). 

I did not pay full price for ANYTHING else. Instead, I stalked sales and clearance at stores. I also stalked Goodwill, other thrift stores, garage sales, and FACEBOOK MARKETPLACE. Facebook Marketplace was actually a gold mine for me. I purchased my two cute cafe-style tables and stools from two different sellers on Facebook Marketplace.

GoodwillTable

I scored this simple table from Goodwill and the stools from Home Goods.

When buying items from garage sales or Facebook Marketplace, I learned that “playing the teacher card” was immensely helpful. By this, I mean that I simply told people that I was hoping to purchase the items for my classrooms, and then I attempted to negotiate a lower price. This worked like a charm, multiple times. I was happy, but the sellers were even happier! Many people expressed that they were glad to know that their old furniture was going to a good home.

I also reached out to friends and family on social media, and I ended up getting a cute storage ottoman for free from one of my middle school teachers! If you’re reading this, THANK YOU, Mrs. Johnson! 🙂

CafeTable2

I found this on Facebook Marketplace and played my “teacher card” when negotiating with the seller!

The expenses do add up, so it’s helpful to set a budget and know your limits. There is nothing wrong with implementing flexible seating gradually, so you can space out your purchases and slowly add to your flexible seating collection.

Design with a purpose

My goal for flexible seating was to make it work for ME and MY STUDENTS. I wanted my classroom layout to be conducive to my style of teaching. As an English and journalism teacher, I emphasize discussion and collaborative learning in my classroom. I love using group work, learning stations, “question trails,” and other kinesthetic activities that get my students moving and interacting. I abhorred my previous classroom’s 30 isolated, clunky desks that impeded authentic learning. 

When I began the flexible seating design process, I knew I wanted my classroom space to help facilitate the types of lessons I would be teaching. To do this, I designed my room to have distinct areas, each a different space for a small group or learning station. I created 7 zones, and being me, I had to think of cute names for each: the library, the lounge, the cafe, the bistro, the patio, the coffee bar, and the office. I also ensured that there was space for kinesthetic learning and a clear path for movement around the room — aka “flow.”

Library

Like a real library, our “library” includes spots for both independent and group work.

Lounge

The heart of the classroom is the “lounge.” The futon, sofa chair, and bungee chairs make this a natural favorite among students.

Cafe

The “cafe” features two counter-height tables and stools, as well as additional stool seating along the countertop against the back wall.

Bistro

The “bistro” is situated in a cozy corner of my classroom. Here, you can find adjustable bistro tables with stools, as well as taller bistro tables for students who prefer to stand while working.

Patio

This is the “patio,” a great place for natural collaboration.

CoffeeBar2

The “coffee bar” is a perfect place for independent work. I also sometimes seat students here when they are off-task and need to be facing away from everyone else in order to focus.

Office

I call this “the office,” because it’s a group work table directly in front of my desk.

Designing my room was probably the most laborious and intimidating, but FUN, step of implementing flexible seating. I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and I love using my creativity to design. (Before deciding on teaching, I entertained ideas of being an architect or graphic designer.) I actually made blueprint-like sketches of different layouts and reflected upon how each layout would affect the teaching and learning going on in my classroom. That might have been overkill, but the lesson is simple: Be deliberate in your design. You are switching from a traditional paradigm of teaching to a more student-centered, collaborative 21st-century learning environment. It’s kind of a big deal, so force yourself to critically think about how you can change your classroom for the better.

Here are a few questions to help you guide your design process: 

How can I maximize my learning space to make it conducive to…

  • My style of teaching and classroom management?
  • My students’ various learning styles and unique needs?
  • Student-centered learning?
  • Discussion?
  • Collaboration?
  • Engagement?
  • Technology you use? (We are 1:1 with Chromebooks at my school)

Have a plan for implementation

By the time you are ready to implement flexible seating, you will have invested a lot of time, effort, and thought into the whole process. In fact, you’ll probably be sick of spending so much time arranging your classroom and just ready for your kids to get there. But I would urge you to spend just a little more time thinking about how you will introduce flexible seating to your students and their parents. 

The second your students walk into your classroom, they will have comments and questions about flexible seating, since it’s so new and unique. In fact, on the first day of school, one student walked into my classroom (when I happened to be using the restroom during the passing period) and was so confused that he walked right back out, convinced that it was “not a real classroom.” He walked down to his former English teacher’s room just to fact-check that the room was indeed my classroom before he walked back. Other people, including parents and strangers on Instagram, have expressed similar confusion with my atypical layout. “But where do they sit?” has actually been a frequent question, too!

I know most teachers introduce flexible seating on the very first day of school to set the tone and make expectations clear, but I saved it for the second day so I could do my fun “Investigate the Teacher” Activity, in which students investigate my classroom for clues about my personality, teaching style, expectations, hobbies, etc. This activity worked especially well this year, because the new flexible seating prompted many questions and inferences about my teaching style and the types of lessons I would teach!Flexible Seating Materials COVER

On the second day of school, I formally introduced flexible seating. First, I gave my students a letter that explained the purpose of flexible seating. Then, we reviewed expectations and I gave students a chance to ask questions before they each signed a contract, agreeing to my expectations. Finally, I explained how students would test out different seats for the next week, so that they could reflect upon how each seat affected their engagement and learning. If you’re interested in this implementation plan, check out my Flexible Seating Resource Bundle.

Don’t be afraid to BE FLEXIBLE!

When I do something, I want to be all in. I want to do it right, and I don’t want to give up. I want to do precisely what I said I would, in the way that I set out to do it. 

As a teacher, I’ve had to force myself to abandon this stubborn, perfectionist mentality, especially when it comes to flexible seating.

Disclaimer: FLEXIBLE SEATING IS NOT GOING TO BE PERFECT, CONTRARY TO WHAT INSTAGRAM AND PINTEREST MIGHT LEAD YOU TO BELIEVE.

It’s not a magical “happily-ever-after” solution to all of your classroom’s problems, but it IS a step toward more student-centered, authentic learning. You will still encounter issues, some unique to flexible seating, so you must stay flexible and find ways to adapt to your group of learners.

My biggest piece of advice is to not be afraid to change things up when they’re not working. I’ve rearranged my room multiple times this semester. I’ve had to put certain kiddos on flexible seating probation. I moved a few extra traditional desks back to my classroom for this purpose. 

I’ve even had to create seating charts for 2 classes. Luckily, one class earned the privilege back and all it takes to redirect them is a simple reminder that we can go back to the seating chart. My other class with a seating chart is my 8th period class with 20 boys and 4 girls. They’re great kids, but the blend of personalities and the anticipation of the end of the school day just created too much chatter during transitions. The seating chart solved my issues, but it also helped me pinpoint and isolate the students causing the disruptions. I am hoping to reintroduce the privilege of flexible seating at the start of next semester; I’ll give the disruptive kids another chance, but I’ll be quick to intervene and isolate them if the problems persist.

Gonna #keepitreal ••• Yes, that's a seating chart I'm about to make. No, I don't have perfect classroom management. Yes, I rearranged my entire classroom. No, not all of my students have been choosing their seats wisely lately. Yes, I am still adapting to flexible seating and experimenting with what works best. No, we won't have assigned seats forever. Yes, I am aware that a seating chart defeats the purpose of flexible seating. No, I don't have all the answers. In fact, I need them. 😂 Hopefully this is a temporary wake-up call for some of my kiddos. IG tends to be a highlight reel but please know it's not perfect up in here. You're not alone! We all struggle in this whole teaching thing! Keep on doing what YOU know is best for the students in YOUR classroom. ❤ Happy Fri-Yay, y'all!

A post shared by Write On With Miss G (@writeonwithmissg) on

I know a seating chart sounds like it defeats the purpose of the flexible seating, and admittedly, yes, it does, for that class. But that doesn’t mean I failed at flexible seating. After all, it’s ONE out of my SEVEN classes (and there’s always That One Class, right?!). It’s a temporary consequence, and it’s a good reminder that flexible seating is a privilege. I think it just means that every class is different. As teachers, we must differentiate and adapt to our unique learners. And isn’t that the whole purpose of flexible seating? 

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway. Also, check out Tracee Orman’s ideas for celebrating the holidays in your classroom and Shana from Hello Teacher Lady’s ways to add warmth and joy to your classroom space. We are the last round of the blog hop, but you can check out all the previous posts linked below!

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10 Comments

  1. Shannon Grubb
    December 11, 2017 / 11:21 pm

    This is a excellent guide to implement flex seating. I have had flex seating in my 8th grade classroom for 3 years now, and I modify it every year based on student need. I love the idea of the specific labeled areas, that is definitely the direction I want to go.

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful ideas. I am going to share this with other teachers in my building who are considering flex seating.

  2. December 11, 2017 / 11:46 pm

    I love your classroom! Thanks so much for sharing with us! 🙂

  3. Crystal
    April 20, 2018 / 8:56 pm

    What type of covering do you have on your wall to give it the barn wood look?

    • Crystal
      April 20, 2018 / 8:57 pm

      I would also like to know the size of your room?

  4. Heather P
    April 27, 2018 / 2:16 pm

    I absolutely love these ideas and feel so inspired!!! Is the woodlike paper on your wall peel and stick? Where is that from?

  5. Karon Kitchens
    May 1, 2018 / 8:40 pm

    Is it possible that you would share with me the copy of your grant proposal? I am currently writing one myself and would love to see it!

  6. Jacci Strain
    June 29, 2018 / 4:25 am

    Hey, I sent you an email but haven’t heard back just yet so I wanted to cover my bases and send one here. I would LOVE to see the grant you wrote on flexible seating. Also, I am very impressed with your blog and all your helpful advice and would appreciate to hear from you. Thanks for posting!

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