Classroom furniture has often been an afterthought in many schools, but furniture can and does have a significant impact at all levels.
I started on this journey because of my daughters who are inquisitive elementary students with perhaps a little too much energy to be sitting in a seat the greater part of a day. I quickly realized that my daughters learned best when they had an opportunity to move and to engage with more students on a frequent basis. While working at McKay Elementary as a Library and Instructional Technology Teacher and seeing how my own daughters learned, I wanted to give other students and teachers an opportunity to use flexible seating. As my youngest daughter (a student at Mckay) is particularly movement-oriented, flexible seating and choice made a significant difference in her learning. This hands on experience made me a proponent of giving students choice when it comes to where they sit and how they learn as I have seen the difference that it makes in classroom culture not only for my own kids but for all kids.
After moving to Beaverton High School in the same role, I noticed a similar need. Many classrooms consisted of rows of static seating. After a bit of observation and inquiry, it was clear that both teachers and students desired more collaboration spaces and more opportunities for flexible seating. Working with staff and with Nike, we were able to integrate over two hundred pieces of flexible donated furniture into our learning spaces. As we continued to analyze our needs, staff and students have adopted some of the exact same classroom layouts that were used in McKay Elementary School. For example, many English and literature classes now use Nike furniture to create reading nooks for students to enjoy. Creating a comfortable space to get lost in a novel makes learning more humane and promotes a healthier class culture.
Trusting my own power of observation, though, was not sufficient so I decided to ask some of our teachers who embraced flexible seating. Here are some of their responses:
“The furniture has been a great addition to our classroom! We rearranged the room to create collaborative spaces for students. We also were able to replicate the layout of business conference rooms and working areas so students can get a stronger feeling of what it would be like to work in a professional environment. Thank you so much!”
Although we still have a long way to go, we have noticed a direct link between classroom design and learning. In education, a significant focus has been seen at elementary schools, and certainly that is where my journey started. However, classroom furniture’s structure and function affects students of all ages. Being mindful of classroom design throughout a school, I would argue, can definitely promote positive change. When my elementary school daughters become high schoolers, hopefully they will feel as comfortable in learning as they do now.
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