ballew classroom

Thoughts on a Flexible Classroom

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Last night, I posted a few pictures of my chair-less classroom and had lots of questions about my setup. In response, this is a post about flexible classrooms, particularly flexible seating. I say that up front because I want to back up a bit so that you know where I’m coming from, but I promise I’ll get there. Bear with me, will you?

I distinctly remember preparing for job interviews ten (really? TEN?) years ago and thinking about what I would say when asked about my strengths and weaknesses. They always ask about your strengths and weaknesses, don’t they? I wanted to be prepared so as not to fumble for things. The word I kept coming back to was flexible. It was very important to me that I communicated my flexibility, because I lean quite a bit towards a Type A personality. I like things to be neat and organized and to look beautiful. I didn’t want this aspect of my personality to make me come off as too rigid, because I knew even then that no teacher can survive without being flexible.

Fast forward to 2016, and I find myself continuing to deepen my understanding of what it means to be flexible. I believe that for flexibility to be transformative, we must make plans but not marry them. We must come to terms with the fact that the idea we have – no matter how perfect it may seem – is only one of many possibilities. It is so easy to fall into the trap of “This worked last year, so it’s the best plan for this year,” or “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” or even “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

These are commonly used phrases, but what if everyone relied on this mentality? What if, for example, Steve Jobs had looked at a cell phone and said, “It ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.” He wouldn’t have been wrong. There was nothing broken about my Nokia brick phone in 2002 or even my bag phone in 1997. But it certainly wasn’t much compared to what innovators like Steve Jobs believed it could be. It was he, after all, who said, “The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”

I’m in the business of changing the world. We all are, aren’t we? My classroom is such a tiny part of the world, but it matters. So, I am changing my classroom because I can’t change the whole world in a day. I’m fully embracing flexible seating in a way that I never have before.

Last year, as I began experimenting with different seating options, I was amazed at how much more productive students were when they were in charge of choosing a spot that let them do their best work. I have always allowed freedom when reading or writing independently. Why did I think they needed to be sitting in desks and chairs for everything else? Why can’t students choose their seat for the entire day? What might happen if their seat wasn’t a seat at all, but a pillow, or a yoga ball, or a space with room to stand and move? At the end of the day, I couldn’t come up with enough reasons NOT to try this out, so here we are!

My classroom currently has five different seating styles plus unlimited spots on the floor or counters (a student favorite!). Students may choose from a yoga/stability ball, a one-legged stool, a standing table, a pillow seat at a desk with no legs, or a camping style chair with a lap desk. Here is a view of my classroom from the door that shows all of the furniture-based seating options. (I have added two more yoga balls at the pair of desks in the back since taking this picture.)


I only have a few ideas in my head about how we will manage the seating. The rest will be decided as a class. Here is what I know for sure:

  1. All students will choose a new type of seat each day until everyone has an idea of which one suits them best. I am asking students to try each kind before choosing a favorite because I imagine that many of them will be surprised by how much they do/do not like a certain choice.
  2. All students have choice, but I reserve the right to help you make a better one. If someone chooses a seat that causes them to do anything but their best work, I will move them. This is not to punish them, but to emphasize that the whole point of flexible seating is to increase your comfort and productivity, not to bounce all over the room. This right to move you extends to any adult, especially substitute teachers.
  3. Students will make their choice at the start of class, and stay put for the day. The novelty factor is huge here, but I want to keep learning at the focus of my classroom, not swapping seats.

I have high expectations for my students’ performance. Flexible seating doesn’t change that. It enhances it. Engagement is increased when we are comfortable. Focus improves when the seat meets our needs. How many times have you been forced to sit through a training on an uncomfortable chair? It’s all I can think about after a while!

As a bonus, here are a few other things that are an integral part of my classroom setup.

Community Supplies: I am a zealot for community supplies. I love how sharing behaviors are reinforced, I love that I can easily and quickly get supplies like scissors or glue sticks passed out AFTER giving directions so that students are digging in their supply bags for too many minutes, and okay fine, I LOVE HOW BEAUTIFUL THEY ARE, OKAY??


Scissors and Glue Sticks, plus crayons, thin and bold markers, and colored pencils sorted by color


Blank Bulletin Boards: For all of the ways I love to decorate my classroom, my favorite kinds of bulletin boards will always be blank slate bulletin boards. We will fill these together with anchor charts, student work, or any other evidence of the learning that happens in our room.



Strong Organizational Systems: Whether it’s a system for make up work (as seen above on the left side of the white board), for students leaving the room, for assigning jobs, or even for making sense of the chaos that is teacher cabinets, organization matters. The particular system being used is irrelevant – no one system is going to work for everyone – but having strong organizational systems in place makes every minute of the day run more smoothly.


Classroom Jobs


One of my cabinets


Students move their number over when they leave the room for any reason.


Drawers to organize weekly lessons and ideas by day and by subject

 Finally, here is the video I shared that led to this post. If you see something else in my room and have a question, just comment below! Most importantly, know that I am sending only the most positive vibes your way as you begin a new year!



Crafting with Books

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I can’t be the only person who can’t manage to throw a book away. I have some that have been loved into oblivion – they are quite literally falling apart at the seams – but I just don’t have it in me to help them find their way to a recycle bin. Surely those starving children in Africa that my mother always told me about could use this book. Who am I to just throw it away?

Well, I saw some art on Pinterest that made me think outside of throwing away my tattered and torn picture books. Perhaps I could make them into art! (Check out Fabulously Flawed for the Cat in the Hat art that I pinned for inspiration.)

Now, most of my Dr. Seuss books are hardbacks, which means they handled my students with a little more grace over the years. I do, however, have a collection of very pitiful David Shannon paperbacks. I figured I’d start with the original, so I pulled No, David! from the stack and let it fall completely apart. (Seriously, this took very little effort on my part, which was good because destroying a book, even in the name of art, would have been a challenge.)

I picked out some of my favorite pages and cut, layered, and glued them to a canvas I needed to cover. A few coats of Mod Podge later, I had the wrinkly, crooked mess you see below. The perfectionist in me wishes it was straighter and less wrinkly, but I feel like it works with the content, so I’m letting it be.


Happy 4th of July! 🙂