Brandywine teacher implements ‘flexible seating’ plan

Published 2:35 pm Tuesday, October 18, 2022

NILES CHARTER TOWNSHIP — A local teacher’s classroom has new feng shui that is fostering an improved learning environment for her students.

Alli Ulrickson, a sixth grade teacher at Brandywine Elementary, gave a presentation on her Flexible Seating plan during Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

Ulrickson listed what she has found to be the benefits of alternative seating:

  • Choice – Students feel empowered when having freedom to choose.
  • Comfort – An uncomfortable student is a distracted student.
  • Community – Easier opportunities for collaboration.
  • Fun – Students are excited to pull out the seats each day.
  • Better behavior – Students are better behaved as flex seating is a privilege and not an expectation.

“I started implementing it this year with my sixth graders and it’s gone really well so far,” she said. “They’ve been very mature and met all my expectations that I gave them at the beginning of the year. So far, I’ve had no complaints at all. It’s awesome.”

Seating options include a futon, floor seats with backs and lap desks and clipboards, a rocking chair, rolling office chairs, six wobble stools, a high-top table with benches, a coffee table with pillows if students want to sit on the floor, folding “butterfly” chairs as well as traditional classroom desks.

Ulrickson said the seating was funded by You 1st Auto, out of Mishawaka. 

“Some students do learn best sitting at a desk, so I always want them to have that option, too,” Ulrickson said. “Usually three or four of them are filled. Yeah. They don’t usually pick the desks over other seating.”

According to Ulrickson, the students were tasked with creating acceptable rules for the flexible seating and had to sign a contract stating they would abide by the rules. One of the rules the students voted on was that everyone choose a new seat every day. 

“They decided that was fair for them because some kids’ buses get there late, so those students would never get the ‘best’ seats and that wasn’t fair for everybody in their room. They decided to pick a new seat daily so that everybody gets the opportunity and doesn’t fight over spots with one another.”

Ulrickson added that the students handle conflict resolution regarding seating arrangements.

“When there’s issues overseas and things like that, I leave that up to them and they know if the conflict takes more than a couple of minutes, then they’re just both out of that seat, because that’s something that we work on. .. Flex seating is a privilege and not an expectation. They understand that.”

For Ulrickson, the flexible seating is about offering students an opportunity to maximize their learning experience in a way she was not able to as a grade school student.

“I feel like I’ve always learned best like that,” she said. “I didn’t really have the opportunity to learn that way in school and I didn’t necessarily know that that was hindering my learning at all until I went to college and had the choice to lay on the couches in the library if I wanted to when I was studying and doing homework. I realized when I was much more comfortable I was doing better work and I believe that works with sixth graders beyond as well.”

Superintendent Travis Walker voiced his support for Ulrickson’s program.

“This is something that I had asked about on a couple of occasions when I was teaching high school math and just was never given the opportunity to do,” he said. “I’ve been by her room on many occasions this year and stopped in several times and kids are engaged and everything is flowing. I think this speaks to our vision of engaging and educating and empowering tomorrow’s global citizens. I’m really thankful that our kids have this opportunity to do this. … On a couple occasions, I’ve taken the shadow-a-student challenge where you shadow a student for an entire school day, and on some of those days, I sat in a very hard seat for seven hours an hour at a time, with a five minute passing in between classes. It’s tough, so I’m glad that we’re doing this for kids.”