Rethinking Classroom Design, Fad, Fact or Fancy?

Do You think Classroom Design and Flexible Seating is Turning Into a Fad?

First, let me say I hope you know I am non-competitive, I deeply believe teachers are good at heart, action researchers, leaders, expert at art and craft of teaching. Teachers manage to do a myriad of tasks throughout the day and then go home and likely do more.

Probably the most important thing teachers do is figure out how to organize and manage their own classroom environment. That’s where it starts, before curriculum and lesson planning begins. If we are fortunate to be in a district and school with plenty of money (where is that now?), unlimited resources, perhaps grant funding, how exciting to experiment more than the old couch or beanbags I had in my high school English classroom.

Classrooms back then. Maybe even now, haven’t changed all that much, really.

Back in the day our rooms looked like old timey learning spaces. Pretty much rows, teacher’s desk, pull down charts, maps, bulletin boards, white boards. small class library. Textbooks. Computers were mostly in labs or a couple at the back. Basic room.

I carefully selected the photo to accompany my article. Classrooms vary so much now, but that photo, what we see is pretty much the way classrooms have always looked, not so bad, or is it? Does the classroom decor make the difference, or the culture more? I’d opt for culture, climate and morale and learning community. That’s my emphasis. However, there’s a lot to be said about what and how many decorations, room functionality, etc. What should a room look like on the first day? Teacher created, or with student input? Empty wall spaces, or already decorated? You decide. Your room.

Today I posted a bunch of photos of my first year teaching, on Twitter. Kids are sitting on my teacher’s desk, clustered in odd shaped mess of old tables, on the floor, in one I was standing up at the front. So we had no flexible seating, per se, but yet, it certainly was. I was twenty-one and ready to save the world, or part of it.

Most of my early career, we were lucky to have a kidney shape table or two, chart stand and working overhead projector. And roll in the movie cart. One year I taught ninth-through twelfth graders in a reading lab, no books, only tech at the time, including tachistoscopes, etc. equipment never in sync, or broken, now in the long ago wasteland of innovative technology that didn’t work. I left after that year. I would not have been asked back. I smuggled books out of my desk drawer. I was the original badass teacher, (then Principal).

I graduated to putting beanbags, soft pillows, plants, stereo, a couch, carpet squares to sit on, lamps (and turning off harsh overhead lights), playing Baroque music, (or motivational like “Rocky”!), taking brain breaks and we moved around a lot. It’s time, many years later, since my first teaching experience, to see dramatically different classrooms, beyond the old factory model, rows and more rows.

This is no fad. Maybe we need to tweak a little, but let’s go for it. We need flexibility!

I really love a lot of what I see now, just not sure to what extent everything works, and how the flow goes. For example, if students don’t have permanent desks, organization is paramount, so time isn’t wasted and there’s flow to all the activities. But even that I don’t think is a big deal, so many teachers are involved now, sharing and collaborating, what works is way easier to learn through social media and just walking around school. It’s certainly a big investment to completely overhaul a classroom. Who’s paying? Is it what’s wanted by teachers or who’s selecting? Start small or go for it?

What does research say about classroom design and flexible seating?

While thinking about what to write today, I looked for any hard core conclusive evidence-based studies about the merits of newer classroom design and corresponding flexible seating options and alternatives. There are definitely anecdotal articles extolling the virtues, or not. Sharing pitfalls is important, as I don’t believe in failure, only feedback and mid-course corrections with any innovation is the norm. Generally anything new takes time, maybe a couple years years to see a big difference, but if we are doing this solely to raise test scores, that would make me question reliability and validity of such. That’s not why I’m interested.

It’s about autonomy, I plan and implement what happens in my classroom. 

I finally succumbed to the lure of Instagram a bit more and saw the most amazing, unbelievable classrooms this summer, as teachers geared up, buying, finding and stashing classroom stuff, in between professional reading and attending conferences. There are some real rockstar, super creative teachers sharing on Twitter and Facebook. Obviously lots of teachers prefer not to use social media, but I can focus only on what I saw, heard and read.

We have opportunity to start fresh each year, within limitations of space, regulations, of course, and budget, most of all. “Clearing lists” and and requesting help on “Donors Choose” enabled many teachers to supplement or supplant classroom design. I still say, we need to fully fund public schools and give teachers more options.

No matter what, every teacher figures  out how to continually adapt, redesign, reconfigure with resources available to ensure learning spaces are flexible, working for each student. Needs for group meeting areas, private study areas (we used carrels in the back), partner work, you know what I’m talking about. How do we meet the diverse needs of scholars -in-waiting? Does our room make a difference? I say, yes.

Kids need options to move and groove during a long day.

With scant recess for kids at all levels, it’s vitally important to consider how what we do is affecting children. The rush to success through meeting standards and tough bars to reach, means we must reconsider how our surroundings impact learning, and that includes noise levels and lighting, as well. More than furniture.

There are a lot of kids at all ages and stages who would benefit from studying while pedaling a bike, using a standing up desk, sitting on a ball, learning in varied places in a room. This past year Morgan got in trouble frequently because she was moving her pencil case around on her desk, her teacher said “not paying attention”. Truth is I was way worse, that pencil case would be dropping, so I could pick it up. For so many years pencil sharpeners chewed up pencils to the nub in part because they didn’t work, and in part because kids just had to get up and move. Those old desks and chairs were uncomfortable, and when we’re uncomfortable we don’t learn, so kids fall out of chairs and one way or another, move.

I wrote most of my new book on my couch, little table or on my bed. I’m writing sitting in a comfortable chair right now. I no longer have a traditional office, only a flexible office, and I seem to be ok. Kids need that option.

Instagram – Perfect Classrooms are awesome, as models of what might be.

The Instagram classrooms are awesome in some ways, but also makes one sort of uncomfortable, it looks so perfect, but I am just as amazed in a more traditional classroom with a dedicated teacher. How in the world can teachers afford to turn classrooms into a theme for a year? Out of pocket, donation, thrift stores, many ways.

As long as it doesn’t become competitive.

I think we should check out as many classroom variations as possible, and see what aspects of classroom design, storage ideas, centers, strategies, and yes flexible learning spaces and corresponding furniture, wheels or not. Scrolling through Instagram is motivational and inspirational and great for ideas. I am not on Pinterest, so you are undoubtedly a lot more crafty than me.

These themed rooms are extraordinary, allowing teachers to showcase ingenuity, creativity and offer the most memorable school year imaginable. Hopefully some of the coolest aspects can be shared in some smaller way, if not the whole deal. Themed rooms can have traditional furniture, just use space wisely, organized to the hilt.

Classroom environment is important for teachers, not just kids.

When we are happy with our room and have needed resources, it makes it so much easier to do our thing as designers of student learning. We continually make mid-course corrections, not just in curriculum, but how our room looks and functions. I am happy to see a traditional teacher’s desk, or not. It’s ok with me to keep or go beyond beyond kidney shaped tables with standing desks, etc. But most rooms can adapt with beanbags, couches, rugs, pets, plants, maker spaces, tech, of course and little things that engage kids.

During my Principalship, I co-taught in all the classrooms, K-6th. Some rooms were pretty empty, having kids who could not handle the sensory overload of too many classroom decorations, bright lights, brightly painted walls. While learning styles as concept has been thrashed around the last couple years, I remain a firm believer that kids have learning preferences, way more than Dewey. Some kids need more stimulation than others, thrive on it, other kids need a more subdued environment. Overstimulating some kids works to disadvantage. My opinion. Word walls, yes, data walls, no.

Flexible seating with all sorts of innovative furniture sounds great, looks great but is it? Maybe so. I think it depends what teachers want and need. There are other issues to consider, such as fire laws, space, resources, desire and capability to overhaul, perhaps everything.

Teachers As Designers Of Learning.

Just wondering , what do you think an ideal classroom looks like? Instagram perfect? Or perfect for you?

Every year back- to -school classroom prep is more appealing, but the same, too.

Local stores are running specials for teachers, which I really appreciate, but many teachers barely started to rejuvenate and here they are planned, bought. Why aren’t these sales year ‘round anyway?

More, why in the world are teachers continually scrounging for what they need? And parents and caregivers donating like crazy, and all those fundraisers. What does this have to do with the topic, everything! It takes money to bring in beanbags, bouncy balls, comfy couches, furniture on wheels, etc. Big business.

Bigger question, what motivates these classroom choices? And who decides? And why are teachers paying so much, of their money, searching like crazy on behalf of their classroom kids? Optimism, passion, purpose, grace and dignity on behalf of all children in their care. That’s why. A fierce need to be the best servant leaders imaginable, day after day.

Very Cool Classrooms Are Us. We make the difference.

The Vast Divide to Conquer. Only way is up, celebrating learning!

All our kids are scholars- in- waiting. It’s up to us, as servant leaders to design learning environments fluid enough to be used in a variety of ways. And accessible by all learners. And pleasing to us, where we live and breathe our days and nights.

Teacher as Researcher. Teacher as Thought Leader. Teacher as Designer of Learning. Teacher as Leader. Teacher as Coach and Mentor. Teacher who designs classrooms based on intent, brain based learning, relevant research and instinct.

What Works to Meet Students’ Needs?

What will it take to provide a future driven classroom, today? Do we need standing desks, a bike to pedal while reading? Yoga Mats for stretching? Group areas? Softer light? No desks? Areas to be alone to study, group, collaborative spaces. In other words, a flexible, fluid classroom set- up, as I’ve been mentioning.

Oh, to have funds to merge technology with soft skill instruction. Inquiry everything, Genius Hour all day long. Maker Spaces, centers, museum, outdoor education, on campus. That garden. Hydroponics. Kindness curriculum. Enough laptops for all kids, and or textbooks, possibly just enough chairs. Paper, pens, paper clips, getting basic supplies without requisition, or being denied. Before we look at the bigger picture of where we want to go, starting with fundamentals every classroom needs is a no-brainer. Yet teachers have had requisitions denied, stating not needed.

Starting with Maslow, then Dewey, meeting basic needs, then interests, engaging our Vision, then Mission. To me, I see the classroom environment as one designed according to our beliefs as teachers and people, our sense of family, our school and classroom culture, and commitment to make a difference, no matter what.

In my perfect world of brick and mortar schoolhouse, kids move throughout the campus, with rooms themselves morphing, as needed, activities and frequent play and recesses for all age groups. Exception, portable room dividers were the pits when we used them, noise unreal.

What I’m Thinking About. Classrooms As Learning Spaces.

Six considerations for teachers as thought leaders and room designers.

  1. Classroom decorations (like what, and how much?)
  2. Classroom design (how to engage all learners?)
  3. Classroom makeover (do you have a wish list?)
  4. Classroom layout (static, moving?)
  5. Classroom culture (defines the rest).
  6. Fire laws!

Classrooms as Learning spaces.

We traditionally have designed our room environments based on tradition, what resources we have, instinct, relevant research, etc. Let’s add risk, growth and change. I don’t believe anybody buys in, but when we see a need and how to get there, have a coach, mentor and time to explore, experiment and innovate, sky is the limit!

Designing whatever spaces we have, whether alone, or opening our rooms and sharing with others, even knocking out walls, if need be, we model the collegiality needed for now and later. Soft skills. Areas for class meetings, circle time, sitting on floor. Maybe even needs to change every day. Flexible everything!

Show Us the Money. Back to Autonomy.

In my opinion, in our perfect world, why not now, teachers as professionals determine best ways to reach, teach, motivate and inspire our students. Personally, I’d vote for a bunch of bouncy balls, stand up desks, pedal bikes. No fad to me. Not at all, just meeting kids’ needs. Maybe when we feel free enough to think big, take risks, check it out, change it up. That’s what we are all about, when we practice our art and craft of teaching.

Is Classroom design and flexible seating a fad, really? Nope. 

Dick and Jane came into Kindergarten and now graduated into preschools. I think it’s critical we ensure learning environments at all levels, pre-Adult offer top- notch learning experiences organized in a well-intentioned classroom. When we share our best practices, cultural norms often shift with purpose, grace and dignity.

What should that norm be? What is a classroom fad, anyway? Flexible seating, a fad? I don’t think so. Ask our children to lead the way. How would they design their own learning environments when given a choice and chance?

After all these years, as a lifelong learner,  I’ve barely begun. Every day I see something new, hopefully learn it and that’s a really great feeling. I know, you do too, so thanks, from my heart to yours today. Let’s keep talking about this important topic, I hopefully just started this collegial conversation, to be continued by you.

Happy back-to-school 2019 to you!

I’d love to hear from you!

Catch me on Twitter, FB and Instagram, too.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita

Leave a comment

Related Articles
Trending Topics
Latest EDwords Articles

© Copyright 2019 Accretive Media