Sunday, April 24, 2016

I Failed at Flexible Seating

Updated 7/29/16: Hi and thank you so much for stumbling upon my blog! The below post (from  April 2016) was written as a way for me to document my experience with alternative, or flexible, classroom seating. It's not meant to persuade you against the concept or to say you shouldn't try it out in your own classroom! I was inspired to try it in my own room because of the many amazing teachers that have made it work so wonderfully for themselves and their students. Going full throttle into it wasn't for me but I love letting my students have some freedoms of course - standing to work if needed, working with clipboards on the rug, fun reading seating, etc. Having reflected on my own experience since publishing this post, I think I struggled a lot with how my students would cope the next school year in a desk. Was I setting them up for failure by giving them too much choice? That's question went through my head a lot. But I digress!

Flexibility is the backbone of teaching and I also believe in life you must take risks. I suppose that's why I jumped head first into transforming my room to begin with. I have no regrets! What I'm trying to say is... If you feel flexible seating could work for your class I hope you'll go for it! Let us know in the comments how it goes.


Back in November I blogged about how I had transformed my classroom with flexible seating, otherwise known as alternative seating. I jumped head first into the idea that my students would choose their work space and get down to business and that each day would be buzzing with the hum of productivity and engagement. That was the idea. The reality looked and sounded a lot different. I don't consider myself a super traditional person. By that I guess I mean that for the most part, I like to take risks and try new things. I immediately thought flexible classroom seating would be a perfect fit for my teaching style. Turns out I am much more traditional than I thought. My mom will be so excited!

I failed at implementing flexible seating in my classroom. I just couldn't make it work. I could list reasons for why I think it didn't work out but I fear they may sound a lot like excuses. Perhaps they are. I really wanted to like the new set up, to trust my students' decisions and partnerships, but as the days passed, I knew alternative seating wasn't going to work for me or my kids. Add a couple days of substitute teachers and I was truly over it!

via the Corner Stone for Teachers Facebook

Like a lot of things in life, my big plans fell short of what I expected. I couldn't manage my students' behaviors or needs as well when they were choosing their own workspaces. I fully believe that kids need movement and hands-on learning and they still get tons of that but when I switched my students back to assigned desks, I couldn't help but feel a sense of failure. Why couldn't I make it work? Why can't my classroom have the same vibe as the classrooms I see on Pinterest with their stability balls and fancy couches? WHY don't they understand that stability balls aren't meant for rolling yourself across the room?

The answer for why I failed is probably simple. I wasn't buying into it 100%. I worried about how my students would cope next year in a traditional desk scenario. I dreaded daily transitions. All the walking around made my eye twitch! And I worried that I was going to cry if they didn't stop talking off topic so much!!! The whole vibe of my classroom just felt off.

Since I've switched back to traditional seats, we've been engrossed in an author study, researched rainforest animals, experimented with rainbows, and so much more. I realized I don't need to make a grand classroom change in order for my students to thrive and learn. I'm not sure if it makes me a better or worse teacher but for me, a traditional classroom has just been a better fit this year.

Now if you'll excuse me I have some stability balls to deflate.


  1. Thanks for your post! I have five stability balls that I rotate...been considering some more choices. I don't think I could ever go all in! Glad I'm not the only one! I admire your courage to admit the latest craze was not for you and your students.


  2. Thanks for your honesty on this! I have been toying with the idea of flexible seating and looking at glowing reviews but not as many with negative reviews. I too am a little worried that my students will be rolling across the room on the stability balls.

  3. Thanks for your honesty on this! I have been toying with the idea of flexible seating and looking at glowing reviews but not as many with negative reviews. I too am a little worried that my students will be rolling across the room on the stability balls.

  4. Love this honest post. I just came across your original post when you switched to flexible seating as I was toying with the idea for this year. I then clicked "home" to see if you had any updates on how it was going and this was the first post I saw confirming my thoughts about it too. It sounds really good in theory, but there's something about having desks and teaching students to organize their materials in their personal space that is important (in my opinion of course).

  5. You are so right that it is a hard thing to buy into! When I first read about it I thought "there is no way my kinder kids can make this work" but after I did A LOT of research I felt more comfortable. I modeled and rewarded a lot at first then gradually they just did it on their own. You should give it another go and try easing into it. Maybe start with allowing them to stand up at their desks or work under their desks. I also recommend making an anchor chart with them about how the flexible seating works. I hope this helps a little.

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  7. I did a modified flexible seating that you might like a little better. I too like to try new things but have to own my traditional roots too! So...with that in mind, I used their behavior as a motivation for their choosing their seats daily. I still used tables but each table had a different style seat. EX: One table has stability balls, one has wobble chairs, two are low to the ground with rugs to sit on, and two have traditional chairs. There are also two "alone zone" desks. Each table has a basket on it with a table name card four colored squares on it for students to place their clips daily. When they come in every morning they are allowed to choose their seat IF they were on green (behavior chart) the day before and IF they turn in their homework. If they were on anything other than green or if they did not do their homework, I picked their seat for that day. This system worked well for me! The only thing I am looking to change is I think I will be changing the stability balls to milk crate seats. I, like you, am not crazy about them. They bounce around too much. Hope this helps!

  8. Hi everyone! I also have been struggling with the idea of flexible seating. How does it work when you have state testing and the kids need to be seated in rows?

    1. I also have the same question about testing. I was thinking (since I have extended days) my tests would take longer, but I would do it in the small grups. Centers/rotation stations may work too. I am trying flexible seating this come g year (2017-2018), I am nervous, but very excited. I know the students that are coming are difficult, but I hope I don't regret... 😊

  9. I use flexible seating and am very happy with it, but I don't think flexible seating defines me as a teacher. There are other things that are much more important than where your kiddos sit. If you have engaging lessons, and a good rapport with your students, it will not matter if they sit on a yoga ball or in a chair. If your classroom is a safe, comfortable place where kids can feel free to learn and question and take risks, then you are doing exactly the right thing!

  10. I'm glad to see that some teachers can acknowledge that flexible seating may not work for their classroom. I am a parent to a second-grader in a flexible seating classroom, and it has been a disaster for him. He does not have ADHD, but he does get lost in his thoughts. He needs more structure, and this arrangement has been little more than a distraction for him this year.

  11. I appreciate your honesty. I tried flexible seating this year and it has been a real struggle for me. Like you, I feel like I failed at something so many other teachers have had success with(according to Pinterest posts). I may try to gradual introduce it next year. It may have a better outcome.

  12. I've been teaching awhile and I always like to switch it up every year. I contemplated flexible seating, but after reading a lot of research I think I'll stick with what I've done. I allow my students to work on the large rug up front, stand up, move to a quieter place alone, or work with a friend. In general I think "Teach Like a Champion" has it right. The kids need to be facing the teacher while she/he is teaching. I know this seems old school, but I start this way until I know the class well. Some years the kids stay facing forward, some years they work in Kagen cooperative learning groups of 4, and some years it's a mix. Trends come and go. If you feel it's best to face them forward, then you should do it. As a teacher you begin to feel each class's need and you meet it. Whether it's flexible seating or straight up old school. Trust yourself!

  13. I usually get several behavior kids in my class each year so to go all in scares me. What I’ve implemented is this: I have 4 groups of desks. Each group has a table leader. The table leaders get to sit on a flexibility ball for the day. We’ve gone over rules for the ball, so if they bounce or can’t handle it, they loose it. It’s been fine for the past few years. The leader of the day gets the wobble stool if they want it. We do daily 5, so of course they get to sit on the floor with pillows and other types of seating during that time.