Desks on the move

Christopher Sessums UF McCarty Desks

The only time my seats are arranged like this is for EQAO.

I did it. I rearranged the classroom. Strike up the band!

And I promise to do it again in the future. Even sooner if it suits the needs of our class. Admittedly, as a bonus, I enjoy seeing the reactions of students as they discover their new, albeit temporary, learning spots.

Our classroom is on its 4th layout since September*, and the response from students remains positive. In fact, for the past 5 years, I have intentionally reorganized every  -learning space. And what’s resulted has helped my class room management, provided necessary/preferential seating opportunities for some learners, and contributed to a greater overall sense of community in class.

I like the way that August (Sandy) Merz III explains strategic seating in her post. In it Merz writes about “power seats and safe zones” for students that are intended to “magnify a student’s presence or…downplay a student’s actions on class dynamics.” I find changing the physical space provides a not so subtle, yet effective way to allow students to bloom where they’re planted. All the while maintaining a mindful eye on the specific needs of learners.

I’ve observed that each time the desks get rearranged, there is potential for new conversations, collaborations, fresh perspectives, and even friendships. It can also be a strategic, and crucial component of effective classroom management. Changing the classroom layout also allows students an opportunity to develop problem solving and inter-personal skills. Although infrequent, whenever students are unable to work within an iteration of the seating plan it becomes a teachable moment.

Allowing students a voice in the process leads to advocacy skills too. If students are not taking to their new spots, or ask to move, they must be able to provide a good reason why. This includes some evidence of how they tried to resolve/overcome the issues before a request is considered.

After 3 months and 4 seating plans, with more to come, our class continues to evolve its own zones of power and safety where students are empowered to share, safe to collaborate, and grow as modern learners.


*To start the year students are allowed to choose their own seats from a pre-set arrangement of desks. This way I am allowed a glimpse at existing friendships, and the way the layout allows for sight lines to the various teaching spots(tech cart, whiteboard, middle of the class). This is especially important this year to provide a completely accessible space for a student using a motorized wheel chair. This means function must mesh with form like no other year. With 30 students in a class designed for 25, layout must be intentional, fluid and serve the needs of all students.

Updated: November 27, 2015 — 11:12 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

J/I lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, and divergent modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 110 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at

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