Contemplating Equity: Seeking Advice For When Others Want A Chair Too

The other night, I had a very interesting Twitter conversation with Lori St. Amand: a Grade 1 teacher in our Board. Lori contributed to the discussion on my last blog post about colouring, and then, decided to make a change in her classroom: providing colouring pages to students that expressed that this might help make their “brains and bodies ready to learn.” As we were discussing this change, we got to the problem of students that started changing their minds because of what others were doing. Our conversation began to link what Lori noticed about her students (this time in regards to the desire for fidget toys) to how adults might react in similar situations.

As our conversation evolved, I thought about how I’ve taught students about “equity” in the past. I always explain that I give everybody what he/she needs in order to succeed. We’ve talked about how these needs may be different, so what’s required may also be different. This makes sense to me.

But then I started to think about times in the past, that as an adult, I’ve felt left out.

  • Maybe others got to attend a conference, inservice, or school visit that I wanted to attend.
  • Maybe others have received a tool for their classroom that I also wanted to receive.
  • Maybe others received a note of thanks or a showing of appreciation that I also hoped to get.

I can usually rationalize why things may have been different, but there’s still a part of me that may feel hurt, angry, upset, and/or jealous. And if I’m an adult feeling this way, how does a four-year-old feel?

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time watching, listening, and “hearing” our students. While we really don’t teach lessons to the full class on the carpet, during transitional times, we often regroup as a class over at the carpet and sing some rhyming or counting songs or play some quick phonemic awareness games. This is only for a couple of minutes, and the students gradually join the group as they complete their play and finish tidying up. A couple of students really struggle with sitting on the carpet, but are successful when sitting on a chair. They pull a chair up to the carpet in order to join the group. Since returning from the holidays, my partner and I noticed more students choosing chair options. At one point on Friday, there were about eight students surrounding the carpet on their chairs.

  • They weren’t causing problems.
  • They were participating.
  • But they don’t all need chairs … or do they?

Does it matter how many students are sitting on chairs? If they’re still participating, do I need to tell them to move? These other students that have chosen chairs have expressed a desire to “sit the way their friends are sitting.” I’m trying to see things from the student’s perspective. If I saw my friends sitting on a chair — a far more comfortable option than the carpet — would I also want one? Now replace the phrase “sitting on chairs” with …

  • writing using computers or tablets.
  • choosing an alternative seating option.
  • listening to music while working.
  • using assistive technology.
  • colouring in order to calm down.

These are often options that only tend to be offered to some students. Experience has shown me though that often what works for our neediest students, may benefit a lot more people than that. As educators though, what do we do? Do we stand by our decision to say, “no?” Do we evaluate on a case-by-case basis? Do we see what happens and then make changes as needed? Life isn’t always fair, but could it be more fair? Are we the ones that could make it that way, and if so, how? During transitional times this week, I’ve stood on the carpet, watched the students, and wondered, what should I say? What should I do? Am I making the right choice? I’m hoping you can help.


9 thoughts on “Contemplating Equity: Seeking Advice For When Others Want A Chair Too

  1. Hi Aviva

    This year I have increased my use of universal supports in the room. Fidget tools are available for anyone to get than a select few. I introduced exercise balls and had a sign up sheet in order to schedule usage. This worked well. Now after our return in January , kids are self- selecting. I have not seen anyone check the sign up and so far no one has complained nor had a conflict over the balls…but then it has been only a week lol! I allowed a few students to sit on chairs for group meetings/lessons and this has now morphed into self- selecting chairs. So far I am able to teach with a mix of students on the carpet and on chairs. I will have to problem solve with students if it becomes an issue for me, after all I get a say too in how to teach!
    Mostly my flexible changes are a result of me reading Dr. Ross GreenE’s book Lost in School. I now involve students even more in the decision making process , in problem solving and in choosing solutions. I do reserve the right to go back to my own first choice of solution if I myself cannot live or work comfortably in the class environment. Compromise, understanding and respect for all of us as a classroom community is vital.

    So far so good with my grade fives as I release some of my control to the students and learn to create a workable classroom environment for each and everyone of us including me!

    Thanks for the inspiring thoughts .

    • Thanks for your comment, Carla, and for sharing your experiences! I also read Dr. Greene’s book over the summer, and I think it’s partially his book that’s making me pause so much. Am I instituting a Plan A solution? Could we do a Plan B one instead? And maybe my biggest question: is there really a problem here? Is the problem just that the students are choosing something contrary to what I envisioned, and do I just need to let go? I need to talk to my partner about what she thinks. She may have a more specific reason that this is a problem, but maybe then, we can problem solve with students (even a small group of students). Thanks for giving me more to think about.


  2. Hi Aviva,

    Quick question why does everything have to be equal for all kids?

    Now before further comments I am. Not sayin that kids can’t all chose to sit at a chair but I hear through your writing the need for all kids to have the same. I think in this world we all feel the need to have whatever someone else has. This need isn’t always the best thing. Sure I am upset about someone getting something but I have to understand why.

    This mindset is very important in our development as children and adults. People get things and some others get other things. I look at my five year old who gts upset that my 1 and a half gets more attention (in her eyes). Buy then again my 1 and a half cannot go to the bathroom by himself, reach shelves or read. I am also sure that when he is older he will wonder why his older sister gets to do more things.

    I am.not saying that

    • Sorry on my phone hit reply.

      …that we shouldn’t allow choice for our kids or allow them to sit in chairs while others sit in carpet but we do have to teach them that their will be times people get things over you because they need them. The world would be a better place if we all learned that young.

      • Jonathan, I totally understand and appreciate your perspective, and in so many ways, agree with you. I guess that I’m questioning more what to do when a few more children grab chairs as they transition to the carpet. Is it worth breaking the pace in the transitional activity by asking them to get off of them? Do we just continue to talk about how some people may need things that others don’t, and that’s okay? In some regards, our students understand this because of some children with special needs and that additional support that they need in the classroom. They not only seem to be able to accept this, but also support these students in amazing ways. I love that! But somehow, this meeting time changes things for them. Maybe it’s because even small transitions are hard for most of the students, and maybe the chair also gives them comfort. I think about what I’ve learned from Stuart Shanker and The Mehrit Centre about self-regulation, and the importance of the students picking the options that work for them. Are these students self-regulating or are they only desiring what other students have? While they articulate the desire to “sit like their friends,” most of these students are still developing their language skills, so I wonder if they could articulate these other needs.

        And then there is me as an adult that understands how these students may be feeling — if they are feeling left out. I’m not suggesting that they just get what they want because of the way they’re feeling. I am saying that my conversation with Lori gave me a little more empathy for the students, and seeing things from their perspective, I wonder if I should be addressing things differently, even if it’s just being a little softer as I say, “We all need different things and that’s okay.” The example with your daughter made me wonder, at what age are students developmentally ready to understand and accept these differences? I wonder if this is included in the ELECT Document. I need to check. If students aren’t developmentally there yet, how do we support them in the meantime? Should this change our response(s) to them? Thanks for giving me more to think about. (I’m starting to think that this comment may be clearer/better than my initial post thanks to your help!)


        • From a parent perspective and an educator I think we need to pick our battles. What IEan is, does it really matter where kids sit as long as they listen. Or where they work as long as they work. I think a lot of times we (parents and educators) do things for control. However the bigger picture is making kids realize that they may need it or understand why some need it. Or why some get things above others.

          I think way you are thinking is important and I think we just need to question what we are trying to accomplish and how. What is important and why do we do things.

          • Thanks for the reply, Jonathan! You’re mentioning many of the same points that Karen Lirenman (@klirenman) mentioned in her Twitter reply to me. This gets into the topics of behaviour, control, and compliance, and maybe it’s “compliance” that has me thinking most of all. Do the children that sit on the carpet easily do so in order to “comply” with what’s expected or do so because it works best for them? Would a chair sometimes work better for them or do they not really require it? Are there times that even as adults, we need to comply, or should our behaviour be about more than compliance? There’s so much to think about. Questioning is good — even if it’s not always easy to determine an answer. This blog post and the replies have me thinking, and I know that when I chat with my partner, I’ll be thinking even more as well. I’m not always sure if I make the right choice, but I know that my different choices have me thinking, questioning, and making changes, and I’m guessing that’s a good thing. Many thanks for being an important part of this change process!


  3. Hi Aviva,
    Once again, thanks for posting and reflecting on a topic that I also wonder about. In fact, I found a blog post of mine from long ago that contained similar questions. I still don’t quite know what to do when the choice making interrupts the lesson (e.g. I’m only planning to talk for 5 minutes but it takes 10 for the students to get a chair, find a space to place it that doesn’t block those who’ve chosen to use the floor, and settle down with the choice they’ve made). Please let us know how this proceeds in your class. – Diana

    • Thanks for your comment, Diana! I just read, and really enjoyed, your post. We definitely have some similar thoughts here. I will say that in our classroom, there are a number of chairs at a table right by the carpet. It really doesn’t take any time for the students to choose one and get involved in the transitional activity. I think my bigger problem is that I’m not sure all students need one, but many want one, and does this matter? At this point, I usually don’t interfere unless there is a problem, and then together, we work on a solution. But maybe there is a little voice in my head that wonders what other teachers might think, or how next year might work, and if this is something that I should address now. In the past, I’ve blogged about the fact that I try not to worry about the next year, as maybe the needs of students “this year” will reflect in changes for the following one. However, sometimes it’s hard not to think about how our actions may be perceived, and if we should be making different choices than we do. I’m going to talk to my partner more about this and see what she thinks. I’ll definitely keep you posted, and am certainly curious to hear what others decide to do (and why).


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