Sunday, February 21, 2016

ALL IN on Flexible Seating and Why You Should Be Too: A Principal's Perspective


Here I sit…correction, here I stand at my standing desk in my office just over five months into the first year of Legacy Elementary’s existence. I recently returned from our state’s administrative midwinter conference, which provided some excellent professional development as well as time to network with colleagues from around the state. I thought quite a bit  while networking with others as well as on my drive to and from the conference. Amongst other things I pondered some of the various initiatives we have implemented and accomplished here at Legacy and the many exciting things still on the horizon…namely flexible seating!

Health, Wellness and Fitness Forward thinking has been one of the biggest undertakings here at Legacy this year. During my tenure as principal at a neighboring school in our district last year, I started to dabble with flexible seating…mostly in the area of standing desks and workstations for students, as well as standing desks for my administrative assistant and I. The overall idea of basic level flexible seating for students was primarily to help our kids recognize, then try and figure what to do with the extra energy many possessed during class time, along with developing more active and alert students, as well as creating healthy lifelong habits.
During the process of putting together my staff here at Legacy last spring and summer one teacher in particular, Kayla Delzer, was interested in both being a part of Legacy Elementary and creating flexible/personalized learning environment for students. She had recently transformed her classroom to a more all-encompassing flexible seating arrangement with various seating options both with what to sit on and where students could sit during class. She referred to it as an almost “coffee shop” type environment, and wrote about it in her EdSurge column.
While putting together my staff for the soon to be opening Legacy Elementary I was also working with an individual, Rory Beil, and a very supportive foundation (Dakota Medical Foundation) here in Fargo that had an opportunity for a “Breakthrough Grant” idea. The stars were definitely starting to align to do something unique and special at Legacy Elementary! Though we have actually worked on and received support via five different grants this year all centered on health, wellness and fitness forward thinking, flexible seating was funded largely through this breakthrough grant.
Good...great...grand...wonderful…but what benefits are there to flexible seating you may be wondering?

Legacy students have choice with where they will sit each day and the type of seating option they choose. Every room does have chairs or stools available, along with a variety of other options. Students can choose from hokki stools, core disks, standing tables, carpet and yoga mats, stability balls or crate seats and students also always have an option to work at a standing table, similar to The Genius Bar at the Apple Store. There are short term health benefits to this in burning more calories each day, higher metabolism, better oxygen flow to the brain, improved core strength and appropriate posture. Long-term positive effects that admittedly our students are not as focused on at this point in their lives center around lowering one's chances of high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. I hear more and more throughout the chiropractic and medical professions that long stretches of uninterrupted sitting is the new smoking. Chiropractors also report that sitting in a traditional seat is one of the worst positions for your spine.  There are also studies on how certain positions such as laying on your stomach on say a carpet square or yoga mat can improve penmanship

One important area to focus on when thinking about flexible seating is the planning behind it. We spent considerable time as teams and as a building staff talking, thinking, and planning what exactly we wanted for flexible seating, why we wanted it and its purpose. A different seating apparatus does not make for better teaching or a more engaged classroom. I actually feel that flexible and student choice seating take even more planning and classroom management than a traditional classroom. Once in place and expectations are established though, the results and culture of one’s room and building will truly be transformational...in a good way!
The research and data are there to look at, read about, and ultimately support why from a scientific approach this makes sense. Data such as this are important in grant writing as well as helping parents, students, and staff understand why this is so important for our kids. Personally, I feel that one of the most important reasons we do this is not maybe as easy to measure on paper or with statistics, but make no mistake about it…you can feel it! Empowering students via Leadership opportunities, after all, are foundational pieces here at Legacy. The student-choice benefit behind flexible seating is that it helps students become more self-aware of what types of seating and environment helps them learn best. And, of course they are empowered by the opportunity to have choices. We are looking to have every part of our building a “destination zone!” Students cannot wait to get to their classroom, they cannot wait to get to the media center, the art room, the music room, PE, a reading intervention or resource room. When you have this sort of energy in each room then you have a destination building for students and staff! A place where students and staff wake up each morning thinking and saying we GET to go there, not we HAVE to go!
The real kicker when you create this environment is that students are engaged, behavior issues are minimal, learning is happening and academic scores are improving! Imagine all of this happening along with creating and fostering lifelong healthy habits that kids will take with throughout their entire lives as well as passing this on to their children one day. That is what leaving a Legacy is all about and what we are trying to instill each and every day throughout all Legacy Lion stakeholders!
We often hear that the world is changing, but schools have not. I would agree and disagree with this. There are definitely many buildings, classrooms and individuals that are entrenched more in a reactive approach to education as opposed to proactive. I have, however, seen so many innovative schools and individuals leading those schools, be it principals, teachers, classified staff, students or parents. I also know that flexible seating is not rocket science and many teachers and buildings are dabbling in trying this with a couple new options here or there. That being said, if you have read this blog post and are motivated or saying to yourself…yes I love this, my kids would love this, our school would embrace this,  then I say go for it!
I work very hard not to just do things because it might be new or trendy. I research and analyze data, look at the ideal culture I/we want to create, and as Stephen Covey would say, keep kids as the end in mind with all decisions. Once I have this information and vision my eyes and mindset are 100% forward and full steam ahead! I embrace the opportunity to be the first foot prints in creating a new path that will afford others an opportunity to follow if they so choose. I understand the challenges in funding ideas, initiatives, and dreams such as this. I will, however, say in my next breath that if something is good for kids and can transform their lives not only for the short time we have them, but for their entire lives then I will do anything in my power to create this Personalized Learning environment for our kids to learn and thrive in. I say this to my staff often that we are not creating “Legacy Habits” for our kids, but rather “LIFE Habits!”



Where we have been…


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Where we are going!


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