Just to give you a little background, I need to start from the end of last school year. When I was packing up my room, I told one of my teenaged helpers to recycle a lesson or something. She asked me why didn't I want to keep it and use it for next year, and I told her (a quote which has stuck with me since college), "You can teach for 20 years, but don't teach 1 year 20 times." So I go into every year determined to make it different and better. During last summer, I did a book study about increasing comprehension through inquiry circles and did the National Writing Project Summer Institute. I also chose not to have a desk this year. I cleaned it out, gave it away, and put my computer on a small table. (Other teachers guffawed at my choice to do this. Their biggest concern was where was I going to put my stuff.) Then during the year, I joined the Innovation Team at school. I learned about ways to offer choices for learning including assessment and spaces. Then I switched to flexible seating about halfway through the year.
Since deciding to go with flexible seating, I have gone through ups and downs & back and forths, with trying to figure out its implementation. First, I had to try and explain it to the students. There isn't any trying - they got it! They were so excited about it they wanted to start that day! They were excited to not have a desk. Different than what I had read on other blogs while doing some research. Most of the concerns were about where were the students were going to put their stuff. Next, there had to be some ground rules we could all accept. As we discussed the rules, I learned the students were more ready for this change than I was. Kismet! And they had some reasonings behind the rules I hadn't thought of!
Here are the 3 rules we have in our room for flexible seating. Rule number 1. You have to find a spot where you can do your best learning. Students came up with the notion that if they were allowed to sit wherever, then some students might take advantage of that and sit next to their best friend and talk all day. The students were worried about their own learning being affected! Rule number 2. You had to sit in a different spot each day. They were worried about everyone not getting the chance to sit in the 'best' spots. Rule number 3. You could only move if your spot wasn't working out and you spoke with the teacher. They were concerned people would just be picking new spots all the time throughout the day - and distracting from others' learning! They also gave absolute power to the teacher - if someone was being a problem, I had the right to move them - no questions asked. How nice of them, right?
We started with just a few students 'losing' their desks a week. This was the highest motivator for on-taskness I have seen to date! Students showed engagement, organization, and participation - all to prove to me they were ready for the responsibility of not having a desk. It continues to evolve as the weeks pass. I have new, or really - new to my room, furniture waiting in my garage - so the seating options can change and evolve as needed.
I have a very busy classroom. I have 28 students with a wide variety of needs. I have a number of paraprofessionals - couldn't live without them - whom float in and out of my room throughout the day. I don't mind what others may see as wandering about the room. I have a bubbler in my room and let students use it when they are thirsty. I let them get up to blow their nose when they need to. If they have to go to the bathroom, they don't have to ask. We have a procedure in place that works and doesn't interrupt anyone. I have many partnerships established so then students need help, I'm not the only one who can or has to help them. Our classroom may not be the best oiled machine, but there are very few squeaks.
We have now successfully made our full transition to flexible seating. I still have 4 desks in my room. I will probably keep them for next year too. The students who have them are either students who have expressed that a desk IS their best place to learn, have little to no organizational skills (despite my best efforts), or have chronic behavior issues that keep them from being able to sit and work by others without distracting them.
Doesn't my room sound great? But remember how this all started? I don't feel well and won't be at school tomorrow. This will be my first absence since flexible seating started. I can't lie, this freaks me out! I had a very hard time trying to explain all of my philosophies and expectations without writing a book for the substitute coming in. I don't have a seating chart. The beginning of my day looks like a time-lapse movie of the inside of an ant hill with everyone going in different directions! It only looks like this because of all the jobs that occur in the morning and it only looks like that for 12 minutes. Transitions are also a chaotic time but this also allows for the brain to get an active break so great learning can occur. Should I just tough it out and go to school sick?
AND then it also makes me also think -what do I do next year? I started half way through this year and the students were excited for the change. Now I have a whole new set of ups and downs & back and forths. How do I explain this at open house? How will I know which students should be in desks? How can I build what I have this year with next year's class that I haven't even met yet?! What if? I'm glad I didn't and don't take these questions too seriously. It will all work out fine. We teach our students to be flexible and adaptable, we must be the same.
When in doubt, do it. I'm going to nap now.