Ergonomic School Furniture & The Anatomy of The Ideal 21st Century Classroom

Classroom Layout

With the advent of revolutionary new teaching methodologies, traditional modes of learning are being supplemented with, and in many cases replaced by, more effective and progressive approaches. As this evolution in contemporary education continues, educational settings must also adapt to meet the needs of students and educators. This entails developing a new sense of spatial awareness, as well as the incorporation of more ergonomic school furniture to support the whole experience of the student, in body as well as mind.

For those hoping to create an environment in which students can flourish, incorporating ideas from Loris Malaguzzi’s Reggio Emilia approach has never been more relevant. Emphasizing the environment as the “third teacher,” this concept allows for a more balanced and holistic approach to learning and setting, and has been shown to help improve student focus, performance, freedom, overall well-being, and positivity of interaction. To help you create the ideal educational environment to promote authentic, active learning, here's a brief introduction to the new anatomy of the 21st century classroom.

Different Zones for Different Learning Styles
One of the most important strides to have been made in recent educational history is the acknowledgment of different learning styles. Of course, for diverse methods of learning, diverse methods of teaching are required. Distinct physical zones in the classroom can help to create focus and direction for the completion of separate tasks, and can help to establish a clear set of customs for each unique zone. Here are just a few of the types of zones that might be considered for a contemporary classroom space:

  • Individual workspaces - Individual does not mean isolated, and this type of space works best when it’s a clearly delineated space that’s not necessarily entirely separate from collective space. Versatility is still key, and it’s important to choose ergonomic school furniture, seating, and desk options that are not “one size fits all,” but rather which adapt well to individuals of different sizes and physical proclivities.

    What furnishings work best: For flexible furnishings, a forward-flexing cantilever desk chair, such as the PantoSwing LuPo cantilever chair, allows the student to move freely while remaining physically well supported. Not only does this promote proper spinal support and comfortable seating, but it also allows for a greater degree of focus, alertness, and mental agility.

  • Group workspaces - Some of the best learning is collaborative, and it’s essential to create fun, flexible, and well-designed areas in which authentic group learning can take place. Above all, this means sufficient space in which students can feel free to move and explore, as well as dynamic furniture that opens rather than closes spatial configurations to the entire group.

    What furnishings work best: For this type of zone, we recommend clustered, mobile, and adjustable desks that can be grouped, stacked, and moved to fit a variety of arrangements. For seating, the Hokki stool represents an ideal choice, insofar as it is crafted to be comfortable, flexible, and allows for a 360-degree range of motion. For modular desks and other ergonomic school furniture, opt for variations that are height-adjustable, and pieces that allow for sitting, standing, and students’ completely natural physical movements.

  • Presentation spaces - Spaces in which students and teachers can share content in a presentational format are essential for contemporary learning spaces. For these types of spaces, especially in settings where limited square footage is a factor, furniture that is mobile and versatile is a great way to create optimal spatial configurations and to maximize the room that is available. Coordinating a variety of furnishing elements with an overall minimalistic aesthetic can help to create space with versatility and ease.

    What furnishings work best: In presentation zones, auxiliary elements such as mobile whiteboards, projectors, media players, sound equipment, and mobile visual equipment should be effectively utilized to direct students’ focus and to present content in engaging new ways. The ideal classroom should also account for ample storage to accommodate these elements, without detracting from the usability of the space as a whole. To deter students from becoming bored or restless, ergonomic school furniture can promote positive attention and alertness, while playfully flexible seating options like Hokki stools allow the student to remain effortlessly engaged.

  • Quiet retreat spaces - This type of space is a favorite among students of various ages, and includes comfortable, quiet areas for reading or learning individually while coexisting in the presence of others. The key to creating these types of areas is to balance comfort with creativity, so that these zones are at once relaxing and stimulating for students.

    What furnishings work best: Whereas desks with private dividers often denoted this type of area in the past, cozier furnishing elements, such as Cloud beanbags and flat pouffes, represent a more forward-thinking (and enjoyable) alternative for the contemporary classroom. In addition to soft seating elements, designated spaces for book and media storage can help to create an inviting yet studious atmosphere.

Adapting the Ideal Classroom to Your Unique Space
Of course, not all classrooms are large enough to naturally accommodate multiple distinct spaces. In these case, the use of mobile and adjustable furniture is especially vital. Modular furniture, including ergonomic school furniture such as these Shift+ ThumbPrint stackable four-legged tables, can help to maximize the potential for settings with limited square footage or unusual configurations. Here are a few guiding principles for making the most of your environment:

  • Identify natural pathways, both among students and between learning zones. As it is possible, configure zones to complement these pathways in an organic way, thus facilitating motion and activity with minimal interruption and maximum freedom of movement.

  • Visualize the day from start to finish, and identify areas of the classroom that are typically either overused or underused. Find creative opportunities to mix up learning spaces, reconfigure seating elements to shift focus midday (an easy maneuver with versatile cantilever desk chairs or Hokki stools), and explore opportunities to combine spaces for collaborative projects.

  • Pair activities with furnishings best suited to each task. For instance, ergonomic school furniture that facilitates an upright posture may be best for writing and creative tasks, while soft seating elements may be better suited to more passive yet engaging activities, such as reading or listening time.

  • Designate storage areas, not only for individual student possessions, but also for classroom furniture. By clearly organizing the classroom space, you’ll not only succeed in making the most of your setting (whatever the size and configuration), but also help promote clarity and agency among students when it comes to reorganizing the classroom for various activities.

Putting the Student First
While concepts for the ideal 21st century classroom vary widely, virtually all educators agree that student centeredness is at the core of an effective educational environment. Putting the student first - and highlighting the capacity of the student not only to absorb information but also to think critically and to be creative - can be strongly supported by incorporating ergonomic school furniture in the layout of a classroom setting. By enabling the student to feel both naturally active and at ease, a contemporary layout can effectively transform the learning experience. Ideally, this type of setting helps the student to feel both individually empowered and aptly positioned to support other students in a group context.

Designing the Classroom from Micro to Macro
When furnishing the ideal 21st century classroom, it’s important to understand the full range of addressing individual student needs as well as the collective space as a whole. Each educational environment is different, and acknowledging the unique opportunities in your space will make it easier to connect the specific and general, the micro and macro, for a balanced and coherent overall approach. As a perfect example of using classroom furnishings to achieve an optimal result, cantilever desk chairs might be selected first for individual performance and comfort, second for functionality and minimalism in the classroom environment, and third for ease of use and aesthetics in a variety of configurations. With a wealth of ergonomic school furniture, redesigning your educational environment to satisfy all considerations - both at the micro and at the macro levels - has never been more viable.

How the “Third Teacher” Model Empowers Students
Emphasizing the significance of setting as a major player in the educational experience has risen to prominence among high-level educators. The “third teacher” model posits the importance of environment not only for learning potential, but also for fostering positive interactions and overall well-being. There are a number of ways in which the educational environment influences the learning experience. Here are just a few:

  • The furnishings and configuration of a classroom can cause the student to feel more or less active or passive. For example, a traditional desk and chair unit that is purely static encourages the passivity of the student, conveying a physical and psychological impression of restraint. By contrast, cantilever desk chairs allow for greater freedom of movement, which translates into an increased sense of psychological and intellectual freedom.

  • By facilitating rather than restricting natural movement, ergonomic school furniture can help to give creative agency to the student. This allows a student to feel empowered and inventive, and makes him or her more likely to deliver a high level of performance in class. Simple yet versatile seating elements, such as the Hokki stool, are conducive to learning in motion and authentically active experiences in education.

  • The learning environment can help to promote sustainable values among students and the school community. With furnishings that not only reflect minimal ecological impact and support utilitarian design in the classroom, students can learn the value of using resources wisely, and of respecting their environments and one another.

  • The “third teacher” model allows students to explore, discover, and play. Since learning is a natural facet of childhood, active learning - supported by active and ergonomic school furniture - leans into this organic process. This pushes individuals to achieve within (and beyond) their own natural inclinations for the best possible results.

  • Active learning spaces help to create opportunities for collaboration among students. In sharp contrast to traditional seating elements, which are designed to keep individuals still and facing forward, restricted both in terms of motion and in terms of focus, contemporary furniture options such as cantilever desk chairs and Hokki stools allow students to interact more organically with one another, and help to minimize hierarchies created by more traditional seating arrangements. Above all, active classroom furniture enables students to actively contribute to the culture of the classroom and the educational environment.

Find Your Inspiration
Remarkable examples of how ergonomic school furniture has transformed the learning experience abound. In Schiller Park, Illinois, Lincoln Middle School has adopted a range of furniture innovations from VS that places students in its central focus. From modular FlipTables that allow the health class to be effortlessly converted into a yoga studio, to special reading terraces and media-friendly learning spaces, each space has been thoughtfully designed to support collaboration, creativity, and authentic education.

Likewise, at Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools in Dillwyn, Virginia, easily stackable cantilever desk chairs, sleek and durable tables that are ideal for stacking, and endlessly configurable seating elements allow students and educators to make the most of their environment. With an added emphasis on ecological sustainability, the school community has blended aesthetics with functionality to provide educational spaces that are as versatile as they are creative and innovative.

Create Your Ideal 21st Century Classroom
Drawing from the forward-thinking principles of the “third teacher,”  it is more possible than ever before to create the ideal 21st century classroom. At VS, we’re excited to create ergonomic school furniture on the cutting edge of innovative design and educational ideals. We invite you to explore our full range of designs, all of which reflect the high standard of precision, creativity, and dedication to student well-being for which VS is known.