I have found embedded in the day-to-day activities, routines, and structure of my classroom, ample opportunities for the instruction and development of interpersonal skills. One such example is seating, something that I do not leave up to chance. I decided at the onset of starting in general education, that I would switch the seating in my classroom weekly. I had observed this practice in other classrooms and decided I would like to try it for myself.
When I share that I do this, the most common response is, “Isn’t that a lot of work?” Honestly, no it isn’t. I have created a method using a digital desk map, that only takes up about 20 minutes of my day at the end of the week. Energy, I feel is well spent.
Why switch the seating so often? Well, the majority of learning in my classroom occurs in partner work or groups. I have intentionally arranged my desks in groups of 4 to 6 students to support this style of learning. The 4 to 6 makes up the group, and the partner can either be a peer to the side, directly across, or diagonal. The key is, I chose.
I have control over who works with who and for a very good reason. I am guiding the development of relationships, fostering an inclusive community. If I were to leave it up to chance, up to students deciding, relationships would still form but likely between students that already know each other. This would not contribute to the development of an inclusive community.
Take a moment to think about a time you have been at some sort of training, seminar, or really any social event. You seek out and interact with the people you know, the people you get along with. Possibly ask others to “save you a seat.”
Have you ever experienced a situation where the seating or groups are picked for you? Where you are with people you don’t know well or at all? It can be uncomfortable but it also can be enlightening. To take a risk and interact with someone that thinks differently than you, approaches situations differently than you. Likely if you are open to it, you would learn something from them and they would learn something from you.
This is the intent with my focus on seating. The only difference is that my students are still developing the skills to learn how to interact and work with students they know, don’t know, and possibly even don’t get along with. What a perfect opportunity for the development of interpersonal skills and possibly even new relationships.
At the onset I provide guidance in terms of expectations related to partner or group work, which supports this development. Topics such as, who is responsible for what, shared contribution to the learning, and effective communication of ideas and concerns (which includes active listening as well) are all taught and continually reviewed.
As disagreements or conflicts arise (and they do) I use these as opportunities to review the ways in which students can problem solve together. What I have observed time and time again is how students see success in their ability to problem solve and then independently apply these problem solving skills when a new situation arises.
More importantly what I have observed is the invaluable contribution this gives to the development of our classroom culture, our community. I am always very thoughtful and purposeful in how I arrange students. Sometimes I will put best friends together so that they can learn to focus and not talk to one another. Sometimes I pair students that do not get along, so they learn how to work with together despite their differences. Bottom line, it is never by chance, it is always by design.
Students are not typically sure what to make of it at the beginning of the school year. Inevitably I have some that complain, but I also have many others that are appreciative that they do not have to initiate finding a partner or group. Without fail, a few weeks into every school year, students begin to express that they like being able to sit in a new spot with new people every week. As one student put it…
That, in my opinion is worth it. As the school year progresses, I have consistently noticed that there are rarely students that I cannot put together either because they talk too much, don’t get along, or won’t work together. Instead I sit back and look at my desk map with the excitement of seeing an amazing classroom community that has developed as a result of student relationships.