I’ve always been a teacher that likes to make my classroom a bit more homey than most. Even in my first year of teaching, I wanted to add lamps, a couch, and a papasan chair to my room to give it that little something extra. Well, my first year was 20 years ago, and there was no such thing as flexible or alternative seating. Schools didn’t really encourage that type of thing, so I didn’t pursue it beyond adding a random extra piece of furniture or two.
Fast forward about 16 years, and that’s when I started really toying with the idea of bringing in some different seating choices. I’m not a beanbag, carpet square, video rocker kind of girl. I wanted a cafe-type feel: warm colors, leveled seating (bar height, counter height, table height, coffee table, and floor), ambient lighting…basically Starbucks as a classroom.
Here is what my room looked like before any flexible seating:
I started small. My husband’s grandmother was moving into assisted living, so his uncle asked if I needed any furniture. I got a coffee table from her house, and I love it. I found a square, counter-height table with four stools on Facebook Marketplace for a reasonable price. Then I let the parents at my charter school know, and one mom gave me a bar height table with two stools, one gave me a round, black table with two chairs, and another helped me buy a wrought iron, bar height table with two wrought iron stools. I added a rug from Big Lots (one of my first lessons in quality is better than quantity) and some lamps, and I was off to the races.
Two things: I was in a portable, so I was limited by space. And my principal was interested to see how this would work, so he supported my experiment.
Here is what it looked like starting out:
Due to my space limitations, that’s about all I started with, but then came our school’s move. When I was in the portables, our middle school (6-8 grades) was sharing a campus with the intermediate (3-5 grades). After my third year, when I began my seating journey, the intermediate moved to a new campus, and we were able to move into the main building. Because he wanted to support my vision, my principal gave me the largest classroom. Here is what I started with:
After working on my classroom, this is what it looked like last year:
I added some rugs, two chairs from FB marketplace, two chairs from my mom’s house, and some side tables. Over the summer, I went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I decided my room needed to look like the Ravenclaw Common Room. I started collecting little touches that would bring the Wizarding World into my classroom.
This year, I feel like I’ve gotten enough furniture and decorations, which makes my husband happy since I’m not bringing home random stuff for him to fix or paint.
Truths About Flexing in the Secondary Classroom
- Don’t get mad when things break. Most furniture was not built to withstand several teenagers sitting in it everyday. Solid wood is good, metal is better, and particle board or laminate might last a semester, a year if you’re lucky. One of my stools was broken just yesterday!
- Stop buying after you’re full. I bought so much stuff that ultimately didn’t end up fitting. The librarian has a few of my pieces as do a couple of other teachers. Sharing is caring!
- You have to live in a space before you will know how it works. With flexible seating, your traffic patterns change. Don’t get frustrated, just keep working with it until you find a couple of configurations that work for you.
- Set guidelines and stick to them. My students know that they must start every class period at a desk or table. If they have independent or group work that allows for movement, then I will let them move when I am finished delivering the lesson or instructions. they also know that choosing their own seat is a privilege that I can revoke at any time.
- Think outside the box. Use bed risers to convert a school table to counter height. Use crates or 5 gallon buckets as stools. Coffee tables are great with a rug because kids can sit on the floor. Also, you can lower tables and desks to use with crate seats.
- Think like a big kid. Yoga balls and wobble stools don’t really work with middle and high schoolers. These kids are way bigger, and they tend to destroy stuff without even trying.
After three years of collecting, moving, pairing down, reconfiguring, and a lot of sweat and tears, here is what my room looks like today: