Paul Erickson

Standardizing School Furniture for "Future-Ready" Learning

June 9, 2022

Standardizing furniture selections is a great way for a school district to address “future-ready” learning, equity, inventory, and consistency for facilities. Architects, interior designers, and furniture vendors frequently collaborate to establish effective, sustainable standards for 21st-century classroom and furniture design. Thoughtful attention to furniture selection can enhance approaches to learning and teaching.

Developing furniture standards typically involves three major parts: standards development, test models, and furniture acquisition.

Standards development

An initial step in developing standards is to create principles to ensure that the furniture supports choices for each learner (i.e., one size does not fit all), supports ergonomics, enhances varied activities for learning formats (e.g., collaborative, project-based, individualized), and offers flexibility. Facility planners may be uncertain about balancing lecture-based classrooms and more collaborative settings. Teachers and staff will want to integrate classroom furniture that enhances multiple teaching and learning styles.

Select dealer partners with K-12 knowledge, architectural entities that specialize in school design, and products that fit a school district’s purposes. Use the Building and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association as a standard for quality and durability. Overall criteria for selecting vendors should be based on product quality, warranty support, and contract compliance.

Compiling furniture standards into a manual enables planners to personalize each school site. Include an introduction (mission, purpose, procedures), product descriptions (specifications for chairs, tables, storage, tools), and exhibits (contact information, order form examples, idea starters, ergonomics protocols). The product descriptions specify product types, options from approved manufacturers, color choices, budget pricing, dealer information, and selection guides. Standardizing creates a streamlined design approach, incorporates specifications with planned updates, and promotes reduction in work repair orders.

Test models

For successful furniture selection, include time to test the finishes, equipment and cabinetry, component parts, and technology. Vendors may be asked to exhibit their items for staff and students.

Begin furniture planning early. Coordinate test model installations with vendors and establish checklists for evaluating furniture. For classroom systems, include cabinetry doors over open shelving for managing clutter, mobile smartboards for flexibility, and window seats and carpeted floors for learning variety.

For furniture systems, organize furniture groupings by grade level and allow flexibility for swing classes. Provide a variety of table shapes and sizes to accommodate groupings of different sizes; select adjustable-height seating for multigrade groupings and provide casters on most chairs.

Furniture acquisition

Furniture acquisition typically occurs in several stages. Form a planning group at each school (principal, teachers, specialists) and conduct workshops about the available choices. Work with grade-level teams to complete “kit-of-parts” forms for furniture.

Prepare contract documents for furniture vendor bidding, place orders, and install furniture at sites. Prepare a project manual that includes products, layouts, contact information, policies and procedures for additional purchases, and warranty replacement data. The manual should be used as a reference for confirming installations as well as a training document to help teachers and students use furniture as intended.

Furniture standardization and a well-organized process help schools provide sustainable and “future-ready” ergonomic furniture for 21st-century learning. Now may be the time for your school district to standardize furniture selection and installation to enhance student learning and to maintain a manageable furniture program.

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