Flexible Seating Is All the Rage in Schools, But Does It Really Work?

I wanted to love it, but …

Flexible Seating Does Not Work

If you’ve spent more than a minute browsing teacher Instagram, then you know about flexible seating. Teachers are buying scoop rockers, exercise balls, and squishy stools in droves and using them to replace traditional desks, all in the name of focus and innovation.

It sounds like a good idea in theory—and it sure *looks* good—but is flexible seating really all it’s chalked up to be? After trying flexible seating in my classroom for an entire year, I have to say that I think this trend is overrated.

First things first, I know there are people already doubting me and disagreeing. Some of you read the title of this article and immediately thought, “HOW DARE HE SPEAK DOWN ON THE EVER-SO-SACRED SEATING OF FLEXIBILITY!” You’re probably wondering if I’m super old school or if I even teach in a modern classroom. (I’m not, and I do.)

Honestly, I get where you’re coming from, but hear me out.

I tried to love flexible seating. I really did!

I gave flexible seating an honest try for an entire school year. (In retrospect, I wish I would’ve just tried it in a section of my classroom before going all out.)

When the seating arrangement got tough, I didn’t quit. I kept with it and put my best foot forward. And I also loathed every minute of it. Here’s why.

When I first decided to take a swig of the flexible seating Kool-Aid, I legit thought I had it in the bag. Whatever literature was out there and whoever was posting about it, I was into it, and I was into it HARD! I believed wholeheartedly that it could and would be the end to many of my teaching troubles and classroom-management challenges.

So I did what any person does when their heart is set on fire with a burning desire to be different and innovative: I transformed my classroom into a flexible-seating jungle. I bought any and every piece of furniture I could. I had beanbag chairs and bucket seats, standing desks and exercise balls. We even had recliners, a couch, yoga mats. You name it; I had it. And let me tell you, my classroom was the pinnacle of Instagrammable perfection.

But then Instagram perfection started to crumble.

Right away, we hit a wall with picking seats. I did what all the articles told me to do. I set up the routine to teach the children where they learn best, then slowly allowed them to select their spots. I did this for weeks on end. Well into the fall season.

FOOY! I don’t care who you are. Out of 30 ten-year-olds, at least one of them is going to freak out when they don’t get what they want. And you know when that happens? Every. Single. Day. Now, I could have very easily taken the time to talk to the student about their feelings, calmed them down, and helped them find their special little learning cubby … or I could have spent that time facilitating two guided-reading groups. You probably know which one I preferred.

Now you flexible-seating believers might want to hit me with the numbers. Research shows that flexible seating improves students attention and focus … Show me that research. I’ve spend countless hours searching for it, and I still can’t find it. Does it even exist? I’m not talking research as in, Oh I did flexible seating, and my students’ scores went up, hearsay. I’m talking, A scientific study was conducted where children’s brain waves were monitored while they were engaging in flexible seating … multiple times a year … over the course of their development … and the results were amazing.

We need to rethink flexible seating.

When it comes to flexible seating, the biggest kicker for me was just the time involved to accommodate it. It was a huge time suck just for basic things, like distribution of classroom materials. For instance, with flexible seating, there’s no desk space for your students to keep their stuff. So you’re left with your creativity to figure out where your students are going to keep their necessities. In theory, it seems great. No messy desks. Everything is in one place. It should totally work. And you know what, it does work. However, it takes way longer than it should.

Think about it. I could say “Take out your social studies books,” and when students have desks, this takes five to 10 seconds. But if you have flexible seating without any real storage, it might take 10 minutes for Cameron to meander his way over to the cabinet where the social studies books are stored. Then he’ll climb on a step stool to fetch them down one at a time to pass them out to his peers. He’ll probably start with his friends and will likely stop to chat along the way. 

I’m being slightly dramatic, but the time suck is real. As much as I enjoy having fun in the classroom, I still want students to learn something! I’d much rather allocate this lost time to a stimulating brain break to recharge them for the day.

Let’s give students alternatives, but don’t push flexible seating as the only answer.

Now I do understand a lot of the reasoning behind flexible seating, and I believe the intentions are mostly good. But before you jump on the bandwagon and try to give your classroom a makeover that you really don’t have the money for, I encourage you to think about other ways to bring flexibility into your classroom. For example, try it for a section of your classroom. Perhaps you can put tire chairs in the classroom library, a couch in a study section, or a few wobbly stools around a collaboration area. But it doesn’t have to be the ENTIRE classroom.

Using chair fidgets, having brain breaks, and increasing recess-time release, instead of buying new chairs, can all be good ways to give students an outlet. Of course, if flexible seating works for you, then, by all means, keep doing it. However, if you’ve wondered if it’s just a fad or here to stay, you might give it some time. Because I think the good ol’ student desk works just fine—for now.

What do you think of flexible seating? Share your take in our WeAreTeachers Chat group on Facebook. 

Plus, check out some of our favorite flexible seating options

Flexible Seating Is All the Rage in Schools, But Does It Really Work?

Posted by Joe Dombrowski

Fun, passionate and engaging are three words that clearly describe Joe, AKA Mr.D! His commitment to student engagement has captured the hearts of many teachers, not only through his viral spelling test video, but also through his appearances on The Ellen Degeneres Show!

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