Imagine slowly shuffling up to the edge of a cliff, curling your toes around it, and taking one giant step off. That is essentially what I did on a recent Thursday afternoon when I removed all of the desks from my fifth-grade classroom.
More than just an educational trend, flexible seating is based on providing students with choice throughout the day, and is backed by substantial research. Specifically, research on “Flexible Learning Environments” supports a less traditional approach to the 21st century classroom. According to ISTE.org, “The ultimate goal is a student-centered classroom where the teacher acts as a facilitator, not a lecturer. This transformation doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen in a vacuum. It is a process that involves numerous stakeholders, resources, time and creativity.”
Arriving in Tahoe from Connecticut in August 2016 as a newly-minted, fifth-grade teacher, I was given the proverbial keys to my new classroom, fully stocked with traditional desks, including a giant teacher desk. I immediately knew the kids needed some choice in where and how they would work together and independently, so the first things I purchased were some soft rugs, pillows, and two comfy chairs, thus creating the “chillaxing corner.” I also 86’ed that boat of a teacher desk, and traded it in for a table where I could meet with small groups of students.
Fast forward to August 2017, with one year under my belt, I wanted to continue to creep closer to the edge of this cliff that I was determined to eventually jump off of. I purchased some more working options with my renewed budget, including yoga balls, bean bags, floor cushions, wobble disks, and some small, light, adjustable-height desks. I brought in a larger rug from home I wasn’t using, and the kids were absolutely thrilled. We still had all seventeen of our traditional desks, and I noticed that the edge was getting closer. Our small room was running out of space, and the kids really preferred working in the flexible seating options whenever possible. Additionally, the desks were rigid in their places, unable to be moved without great exertion due to their heavy weight and unforgiving design. I found myself “sucking in” and lifting my arms above my head to navigate around our room to collaborate with students. The edge was imminent.
With support from Mr. Mark Brockway, our facilities manager, fifth grade was able to purchase four cubby storage shelving units for the students to keep their personal books and binders in. When they arrived Thursday morning, I set off on a marathon to assemble them and one by one remove the desks from our classroom.
Doing what is best for kids is not always what is easiest for teachers. I have had to slowly let go of control. I am not the omniscient power at the front of the classroom. I am the designer of experiences that allow the students in our classroom to construct meaning for themselves. Recognizing that the traditional desks were a major hindrance to the learning process I was working to cultivate in fifth grade was what made that final jump 100% worth it.
Feel free to stop by LTS 5th anytime!