Remember sitting in a classroom as a child and being asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? We said things like doctors, dentists, teachers, and firefighters. Our own children are often asked these same questions, but they do not realize that many of the jobs they will be working in haven’t even been created yet. Why then, are we still teaching them the way we were taught?
When I was a student in the classroom - and LONG before - there were rows and rows of neat little desks. Teachers passed out identical assignments and those tasks were graded by a master copy to be sure everyone was creating identical work. This was perfect for producing factory workers, which worked fine many years ago, and even until recent years. Now though, factories are shutting down. Jobs are changing. The future looks to be full of digital careers and positions that require creative thinking and problem solving skills.
So why are we still teaching our children in neat little rows with identical assignments? Why are we still creating perfect little factory workers when this is not at all what our society needs?
Now I’ve never been a “sit down, be quiet, do your work” type of teacher. I believe learning is loud, learning is messy, and learning is, well, everywhere. I believe children are just that, children. Even our junior high students are still children. From my first classroom ever, I’ve had my students spread out everywhere, learning completely differently than what was the norm.
My students learn all over my room, under desks, on desks, in my bathtub, bean bags, pillows everywhere. You name it- they’ve got it! They are working in groups and as individuals, and the other part is, they are not all quiet. Some are quiet and some are not.
I’ve had teachers come in and tell me my class is spread out everywhere and they are all “oh no!” TALKING, to which I usually responded with, “yes, and?” because surely there wasn’t simply a problem with talking itself. When you listen to what the students were saying, there was an excited hum about HOW to solve a problem, WHY something worked the way it did, WHO was doing WHAT in a story, etc. Sometimes they were recording themselves reading or reading out loud. Yes, it can get loud when a whole class is doing that, especially when done my way and they are all on different activities due to having a choice in their learning. But again, I believe that learning is loud.
The trend now is Flexible Seating. It’s the new buzz word. You see it everywhere too. Everyone wants Flexible Seating in their classrooms, and I think it is brilliant. Yes, absolutely get the seating! It isn’t just about the seating though. It never was. Seating alone does nothing if students are still given copycat assignments day in and day out and asked to provide identical results. I teach Gifted and Talented students, and I feel passionately that they could be a resource we are leaving behind. Why should they be given an identical worksheet packet as peers on a topic they know and asked to produce identical results? I’ll tell you they will not be challenged to try to do above the minimum. These are not assignments that will expand their mind and prepare them fo those jobs that will change the world.
I know that when a teacher first starts trying something new it can be uncomfortable. They wonder why they should change. Change is hard. It is uncomfortable. I ask you to accept being a little uncomfortable for the good of your students, and for the good of the future. You have to be okay having a little chaos in your life. I say that all the time. I say it to teachers who ask me how I do what I do.
When we began a new program to teach Gifted and Talented students this year, we knew we wanted something unlike what anyone has done before. We wanted classrooms that looked totally unlike a classroom. We actually began the year with bare walls and floors and no furniture. Why would we do something so crazy? It was part out of necessity and partly to give the students a choice in what went into their program. Was it full of chaos? You bet it was, and I wouldn’t change a minute of it. I had to be okay having that chaos in my life if I was willing to change the world for these kids.
We slowly began adding things to our rooms and our hallways, one thing at a time, one week at a time, and things began to take shape and form into something we were very proud of. Our students loved most the addition of the Ruckus chair from KI. We had been telling them about this chair we found. They thought we were crazy to get excited about a chair. I kept saying, “it’s not just a chair!” Once they saw it though, they fell in love. I had 3-4 kids sharing it, kids “calling dibs” weeks out at a time. It was like “Black Friday” when they got off the bus every day.
One incredible thing happened though. I saw collaboration happening when they willingly shared these chairs. I saw them rolling these chairs all over to work on projects with ease. It really wasn’t just a chair anymore. It changed my entire classroom environment, and it was about so much more than being able to sit in this chair more than one way. It became about the empowerment and collaboration that came with ease from the chair.
Was there chaos with the start of our program? Yes. With the addition of our favorite chair I decided to change my favorite saying from “You have to be okay with a little chaos in your life” to “you have to be okay with a little Ruckus in your life.”
So, if you are thinking about flexible seating, yes, do it. More importantly, think about changing the way you are giving your assignments. Be flexible with the way your students show you what they know. Be flexible with how they show it to you. Be flexible with change. I call it a little bit of #flexibleeverywhere.
After all, if we really are preparing these students for a future in which most of their jobs haven’t been invented, don’t we owe them a kind of teaching that hasn’t been done the same way for generations?
To follow Jamie and the adventures in her classroom, check out her resources below.