To use a seating plan or to not use a seating plan, that is the Question!

It seems like it should be an open and shut case. Teachers should always design a seating plan for their class. Especially, at the beginning of the year when we need to assert control and create structure within our classrooms. Seating plans help establish a structure within the room.

We decide where students sit and make sure that certain combinations of students do not occur. Any teacher with strong classroom management skills will tell you to always craft a seating plan. They will talk about establishing your authority from the very beginning. It seems reasonable right? Why would anyone organize their room any differently?

I’m going to argue that there’s another way to structure your room. The argument for creating a seating plan is certainly valid. But this method of classroom management places the responsibility of control solely on the teacher. The teacher actively creates situations in which students will behave accordingly. I would argue that there’s another way. Instead, consider an approach to classroom management in which the responsibility to behave is in the hands of the children. Consider a room in which the teacher expects children to make judgements calls for themselves.

I’ve tried both ways of managing my classroom and I have to admit I don‘t create seating plans for my students anymore. From the very first day of school, I place responsibility for behaviour solely on the shoulders on my students. I work with students aged 10–13 and these kids crave opportunities to prove they can be independent. They want to prove just how “grown-up” they can be. If I expect the best from my students then I will get the best. But if I assume my students will enter my classroom and misbehave then that is the behaviour that I will see. One teacher I know used to refer to this concept as “You get what you pay for.”

So the question is…..
What does this look like on the first day of school? How do you place responsibility for behaviour in the hands of the students?

It’s actually a very simple strategy. You have to be very clear and still speak with authority. Students need to understand that you are in charge but make it clear you know they can do their best.

On the first day of school, I line my new students up outside my room. This is the key to establishing authority and structure. I deliver one simple statement with confidence and complete clarity.

“You may enter my room and choose your own seat. But know this! The seat you choose is yours until such time as you lose the privilege of having that seat.”

My message is simple. I will trust your judgement until you give me a reason no to. Being responsible and polite means you will have freedom of choice and some independence within my classroom. It works. Generally, my students are well behaved and polite. They do make mistakes they are not perfect. But when that happens I stress that they’ve lost a little bit of responsibility for the moment. We talk about alternatives to their behaviour and find a way to move forward. Ultimately, they regret their decisions when they have to move to a desk of my choice. It’s amazing what that little bit of trust can do in the classroom.

Children want to be seen as independent and grown up. They crave our approval and love to show us how well they can do. This strategy allows them a chance to prove they are becoming more mature. It’s something to consider when structuring your classroom for this New Year.

This fall, when students are lining up outside your door consider how you will frame your expectations for classroom behaviour. There are lots of different strategies out there and they can all be successful. I just wanted to share with everyone an alternative to the classic method in which teachers maintain control. I would argue that students will one day be adults. They will be expected to independently monitor their behaviour. We don’t create seating plans at conferences or board meetings. Why not give our students the opportunity to practice self-monitoring during childhood?

Erin FitzGibbon, Teacher and Classloom Blog Writer

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Originally published at on August 16, 2016.