I am ecstatic that you are getting to hear from one of our incredible administrators in Katy ISD, Ronnie Mosher. Mr. Mosher brought me in at the end of last year to speak to his staff about flexible seating because (get this), THEY were interested in it. Talk about being responsive to the needs of your staff! I was so impressed and loved having an honest conversation with his group about flexible seating.
Connect with him on Twitter @ronniemosher and make sure you watch his vlogs. He cultivates such a positive school climate for students and teachers.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience. How did you get started on this journey?
I was a poor performing student. I was described by my teachers as unmotivated, lazy, and a poor reader. I was later described as rebellious, disobedient, and at risk of dropping out. In short, by the time I was in high school, the teachers knew who I was before I showed up in class. Only a few looked past my baggage and saw me. What changed me was how those few educators loved me; even though, I was not very lovable.
Specifically, there was one teacher at Crosby High School that would not allow me to get away with not doing my work. He was a science teacher named Mr. Powers. If you can imagine the character “Mr. Edwards” from the 1980’s TV series “Little House on the Prairie”, you would have a good visual of his appearance. He was tall and a little scary. He would tell me in his thick Texas accent, “Boy, you will think in this classroom”. He really meant it, too. In his class, I remember for the first time, truly thinking and questioning things. Mr. Powers even later reunited my dad and me. My dad had disappeared from my life years earlier and we did not have a good relationship. Mr. Powers made a profound impact on me. But, it didn’t stop with him. Later, the parents of a girl I was dating asked me to come over late one school night. I was arguing with my girlfriend about God and they asked if I wanted to come over so that they could answer any questions I might have. Out of respect for them (even though I thought it was strange), I decided to come over and talk to them. When I arrived, her mom and dad (Mr. and Mrs. Haas) were there and so was my assistant principal! All of them were educators. While I was surprised to see my assistant principal (Mr. Ellisor), I stuck around. After a long conversation about life, they left. That night, that rebellious boy died and a new person was born. I made a decision to follow Jesus and that forever changed my life to this day. Slowly after this, I began to change. I even took an interest in school and stopped many of the bad habits that were plaguing my life. I graduated from high school when I was 20 years old. I then attended college (the first in my family) using, in part; scholarships that Mrs. Haas was instrumental in helping me receive. A few teachers took a special interest in me and my life has been forever altered. When I decided to be a teacher and later a principal, I felt as if I was “being called” to this profession. However, I would be lying if I didn’t think that these kind educators didn’t influence my decision to devote my career to education in public school. Mr. Powers has since passed due to cancer. Mr. and Mrs. Haas are now retired and traveling the country in their RV. Mr. Ellisor moved away and I still follow him on Facebook. I still keep up with Mr. Powers’ family. The best teachers, have truly loved me. I knew this from their actions. I learned so many things from them. I wanted to learn from them! To them, being an educator was more than a job. It was an opportunity to love others and impact the world. I pray that I could be half the educator that they were. I want my school to be known for how we love people. I want to change the world for the better. I want to create the future.
What are your first thoughts upon entering a classroom with flexible seating?
That classroom was yours, Mrs. Dismuke! I was in your room for a full 15 minutes before I even realized there were no desks. In fact, it was another principal that was with me that pointed it out. None of us noticed it. Like your kids, I was wrapped up in the work you were doing with the kids. The focus, was relevant work that help the kids connect with the TEKS. I was thinking that this was a great classroom for kids. Once I realized there were no desks, my first thought were…”why didn’t I notice that?” I pride myself on being observant and noticing the obvious. However, the obvious alluded me on that day. I think the reason why it alluded me is because the seating is low on the priority list. In other words, what makes the classroom amazing is the teacher…not the seating chart. I firmly believe that if you put a class in a barn with a great teacher, you will find students that learn well.
Do you handle a flexible classroom any differently from a classroom with traditional seating? If so, how?
I see this as a teacher choice. I really am neutral. I understand the student choice factors that are promoted through flexible seating. However, a great teacher will provide student choice that lead to the same destination no matter the seating. What is important to me is that the teacher feels good about it. This is all about preference. I have traditional and flexible seating throughout the building. I am providing support to each of those teacher’s classrooms. My support is to move furniture, encourage them, and address concerns with their parents. Some of my parents were concerned, but they felt better once I pointed out that the teacher is what makes the classroom amazing. For some, flexible seating is very different. But different is not wrong. There are great benefits. But, for me, it’s important that the teacher feels good about what they are doing. Honestly, I’m always proud when teachers or ANYONE at WCE take a risk and try something new that they feel will be better for kids. Their willingness to take a risk and try to be better for their students deserves my respect and support.
What are the benefits that you can see from the outside?
My own son is in a room with flexible seating. As a parent, I am seeing that it allows him to move more. He enjoys flexible seating. As a typical boy, he has to move. In fact, I am moving both of my legs as I type this for you! I have to get up and walk around at least once an hour or I lose concentration. How much more would kids need this? Some kids really like it and others do not like it at all. All of the teachers keep a desk or two on hand. All of the kids can choose and find what they think is best for their learning. However, like my first experience in your classroom, it should not be a huge focus. It should simply support the relevant and meaningful work that the teachers provide the students. In the end, I am looking for student achievement. With flexible seating, I feel I just need to support the teachers on what they think is best for their own students.
Anything else you think that a teacher should consider?
I think teachers should focus on loving kids, creating an atmosphere where students are willing to be brave and take risks, develop relevant and meaningful work for students, and facilitate that work in their classroom in a way that make kids think and allows them to be creative with the TEKS. It is a huge and difficult job. But, it is also a meaningful job. If the teacher thinks that flexible seating helps them do this, I am all for it. If the teacher feels that flexible seating does not help them to this end, I am for that too. The best classroom in the world is the best because of the teacher and the support he/she receives. I will attempt to move a mountain for whatever that teacher needs to make our vision into our reality.