The Rensselaer Educational Center has implemented mindfulness and self-care strategies this academic year to meet the goal of promoting more inclusive environments for all students. REC created an Equity Team comprised of teachers and staff in July 2018. The team spends time learning more about mental health awareness, resilience and ways to improve equity and counter bias. As equity team members learn different strategies, they share practical information with all staff at monthly faculty meetings.
Equity Team and building staff chose to promote self-care activities for both teachers and students to commit to the goal of more inclusive learning environments. Two REC teachers embraced the invitation to adjust learning environments in order to meet the different learning styles of their students.
Consultant teachers Beth O’Brien and Courtney Lapp put some flexible seating chairs in their classroom, as a pilot for other classrooms to consider. O’Brien and Lapp chose Zenergy Ball chairs and Kore Wobble chairs. Both are designed to engage a student’s core to create stability and better posture while providing a way for students to move their body in an appropriate way that does not distract from their work.
“Flexible seating alters the physical space of a classroom to create a learning environment that can help a student focus on what they are learning as opposed to focusing on trying to focus. We as people are natural movers and shakers and students can’t always turn that off. The flexible seating in our room provides an opportunity for students to use a tool that manages their physical need to move that won’t interfere with their learning,” says O’Brien.
This doesn’t mean using the new seating options is a requirement. Part of the idea behind flexible seating is the ability to choose what works best for you.
“Flexible seating isn’t for everyone and that’s ok. It’s important for students to learn and recognize what works for them and what doesn’t. This gives students extra tools they can choose to bolster their personal learning environment,” says Lapp.
The response to the flexible seating in this classroom has been overwhelmingly positive. Students are excited to snag their “seat of choice” and get right to work. Some students have even asked where the chairs were purchased so they can get one for home too.
Cosmetology student Samantha Miller, from East Greenbush CSD, has used the Zenergy Ball chair quite a bit, and sees a clear benefit.
“I fidget a lot and using this chair helps me stay focused. My fidgeting doesn’t distract me when I am sitting on this chair. I like it a lot.”
Other students have often commented they wished they had that chair in their other classrooms. There has also been positive feedback from staff about the chairs after quick collaboration meetings to discuss strategies or curriculum.
REC staff is excited about the positive response from students, which has translated into improved quality of work. The chairs have also led to better utilization of the time students spend with a consultant teacher. Staff are thinking ahead to next year about how to increase this small adjustment to a learning environment that has reaped big dividends already.