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Flexible Seating Piloted In Magnolia Classroom
flexible seating
Magnolia Elementary fifth grade teacher Joe Prather is seated in one of the many options offered to his students as part of his Flexible Seating approach to learning. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

For visitors of Magnolia Elementary School, things may appear to be going off the grid by way of traditional seating and classroom structure.

If that were to be the case, it would be perfectly okay. Teachers have been encouraged by the district to aid children in adapting to the idea of becoming responsible for their learning.

One such teacher who has taken this to its outer edge and is seeing positive results is fifth grade teacher Joe Prather. While most spent their summers updating their classrooms and continuing with the tradition of their best practices, Prather was seating shopping. His mission was simple: Flexible Seating.

It is an idea he shared he first felt inspired to implement after attending a district “boot camp” during the summer on the book “The Daily 5.”

“Its aim is to suit all student learning needs as far as their physical environment is concerned,” Prather said. “Not everyone learns best sitting up straight at a desk.”

With that in mind, the second year fifth grade teacher cleared his classroom of 50 percent of its traditional desks. The desks were replaced by bean bag chairs, a pub table, booth seats, counter top cushions and the like. Not exactly what one might expect from a classroom setting, yet one which is proving to be effective all the same.

“What I try to instill from the get go is they need to take responsibility for their learning,” he shared. “So, they need to choose a seat they’re going to be able to work well at.

“For example, some students may get really excited about the low table with pillows, but after trying it for a day, they may come to realize that they don’t work best there, so they need to make a responsible decision to select another seat.”

Gone is the traditional idea of appointed desks with name tags and possessions. The students have freedom to choose in Prather’s classroom, with one optimal goal – that the learning structure is maintained and students feel in control of their learning.

According to the teacher, some still gravitate to a desk and that’s okay, but not all do and that’s ultimately the point.

“Students still remain on task and I think that’s largely because they’re comfortable where they are,” Prather said. “I’m constantly reminding them they need to take responsibility for their learning.”

While this may seem a foreign concept in the way of ‘old school’ teachings, “The Daily 5” focuses on how individualizing learning for students yields better results than the traditional norm.

Prather also teaches in small groups, giving his class a more individualized experience while others work independently.


“Ultimately, this is part of helping students become self-regulatory learners and it’s wonderful that we have a school district that not only allows teachers, but encourages them, to think outside of the box in this manner,” he concluded. “I love that about this district.”