Thursday, September 15, 2016

Flexible Seating- Ron Clark Inspired

Ron Clark

Kim Bearden and Hope King

Last April I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to visit the highly acclaimed Ron Clark Academy, a nonprofit middle school that promotes innovation in the classroom.  Some of you may have seen the academy featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show.  The school’s primary goal is to engage its students through energetic teaching, balancing that with a strict code of discipline. 

This experience has been the most rewarding professional development of my teaching career.  I was able to observe Ron Clark and his fantastic teaching staff use different techniques to increase their students’ engagement, to promote academic rigor and to create a climate of success.

I have tried very hard over the last 21 years to implement many different research-based ways to make my classroom environment conducive to open collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  Kim Bearden, Co Founder of the Ron Clark Academy suggested: Get creative with your learning environment. Choose a place in which you would have wanted to learn as a kid! Kids don’t need to be sitting at a desk to learn and collaborate. She helped inspire me to try another strategy to reach my classroom goals. It’s called flexible seating.

What is flexible seating?

Flexible seating allows students to choose comfortable spaces around the room to work. Along with the freedom to kneel, stand, or sit, students may be working on carpet squares, leaning on pillows or sitting on exercise balls.  Flexible seating can help students grow by giving them the power of choice. It also has many other immediate benefits like burning calories, using excess energy, and improving core strength.  There’s proof it creates a better oxygen flow to the brain and increases motivation.  It’s no surprise that physical activity is linked to higher academic achievement, better health and improved behavior.

It does require an entire mindset shift, however. Not only is it a change in structure, but also in teaching philosophy.  In fact, teachers need a keen awareness of where students are working and how engaged they are at all times. 

What does flexible seating look like in Team Newell?

Pete Miller and Jan Stoneburner, both retired USEVS teachers, helped me construct and paint 5 amazing tables to replace our 26 traditional student desks.   Now painted as a basketball, a baseball, a tennis ball, a bowling ball and a pool ball, each table has different seating options, which include 2 traditional chairs, a 5-gallon bucket, 1 cube ottoman and 1 stability ball.


Our whole-group instruction, where we spend most of our day, happens on the big rug in the front of the room near our Smart Board.   Students break out throughout the day to work in a variety of learning spaces listed below which were purchased with donations from the First Citizens National Bank.

 A stand –and-work area with no chairs
 Stools & table
 Crate seats & stability balls
 A sit-on-floor area with pillows and work table
 Work rugs with clipboards
 Director chair
 6 Student scoop rockers
 2 Big Joe bean bags
 2 Tail gate chairs
 Sit spots
12 Lap desks
3 Carpeted areas
Giving up control to my students will always be a challenge for me, but I have already seen the benefits.  They are happy, more engaged students, who have great conversations with each other.  I love watching them become a family while using their work time effectively. 

This year is my 21st year of teaching!

My visit to The Ron Clark Academy inspired me to think outside the box and to help me grow as a professional educator.  You can check out more about the academy at http://www.ronclarkacademy.comor watch “The Ron Clark Story” at http://youtube/xVsid1Wls10

Donors like Oprah Winfrey, Delta Airlines, Inter Continental Hotels, Dell computers, Coca-Cola and Promethium Boards support The Ron Clark Academy. I am proud to have wonderful donors like The First Citizens National Bank to help me fund flexible seating.  I also appreciate our other community partners like the Elks and classroom volunteers, who help with other projects.  If you would like to visit Team Newell classroom or support our flexible seating goal in anyway, please contact me We would love for you to join our team.

Team Newell Flexible Seating Contract

I promise to use our classroom seating options the way they were designed to be used. Each day I will strategically choose a working spot and seating option that will help me do my best.  I understand that our flexible seating options are here to help me learn and should be treated with respect like all classroom materials.  If I am not fully engaged and able to work in my self-selected spot, Mrs. Newell will move me and choose a work spot for me.  If I am not sure, or have a question about the seating choices I will ask my teacher.  Student Signature _________Date ___

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? 
I would love any advice :)
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