Think about your educational experience.
How was it? Strict and structured? No nonsense, no talking? Sitting in rows, facing the chalkboard, no room for engagement with others?
I’m willing to bet it was.
Sit down, follow the rules, do your work.
Do you remember what you learned in those classrooms?
Grammar rules, algebra problems, history lessons.
If you remember, is it because you had fun learning those things? Because you were able to engage with others, build mnemonics or sing songs to remember?
Or do you remember because you had to memorize it? Because you practiced the lesson so much that it is forever ingrained?
Think back to your favourite teachers. Were they rigid and strict? Or were they flexible and made you feel comfortable sharing and participating in the classroom?
What do you think about the traditional, forward-facing, rigid classroom?
It’s outdated. And, in this new age of learning, something needs to change.
Sign up for Creating Mindful Classrooms, an online course encouraging social-emotional learning and wellbeing in education using mindfulness!
Enter flexible seating. Flexible seating takes sitting the in the classroom to a whole new -and mindful- level.
What’s so great about it? I’m glad you asked!
Flexible seating allows for students to be:
- Involved in the decision-making process of the classroom
- Comfortable in the space
- Trusting of the educator
- Learning individually or learning in groups
- Flexible seating in the classroom means giving students options and allowing them to choose the seating arrangement that suits them best, giving them control over their own learning.
While some educators are on the fence about flexible seating, the general reaction to this new way of learning has been positive:
“Now that I think about it more, I remember my stages [practicum] with elementary school students, and in one the kids had such special needs, learning and behaviour-wise that they needed all sorts of accommodations to be able to work… some needed to be away from everyone else, some needed to be with some friends or right next to the teacher or even in another room. On another stage it was a grade 2/3 split, so there was often at least two groups going on, where one might be doing math with manipulatives and the others might be writing or doing a science experiment or art project. I realize now that flexible seating would have made this so much easier… the kids could have grouped together easily or moved their desks away from everyone else to work independently or even cleared the desks so they could work on the floor.”- Lashiah
Okay, so what does all of this have to do with a mindfulness practice?
I’m not going to write about the definition of yoga and mindfulness in every blog post (hahaha!). If you want a recap on mindfulness and its benefits, go here.
Flexible seating allows for students to have some control over their own learning, increasing autonomy and self-regulation. By choosing where to sit, students are discovering how they learn best- sitting on a yoga ball, using noise-cancelling headphones, or writing things down/making lists.
Students spend a large portion of their lives in school. Discovering and understanding how they learn best is essential for academic performance and self-confidence, along with self-esteem and personal growth and development.
Flexible seating also demonstrates to the students that their teacher trusts and respects them. Trust and respect are important in any relationship, including the student-teacher relationship. But they are a two way relationship. When students go to school, they are expected to sit and listen to and trust that the teacher know what is best for them.
But trust and respect are not “told”. They are learned and earned. How can we expect our students to trust and respect us if we do not show the same to them?
Flexible seating lets the students know that the teacher trusts and respects them to choose the environment in which they will work best. It also lets the students know that the teacher trusts that the students will work both individually and with others in an appropriate manner- no lagging behind, no misuse of time.
Including flexible seating in the classroom can also help students with their emotional regulation. By allowing students to feel more comfortable in the classroom, we are decreasing stress and anxiety. Reducing these emotions in the classroom will help students to better focus, increase motivation to learn, and improve persistence and goal-setting behaviours.
Finally, flexible seating includes options for students to work and learn on their own. Not only does this increase independence, it also allows students to take mindful moments to themselves to think or rest their bodies and minds for a moment. Spending some time alone gives students (and everyone!) the opportunity to reflect on themselves, helping to increase knowledge and understanding of the self.
What does flexible seating include?
Flexible seating includes a wide variety of seating and learning opportunities. Some options include:
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Yoga/exercise balls
- Chairs with cushions
- Bean bag chairs
- Chairs on wheels
- Round & square tables
- White board table or chalkboard tables
- Mindful corners
Take this opportunity to ask your students what they would like to see in their classrooms. Including the students in the decision-making process helps them to feel welcomed, more comfortable, and part of the environment- increasing motivation and help-seeking behaviours.
Flexible seating also demonstrates to the students that their teacher trusts them. Trust is important in any relationship, including the student-teacher relationship.
How can I (as an educator) include flexible seating in my classroom?
First, you should get permission from your school principal or leader to create a flexible classroom.
When creating your flexible classroom, try to think of things that would make you and your students feel comfortable and be more productive and eager to learn. Include your students in this process!
Set rules right away. Flexible seating does not mean”free for all”.
The standard classroom rules apply to a classroom with flexible seating. Make sure students know that they cannot choose to sit somewhere because that is where their friends are. If there is talking or non-academic conversation, someone will be removed from the area.
If student learning and engagement, motivation and self-confidence are really the end goal of education, we must adapt our classrooms to reflect those practices. We cannot continue to use classrooms from the 80s. Or even the 90s. They just don’t work anymore.
Flexible seating allows students to experience new learning environments within a larger environment. It allows them to learn and develop, as well as increase academic performance, motivation, and self-confidence. Flexible seating increases engagement and overall enjoyment of learning.
Which is what we, as educators, want for our students. And for ourselves.
P.S. Looking for more tips and info on flexible seating? Check out these great links!