As schools around the world struggle with the question of whether to reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is certain: Classrooms will never be the same. School administrators will need to consider how to make their classrooms safe today, ready for tomorrow — and able to encourage healthy movement, which studies have shown promotes cognitive and motor skills development in children.
“Our own comfort and movement as adults is critically important,” says R.J. Webber, EdD, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Novi Community Schools in Novi, Michigan. “Why wouldn’t that be the same for children?”
Webber considered movement when choosing furniture for the classroom. “We have invested in agile furniture throughout our entire district,” Webber says. “We’ve already seen the benefit of kids being able to sit in chairs that they’re comfortable in and given permission to ‛wiggle.’ I can say flatly that if you talk to our teachers, they would never want to go back to what was — nor would the kids, which is actually the most important thing.”
Webber chose agile furniture from VS America for the district. “Their focus was educational furnishing — other manufacturers were just dabbling in the education market,” Webber says. When the pandemic caused a shift to online learning, Webber launched a program to loan stools and desks to parents so they could set up an agile learning environment at home, underscoring the power of easily movable and configurable furniture.
One of the pioneers of agile furniture for classrooms is David A. Stubbs II of David Stubbs Design. “I was looking at the classroom and thought the furniture solutions that were available to us didn’t work,” he recalls. “They didn’t meet the requirements of our students, so I asked myself, can I create a system that could adapt to whatever you want, whenever you want — how you want to teach and learn? And can I provide you a set of diverse tools that enables you to make those modifications on the fly, not only per day or per week, but per hour?”
Stubbs also sees the health benefits of agile classroom furniture that allows students freedom of movement. “We have to follow the science. To get up and move is providing oxygen to your brain. And that’s critical for alertness, for creative thinking. We sit too much — it’s killing us.”
The pandemic has also emphasized the safety benefits of agile furniture in the classroom. “The agile component became exponentially important,” Stubbs notes. “The safety components, the tip standards, the ease of movement. Everything fits through a three-foot door. Everything can be rearranged effectively within two minutes.”
That flexibility means that classrooms can be configured optimally for social distancing as well as the material being taught. It also means that whatever new challenges the future brings, classrooms stocked with agile furniture can be easily configured to meet them, making them effectively future-proof.
“This allows teachers to have the students actually reconfigure their rooms very easily,” Webber says. “Which then moves away from a defined ‛front’ of the classroom — a whiteboard or a blackboard. That opens up the entire class, and that changes the mindset — that’s one thing that this furniture does as well.”
For Webber, agile furniture is about more than safety today and flexibility tomorrow. “We don’t have to say a thing to our students to tell them how we feel about them,” says Webber. “Space and design do that — investing in learning spaces for our children that show them we respect them and who they are. That’s where VS America is close to my heart because they get that as well.”