Flexible Seating High School

High School Flexible Seating Done Right

Teachers like Stephanie Sleeper were intrigued by a photograph of a flexible high school classroom, and they wanted to learn more. “Can I ask how many students you have on average in a class?” she inquired of Emily Polak, the photographer who captured the moment. “I want to do this with my high school social studies class, but I’m concerned about the amount of space available.”

Sleeper wasn’t the only one who was experiencing anxiety. Students in high school are so large that teachers who are considering implementing flexible seating in grades nine through twelve are concerned about their safety. How do you cram a large number of large children into learning spaces that are often no more than 700 square feet in size if you don’t have the efficiency of rows of desks?

When we asked high school educators about their thoughts on flexible seating, the questions didn’t stop there. They kept coming. Also on the table was the question of whether or not flexible seating would make things too casual, creating a climate of distraction—or worse, outright chaos. A few educators were concerned that more students would be sleeping in class or using the new space to socialize with their peers instead of learning in the new facility. Other teachers, who have already spent far too much of their own money on classroom upgrades, have expressed skepticism about the possibility of finding the funds to purchase new furniture.

The good news is that In our recent email interviews with 20 teachers who have converted to flexible seating—five of whom were high school teachers—we discovered that most of the common issues were met with positive responses to the majority of them. The teachers at the high school were able to make flexible seating work in rooms that were on average 750 square feet in size. The average number of students in each class ranged from 27 to 34 students. Respondents almost unanimously stated that their students took their seating options seriously and that discipline problem had decreased as a result of the transition to flexible seating arrangements.

There were some obstacles to overcome. A few teachers have observed that furniture breaks more easily when people are larger in stature. Funding was frequently insufficient to meet the needs of teachers, who were forced to improvise by borrowing tables, couches, and chairs from friends and family, thrift stores and garage sales, PTA grants, and crowdsourcing campaigns on sites such as DonorsChoose. Because of standardized testing, some teachers were required to bring desks back into the room at regular intervals.

None of the teachers, on the other hand, expressed regret. Almost all of our interview subjects—from kindergarten through high school, and across all 20 classrooms—were enthusiastic about their new setups. Some of them had begun with a small number of students and gradually expanded their classrooms. After many years in traditional spaces, a few people made the switch to flexible seating. According to first-grade teacher Ashley Rice Broomfield, “I am in my 13th year of teaching, but this is the first year that I have incorporated flexible seating into my classroom.” She went on to express a common sentiment: “I will never go back to traditional seating.”

Here’s a look inside the classrooms of four high school teachers who agreed to let us into their spaces.


The following courses are being offered: English 9 and Freshman Composition at Bob Jones High School in Madison, Alabama
Students/Room Dimensions: There are 27–31 students in the room, which is 780 square feet and measures approximately 30 feet by 26 feet.

Setting It Up: My goal for this project was to create a welcoming environment for students in my classroom. Given my limited financial resources, I relied heavily on charitable donations and thrift store bargain hunting. The PTSA at our school provided me with a grant for $200, which enabled me to purchase a couch, a love seat, a rug, two small tables, and approximately eight folding chairs for my home. A coffee table was donated by a friend, and a second area rug was donated by a parent. Aside from soft lighting, additional bookshelves, and Harry Potter decorations from my collection, I made the room feel even more inviting. Some of my students, to my surprise, prefer to sit at desks rather than on the floor, while others prefer to tuck themselves away in the Harry Potter reading nook.

Consequences: Discipline problems have been significantly reduced. My students appear to be more relaxed and motivated when they are in an environment that respects their preferences. It has been almost a full semester since I have not had to assign seats because my students are aware that if they are not able to complete their assignments on the “fun seats,” they will be moved to a desk. Whenever possible, I make it clear to them that this is not a punishment; I am here to assist them in becoming successful, which sometimes entails making difficult decisions.

In a classroom, there is a lounge area with couches and a coffee table.
Emily Polak’s photography is used with permission.
Emily Polak’s classroom was transformed thanks to a $200 grant from the PTSA and furniture donated by a friend. The grant enabled her to purchase a couch, a love seat, a coffee table, two rugs, and eight folding chairs.
A classroom full of desks, couches, and other pieces of furniture from around the house
Emily Polak’s photography is used with permission.
In addition to comfortable furniture, Polak kept some traditional seating, which was a feature we saw in many of the high school classrooms we visited.
Bookshelves, storage bins, and a computer station are arranged against the back wall of a classroom.
Emily Polak’s photography is used with permission.
Polak designed a tech station adjacent to the reading nook, which incorporates a variety of storage options to maximize space. She decorates her classroom with Harry Potter posters to allow her students to get a sense of her personality through her work.


is a songwriter and musician from New York City.
11th-grade English at Ronald Reagan High School, located in San Antonio, Texas.
Students/Room The room is 780 square feet, or approximately 30 feet by 26 feet, and can accommodate 30 students.

Setting It Up: To create a relaxing atmosphere in the room, I used a combination of hanging lights, Christmas lights, and Edison lights. The room now has a recliner, a love seat, and a sofa—as well as a disco ball suspended from the ceiling and black lights surrounding the SmartBoard for special days and assignments. I set up a phone charging station and brought in a mini-fridge and microwave to make things more convenient. Because they donate coffee and tea for the Keurig, students have a vested interest in the comfort of others. During the week, each group of desks has its supply tub, which contains items such as scissors, glue sticks, note cards, and sticky paper. There’s even an official class pet named Bruce the Beta Fish, who can be found in the game. Through the use of family photographs and a wall of college and sports memorabilia, I was able to let the students get a glimpse into my personal life.

Students have responded positively, as evidenced by improved attendance and written work, as well as improved grades and a more positive atmosphere in the classroom. Students who are preoccupied with their phones, their stomaches, or their fatigue will be unable to pay attention and concentrate in class. Now that those concerns have been eliminated from the equation, I can proceed.

A lounge area in the classroom with hanging lights, movie posters, two couches, and a coffee table is provided.
Photograph courtesy of Josh McDaniel
To create a relaxing atmosphere, Josh McDaniel placed a recliner, a love seat, a sofa, a throw rug, a coffee table, and hanging lights in one corner of the space.
A cell phone charging station is available.
Photograph courtesy of Josh McDaniel
McDaniel set up a cell phone charging station for the use of his students’ phones. He is a huge sports fan, and he infuses his personality into the room by displaying sports memorabilia on the walls.
Traditional and non-traditional seating arrangements are used in this classroom.
With permission from Joshua Mac Daniel, McDaniel divides the office into pod-style spaces, with flexible seating zones surrounding each pod to accommodate a variety of learning styles.


are you a writer and artist based in New York City? KENDRA CARALIS is a member of the KENDRA CARALIS ad agency and a member of the KENDRA CARALIS ad agency and a member of the KENDRA CARALIS ad agency and a member of the KENDRA CARALIS ad agency and a member of the KENDRA CARALIS ad agency and a member of the KIND
Students are enrolled in 9th-grade world history classes at Grosse Pointe South High School, located in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
Students/Room Dimensions: 30–32 students; the room is 750 square feet in size or approximately 30 feet by 25 feet.

Setting It Up: A major challenge was ensuring that my room could still be used for state testing. To overcome this, I enlisted the assistance of my students twice a year to move the desks back into the room. All of the furniture is stacked in the front of the room to make more space. I funded some furniture purchases through a DonorsChoose campaign, and I also spent a significant amount of time shopping at garage sales over the summer months. Some of it was old furniture that I had accumulated over the years, and a few pieces were donated by students’ families. I do not use a seating chart in my classroom. In the first week, I assign students to a different seat each day so that they can get a feel for the different settings. They are also made aware that I reserve the right to move them at any time during the week.

Benefits: Because the majority of the examples I’ve seen were for small children with small bodies, it wasn’t easy to make the necessary adjustments for high school students. Students have told me that they can concentrate better in my room because they are not uncomfortable, and I have had no problems with children falling asleep. I believe that fewer students are falling asleep this year than in previous years when I only had desks for them.

A nook in the classroom is filled with a variety of seating options, such as lounge chairs and bean bag chairs.
Thanks to Kendra Caralis for her contribution.
Kendra Caralis, who teaches 32 students in a 750-square-foot room, set up a variety of seating in one corner, ranging from beanbags to collapsible chairs, to accommodate their needs.
A standing table with stools against the back wall of a classroom
Thanks to Kendra Caralis for her contribution.
Several garage sales and a DonorsChoose campaign helped Caralis acquire the majority of her furniture, including the stools and bar table in this room. Stand-up and sitting table heights differ from one another in flexible classrooms, which is a common design feature.
A classroom devoid of desks, but filled with tables and non-traditional furniture such as bean bags.
Thanks to Kendra Caralis for her contribution.
The students in Caralis’ class assemble all of the furniture at the front of the room and move desks back into the room when state testing is taking place.


is a model and actress.
Spanish 3 and 4 classes are offered.
Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California is where I went to school.
Students/Room Room size is 784 square feet, or approximately 28 feet by 28 feet, and can accommodate 25–37 students.

Setting It Up: Throughout the year, I experimented with different seating arrangements. Traditional seating was used in my classroom for the first four months of the 2016–17 school year, which included 153 Spanish 3 and Spanish 4 students. Alternatively, they all took up student desks and arranged them in groups of three or four. Following that, the same students were assigned to a flexible seating classroom with a layout that included a variety of different furniture types. The office is furnished with four standing desks, two cocktail tables and stools, two armchair ottomans, a sofa, four gaming chairs, and two beanbag chairs. We also have four standing desks. Every day for the first two weeks after the new seating was installed, students were required to try a different seat to get a feel for each of the ten “zones.” Following that, students were allowed to choose their seats on a first-come, first-served basis.

A survey (with 143 participants) was conducted to test the results of the new flexible seating model, which yielded positive results. The gist of it is as follows: Students adjusted to the new seating style without difficulty expressed strong support for the change and chose their daily seating arrangements to achieve success in mind. Students were less confident in their ability to “retain information better” than they were in their ability to “not be distracted,” but the overall results were extremely encouraging.

Flexible Seating in the form of bean bag chairs and a couch is provided in this classroom.
Nichole Murray provided the images used in this post.
Nichole Murray decided to transition from traditional desk seating to flexible seating in the middle of the previous year. She has replaced traditional desks with beanbags, a sofa, gaming chairs, armchairs, and stools to create a more eclectic workspace.
A row of standing desks against the back wall of a classroom
Nichole Murray provided the images used in this post.
To accommodate the diverse learning styles of her students, Murray included simple standing desks in her classroom.
A classroom with rows of desks and flexible furniture, such as couches and standing desks, is depicted in the illustration.
Nichole Murray provided the images used in this post.
Murray’s entire classroom, which represents the first-year transition from traditional to flexible seating, is shown in this photograph.
Without the contributions and/or photographs provided by the following educators, this article would not have been possible: Kendra Caralis, Josh McDaniel, Nichole Murray, Emily Polak, and Mylène St-Cyr. Their classrooms are amazing, and we’re grateful they shared them with us.