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No Desks, No Problem

Minooka Community High School teacher Nicole Bolek took the desks out of her classroom to promote creativity and engage her students.

“Please sit down at your desks” is a phrase that won’t be uttered by Nicole Bolek, a U.S. history, sociology and government teacher at Minooka Community High School.

“Please find your seats” is something she might say, however. That’s because a few months back, Bolek removed the desks from her classroom and replaced them with bean bag chairs, papasan chairs, video game chairs and the like—all of them donated by students.

“This is very brand new,” Bolek said.

Bolek was inspired by the way Google decorated its offices and thought something similar might work in a classroom. She also was inspired after doing research that said creativity often is lacking in the classroom.

“It requires us as educators to come out of our box,” she said. “I kind of stood back and said, ‘I’m not the one that needs to learn.’ The kids are the ones that need to learn.”

While there might have been skeptics, Bolek said not only has the new seating arrangement worked, it has made classroom discussions richer. Students who were in her class last semester will stop by the classroom.

“They still come back in; they were very sad to go,” she said.

One of her current students, Payton Laczynski, a senior from Shorewood, said she enjoys the classroom atmosphere.

“It’s comfy,” she said.

Bolek believes that arranging the classroom the way she has—with loose seating that students can arrange when they come in—can work in any classroom and in any subject area, provided that the teacher is willing to work in that kind of classroom.

“This environment requires that you are not the one in charge,” Bolek said.  “I always want to know what they want, what excites them.”

Senior Matt Andrews, of Minooka, also likes this more informal classroom setting.

“It’s a nicer environment,” he said. “It’s not so strict.”

Bolek has found the reactions of her students interesting. For most of them, she said, sitting on the yoga balls is distracting. But that is not true for all of her students.

“I have a student who can’t sit still, and he puts himself on the yoga ball and he sits still for the whole period,” she said.

Bolek is realistic, though. When she administers a test, she moves her students to the library or another room that has desks. And she has eight chairs in the back of her classroom that surround two tables, for the students who prefer that kind of seating.

Carl January 20, 2011 at 04:13 PM
I love this teacher! Thinking outsode the box is what it is all about!! Good for her!! We need more like her...
Dulcinea Hawksworth January 20, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Sweet... Gives me some ideas for how I'd like to re-vamp the Nursery and the Art Room @ the UUC.
Brian McCarthy January 21, 2011 at 08:46 PM
I am a grad. student and found this article to be very in touch with the philosophies being taught within my program. Knowing what excites the students is half the battle, it makes instruction interesting and fun. Thank you for pointing out this way of thinking. Brian McCarthy Aurora University Student..MATC
Dawn Aulet (Editor) January 22, 2011 at 08:11 PM
Thanks for your comment Brian. I am in a Masters program as well. I am the only one in the cohort with the philosophy that when given more freedoms, students will excel and not act out. Thank you for thinking outside the box. And, thanks for your comment.
Caroline Martin January 23, 2011 at 01:19 PM
My principal sent out this article to our whole faculty, and I'm personally glad to see it because one of my development goals this year is to increase student engagement. I had listed that I'd change the configuration of desks in my classroom at least 1x per week to help accomplish this, and we've been experimenting. Now I'm thinking I might want to take it even further. In my classroom, I do already have one "comfy" chair that gets a lot of student use. If students are the source of additional chairs, perhaps I will be able to procure more variation in seating options. I have also found that allowing standing or pacing at the back of the room has helped certain students pay attention. I even had a student play his acoustic guitar during instructional time. He spontaneously began one day, and I didn't interfere because the sound was calming and enhanced our discussion. He was realistic, too, refraining the day he saw there were observers in the school that he thought wouldn't understand. Maybe next time we'll all feel confident to let the observers see that we run things a little differently in my classroom. Whatever works, works. It all depends on the chemistry of the group!
Dawn Aulet (Editor) January 23, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Caroline, I love that your principal is so open-minded. I also love that you allowed the talent of one student to enhance your classroom environment. Where do you teach?
Caroline Martin January 23, 2011 at 04:50 PM
Dawn, I work in the much-maligned but actually quite fine Florida.
Patrick Brosnan January 31, 2011 at 01:14 AM
What a forward looking teacher. I am an architect who is working on a similar research project. See my work at on You Tube, as we flip a classroom to encourage a more flexible and appropriate learning environment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv-8EdhdENg
Alicia Guzman-Riley July 14, 2011 at 10:34 PM
I had Bolek in 08 for Government... she was the bomb!

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