I’m having a hard time figuring out precisely where to start today.
So I’ll start with the responses to yesterday’s posts. I got some good feedback on yesterday’s post. Lots of good pushback giving me lots to think about. Here’s what I heard, and I’ve summarized these responses. They’re not direct quotes.
- Flexible seating is good for normalizing the needs of students with the wiggles. Allowing options for all students helps them see that these accommodations are not just for the ones who wear their struggles on their sleeves. They’re for everyone (@jillianstarrteaching).
- Various seating options may provide benefits related to sensory integration or trauma-informed teaching (@liaseirotti).
- Some seating options can build core strength in a way a typical chair cannot (like exercise balls). Furthermore, flexible seating can provide tools for teaching children how to manage their bodies (@growingwithmxt).
These all make a lot of sense to me and even align with my philosophy about student-centered classroom practices that help children know and understand themselves and their bodies. I doubt that I employ these practices to the depth these great teachers do, but I do offer a couple of different seating options in my classroom for the kids that need increased sensory input or simply a different type of seat to help them attend to their work. And so, after seeing some of these comments last night, I started to think a bit more on it.
Did I get it wrong?
Well, I don’t think it’s that black-and-white, but I have come to the conclusion that I’ve gotten some things wrong–or that maybe I’ve just fallen too far to the end of the flexible seating spectrum.
When I examine my bias, I’m generally skeptical of things that feel like bandwagon trends. And having been submersed in the world of Teacher Instagram, I’ve been feeling this way about flexible seating. It’s clear through many of the posts that many teachers’ intentions for flexible seating lie outside of responsive pedagogy, and instead lie first and foremost in dressing up their classrooms to look like coffee shops or lounges. This is, in fact, an issue that’s worth discussing. That said, these poor examples do not encompass the full spectrum of flexible seating, much of which is enacted by mindful pedagogues who are just trying to give their kids some more choice and ownership.
But I’m still treading lightly.
I plan to keep my Hokki stools and regular stools for next year. I plan to keep my bin of squishies and hopefully even put in a few more items into my classroom to provide options for body breaks. In fact, I plan to continue with all of the recommendations I shared yesterday.
So why am I still skeptical of more advanced versions of flexible seating? Well, I still think that we take the element of choice too far in our classrooms–to the point that we’re not accommodating real needs in all of our students. Sometimes, we’re just accommodating preferences.
Again, there’s a great deal of nuance here to unpack. The line between need and preference isn’t always clear, and I sometimes worry that by providing too much choice, we actually work against ourselves. By having too many seating options and allowing students to simply pick where they *like* to sit, I worry that we’re setting ourselves–and a lot of teachers–up for failure. But most of all, I worry that all of this hub-bub about flexible seating may not be worth all of the time we invest into it.
I suppose, at its core, I see flexible seating as an accommodation–a change we make for students based on evidentiary need, not necessarily a given that you’re going to be able to choose the kind of chair that you want at all times. For some children, the type of seat they have is truly a barrier to their learning. It makes it so they can’t focus or be productive in any way. For others, it really is just a matter of preference, starting us down the slippery slope of entitlement.
The reality of life is that students may not always be able to choose the type of chair they want to sit in. They may not always be able to sit in the spot they prefer, and this cannot be an obstacle in helping them accomplish what needs to be accomplished. I think, in part, why flexible seating bothers me is because of the notes of privilege that seem attached to it. When we make it about preference–and not really about need–I fear that we’re sending a message to students that they will always have the option of customizing their environment. But as we all know, this simply isn’t the case. More often than not, they will have to adapt to what’s available.
I’m growing, and that’s good.
I see now that it has a place in classrooms–and that it’s even had a place in my classrooms. I see now that I had taken too extreme of a stance on flexible seating, and that I need to make space for more of the nuance involved in this discussion. I see now that it’s a spectrum, one that I’m participating in, just simply not in a trendy way.
On one end of the spectrum are classrooms where there is little to no space carved out for physical regulation, and on the other side of the spectrum, there is merely the illusion of flexible seating–or perhaps, even, the a culture around physical space and seating that is counterproductive to meaningful learning. Because the reality is this: if you’re still doling out worksheets in your flexible seating environment, learning is no more meaningful or student-centered than it was before.
So what do we need? We need classroom environments that lie somewhere in the middle. We need classrooms where children are able to access their agency, witness their autonomy, and slowly build self-regulatory skills through a variety of modalities–and seating could just, in fact, be one of those.
Comments? Questions? Disagreements? Additions?
Please comment below. I’d love to hear from you. This post would not be here without people disagreeing with yesterday’s.