bill selak flexible seating twitter

Getting Rid of Cemetery Style Seating in the Classroom with Bill Selak

Today Bill Selak @billselak talks about flexible seating and the research behind academic gains when using it. He also shares how flexible seating should go with more student voice and choice in their learning. Prepare to have your mind shift about how we sit in classrooms today!

bill selak flexible seating twitter

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Below is a transcript modified for your reading pleasure. For information on the guests and items mentioned in this show, scroll down to the bottom of this post.


Transcript for Episode 118

Getting Rid of Cemetery Style Steating in the Classroom with Bill Selak

Link for this show:


[Recording starts 0:00:00]

VICKI:          Happy Wonderful Classroom Wednesday. Today we’re talking to Bill Selak, @billselak he has his own podcast, Bill Selak Talks,  take a look and look at the show notes.

But he’s in Hillbrook Schools in California and they’re really reimagining the classroom.

Hillbrook is a JK-8 school in Silicon Valley. It includes a Center for Teaching Excellence making research and innovative practice with technology and innovation part of what they do.

Concept #1: The Process of Continual Design of Learning Spaces

VICKI: Now, we’ve already had an episode with him talking about the Amazon Echo in the classroom. But when we got to talking, we kind of realized that, Bill, you’ve really changed the whole way that you have your spaces. Describe for us what you’ve done.

BILL:            Yeah. So it’s been a really cool journey over the past 7 years at Hillbrook School our story actually starts off when the iPad was first introduced and we thought, wow, these are really powerful and they’re flexible in ways our current computer lab wasn’t. So we got a class set of iPads the first fall they were available. Got rid of those giant computer monitors that could crush a small child and just put in flexible furniture. We worked with a company, Bretford, at the time, they donated a little bit of furniture. And we just started moving around the furniture asking what works, asking what didn’t work.

Concept #2: Making Research Part of Process

BILL:                    Right around that time, Ilsa Dohmen,    she was a researcher at Stanford, we hired her as both a science teacher and as a research designer which is an exceedingly cool title for someone at a school. And she actually did some quantitative research around learning spaces and found out that yeah, this furniture isn’t just cool. It also make a difference in student learning so pretty quickly we went from just this one space that we called the iLab for the Idea Lab and had all these flexible furniture and flexible seating. And then we asked, you know, how might this look than more than just the iLab?. And so we invited teachers and did some fundraising around what we called the Reimagining Classrooms Project.

Concept #3: Giving Teachers Choice in Innovation

BILL:                    So about 12 teachers opted in, they were able to meet with Ilsa and decided what furniture and what seating they wanted and how they wanted to configure it. Put in the flexible furniture and the seating.


Concept #4: Ongoing Internal Conversations About What Works

BILL                    And that month they talked about what worked, what did work, what expectations they were having and what discussions they’re having with the students…

Concept #5: Sharing Out What You Learn to a Wider Audience

BILL: and we ended up actually sharing that out on our school’s podcast. So that one is available on, it’s the center for teaching excellence. So that’s what Ilsa was working with at our school and we learned that this really makes a difference in student learning.

Implementation Takeaway: When looking at flexible seating, student choice is part of everything you do

  BILL:                  And the biggest take away from that year, kind of piloting it in grades kindergarten through 8th grade is that the furniture is cool and it’s great and it makes a difference in the learning but it only matters if you put student choice and engagement at the center of everything you do. So the good news of that is that that part is actually totally free for any teacher to do but kind of on the other side it really pushed the pedagogy.

Concept #6: Purchasing furniture and technology becomes a pedagogical conversation

BILL: So suddenly, what used to be kind of a business office conversation around what furniture are we getting and how often are we getting it became a pedagogical conversation.

And so about a year ago right now we asked the question again, you know, what might this look like if every learning space was reimagined with flexible furniture and flexible seating?

Concept #7: When something works, scale up

BILL: And so this entire school year every classroom had flexible seating and flexible furniture and it’s made such a profound impact on our ability to put student choice really at the center of their experience at Hillbrook.

VICKI:          Okay. So help me understand, Bill, flexible seating. Now, obviously when you talk traditional we’re talking stationary desk with a flat surface that you sit in. When you move to a flexible seating what does that look like?

BILL:            So it can look like so many things, right? Kind of a non-answer is that it’s flexible and we kind of collectively decided on what that looks like at Hillbrook. So most of our classrooms will have white board table desk, so they have casters on them so you can roll them wherever you want, there’s a little handle underneath so you can pull it and flip it 90 degrees and stack them all to the side. That’s what most of the desks look like. And then chairs, we tend to have about three different types of seating in every classroom.

I found some similar items on Amazon, but look at their spaces to determine what works for you. I love seeing how students are choosing ways to sit. How many teachers tell students “sit on your bottom.” Why? Why do we do that? Look at the students in these pictures. This would make a fascinating discussion in schools.


Implementation Takeaway: Give students choice in seating.

BILL:                    There’s really one predominant and there’s usually a couple of extra choices depending on the grade level. It will either be little wiggle stools is what we call them, they’re actually called HOKKI stools.   And those are great because if you have them the way that they look like you should sit on them they wiggle. And again, they also did a number of studies around that and actually and actually just presented at a big conferences, AERA, she published a paper on it and found out that actually one of the really interesting studies was around – I think it was second grade and math facts. And students actually quantitatively did more math problems when they had the wiggles stools than when they didn’t.

Read more on the Hillbrook Blog: Flexible Classrooms

 BILL:          So, again, it’s not just, “Oh, this is cool” and you come and take a tour and you’re like “What a beautiful school, I wish my class looked like that.” It’s all of that and we actually know that it makes a difference in student learning. So that was just amazing to learn.

But the other cool thing about these particular HOKKI stools or the wiggle stools is that if you flip it upside down, suddenly it doesn’t wiggle. So even just with on piece of furniture you get wiggle and non-wiggle.

VICKI:          I can’t believe we’re saying wiggle and non-wiggle. But honestly, kids, that’s who they are. It just is.

BILL:            Yeah. And then there’s some others that are chairs, they have like little kind of rubber casters in the middle and so those are wiggle chairs. And we’ve done enough studies to know that this actually makes a difference with student learning and we recognize that students are individuals and we work so hard at Hillbrook to individualize the student experience and that even comes down to what they sit in.

Implementation Takeaway: Not every student likes every style of seating

BILL:                    So if a student gets driven crazy by wiggle stools or wiggle chairs, there’s also just a regular chair. There’s also some really cool things – sometimes there’s a couch-like furniture there’s kind of some ripple, kind of looking, couch thing that looks like it would be like at the front of a Kohl’s store or something.


                    There’s a variety of little extra seating, almost like a little kind of camping chair-looking-thing, that’s a very particular type of chair in the corner of our new science building. So I think having that variety so that students have that actual choice, when they sit it makes a big difference.

Concept #8: Have a Method of Ongoing Design and Innovation for Your School Because Change is not a One Time Thing

VICKI:          So we’re going to include photos in the show notes for sure. Have you made a mistake as you’ve got to the flexible seating?

BILL:            I wouldn’t call them mistakes, I would just say – so I think this is actually a great time. There’s something our school have been talking about and we finally put a name to it, we call it the Hillbrook way and the four steps of it are ask, start, collaborate and show. So it reminds me a lot of the design thinking process. And you’ve heard that, it’s kind of our middle iteration when 12 teachers piloted flexible seating. We asked again, you know, we said how might we use this? And then we just started using it.

Concept #9: Group Opinions, Uniformity, and Mass Implementation Aren't How to Start

BILL: We didn’t make the mistake of being like, let’s take three years and get opinions and everyone gets the same thing.

Concept #10: Start Small, Start Using It, Discuss and Share and Fail Forward Rapidly Until You Get to What Works

  BILL:                  We started really small. We asked what this furniture will do, we started using it, we got together and talked regularly about it and then we published that as a podcast. And then we got together with 12 teachers and did the same thing. What would this look like? Well, let’s just start using it, let’s make sure to really collaborate and talk about what works and what doesn’t. Of course, teachers and students made all kinds of mistakes around that but it was small enough that we were able to move very quickly on it and shared that learning out, and then by the time we actually went to a whole school it was not a top-down like, we think that flexible furniture is important because we think it’s important. It’s like, no, we’ve actually published a number of papers, done a number of studies; we started in one space and then 12 and now all of them.

It was just really natural and authentic and the buy-in was just such a part of that process.

VICKI:          Well, and I think a big point here is that you didn’t just implement and forget. You talked about it. Like that’s what’s missing in the implementation, whether it’s a computer or a chair. That when you implement something you should collaborate and you should show and you should have that conversation that needs to happen. So as we finish up, 30 second pitch to educators who need to consider flexible seating and why?

30 Second Pitch for Flexible Seating in Schools

BILL:            Well, it’s one of the easiest ways to give students choice and we know that student choice is such an important part of learning, having that student buy-in. The other thing for me as director of technology it’s been really strange to be talking about furniture but we have these devices that are so powerful and they’re incredibly mobile. I can take my iPad and work anywhere within a space or anywhere on campus. And if we’re still putting classes lined up kind of cemetery style like we did 80 years ago, we’re completely missing out on the bonus of having this mobile technology.


VICKI:          Cemetery style, I’m sorry, it’s just cracking me up.

BILL:            Yeah, it is. I think Tom Murray talked about that in a blog post recently, actually.

Note: Tom Murray will be in tomorrow’s episode number 119 –

VICKI:          We could dig into so much here, but educators, I would just encourage you; reimagine your classroom, consider what we can do to help learning spaces be more flexible for kids.


This episode is sponsored by

Sponsored by Bloomz I’ve been using Bloomz for three years now and I love it. Go to to find out why Bloomz is the best parent-teacher communication system out there. I’ve included a comparison matrix with features to help you figure out what system is best for you.


[End of Audio 0:09:18]


[Transcription created by Some additional editing has been done to add grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. Every attempt has been made to correct spelling. For permissions, please email]


Full Bio As Submitted

Bill Selak

Bill Selak is the Director of Technology at Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, California. He is an Apple Distinguished Educator, ISTE 2014 Kay L. Bitter Vision Award recipient, ISTE 2013 Emerging Leader, and a Google Certified Innovator.

Bill is currently obsessed with sharing his professional learning on Snapchat.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere