Trends in Education: View From the Industry

Ashley HouckThought Leader: Ashley Houck, Senior Manger, Vertical Market K12 has over 10 years of collecting insights and translating them into innovative products across multiple markets.

Company: Learn by Safco®


Contact Info: [email protected]

Q: What are some of the trends you are seeing in education for student furniture?

A: There are a few trends we are seeing as we talk to teachers and administrators. First, the idea of flexible seating. Chairs that allow students to choose where and how they sit while they learn are very important in today’s classrooms. Schools are also looking for seating that provides movement for students to fidget in a more natural way versus more distracting outlets that can lead to interruptions in the classroom. Second, mobility and reconfiguration are big for the classroom and spaces outside the classroom too. The ability to easily move desks, chairs, tables and other classroom furniture is critical for the varying ways students learn and the activities teachers need to do while teaching. Schools have learned that one size does not fit all when it comes to learning, so the furniture throughout the school needs to reflect this and be able to change quickly with minimal effort.

Q: Why do you think flexible seating is an important addition to classrooms?

A: Flexible seating offers a variety of options for students in a classroom. This allows them to not only make a choice about where to sit, but also what seat is the most comfortable for them. Some students may choose a chair that allows a lot of movement, while other students may want no movement at all. Plus, having multiple chairs gives students the ability to switch during the day. Depending on their mood, the classroom activity, or time of day there is a seating option that fits how they need to learn. Many flexible seating options are also designed to be moved easily, so reconfiguring seating options can be done by the students and not just teachers or other staff.

Q: Where do you see flexible seating in the future?

A: Flexible seating will continue to be an important part of the educational environment and grow as students, teachers and even parents see the benefit of having it available. The seating will continue to adapt to school and classroom needs as curriculums and learning methods change over time. Educators will seek seating and other pieces that help students learn and provide flexible solutions that can grow and change with their environment.

Jim ElliottThought Leader: Jim Elliot, Midwest / Rocky Mountain regional manager, ProTeam®, is a senior sales executive with a passion for calculating ROI.

Company: ProTeam, The Vacuum Company


Contact Info: [email protected] or 866/888-2168

Q: Cordless backpack vacuums require a
higher initial investment. How do I determine the ROI for a cordless backpack vacuum compared to an upright?

A: When I started in this industry 30 years ago, you had to really tell the customer how the math works in their favor. You had to be able to say, “Here’s how productive we’re going to be. We can pay for this in ‘X’ number of months.” That’s why, in my work, my emphasis is still on teaching and on clearly illustrating the benefits of new innovative approaches, like cordless backpack vacuums.

Let’s start with some hard facts about the productivity advantages of cordless backpack vacuums over upright vacuums. If you’re cleaning a 100,000-square-foot facility, you could realize an annual savings in five figures simply by switching to a cordless backpack. How is that possible? Let’s do the math.

We know that a standard upright takes three to five times longer to clean the same space as a battery backpack. Tests show that an upright cleans approximately 2,500 square feet per hour. If you have 100,000 square feet of floor space, it’s going to take 35 hours to clean it with an upright. But with a cordless backpack vacuum, you can cover 10,000 square feet per hour. That means that the same area will take about 9.5 hours to clean. Based on an hourly wage of $13/hour, the labor savings add up to as much as $87,000 a year.

Q: Many vacuums improve IAQ. What is the value of improving IAQ?

A: Although it’s harder to put a price tag on improving indoor air quality (IAQ), it certainly benefits a building’s occupants and its cleaning staff. After all, most of us spend 80 to 90 percent of our time indoors. Most upright vacuums kick up the very dust you’re trying to remove. That isn’t just bad for IAQ—it eventually settles and needs to be cleaned again.

Q: Cordless vacuums remove the potential trip hazard of a cord. What is the value of improved safety?

A: While we can’t track the savings from accidents that never happened, we do know that a single trip-and-fall incident can cost tens of thousands of dollars in medical and insurance costs. Of course, providing a safe work environment isn’t just economical; it’s ethical.

Tom BrennanThought Leader: Tom Brennan is the founder and CEO of School Outfitters and Past Chair of the EdMarket Board of Directors. He is passionate about helping educators prepare students for the future and believes in fostering long-lasting partnerships with school districts.

Company: School Outfitters


Contact Info: 800-260-2776

Q: Are you seeing a change in the attitudes of educators about new designs of learning spaces?

A: In the 20 years since I started School Outfitters, I have never seen educators more receptive to new furniture innovations that can support changing pedagogy. While not as important as the teacher, research shows a great environment helps kids feel more loved, engaged, and focused. This makes our work even more fun, because we can make a more meaningful impact in the classroom with our new designs. I encourage teachers and administrators to embrace new options because the journey to better education is a never-ending process.

Q: What trend has you most concerned?

A: Confusing the construction event with real change. I worry when I see customers who expect a new physical learning environment to suddenly make people teach or learn differently. Change is a process that must be fostered and developed in an organization full of human beings who tend to resist it. It’s hard work, and perhaps the most critical skill educators need to be developing today. You’re going to fail along the way, but that failure can drive improvement as you learn. Don’t make the ribbon-cutting the end of your discussions about how to foster learning. Make it the beginning.

Q: What’s most important in selecting a vendor?

A: First, I would look for a vendor partner who is willing to listen. There are a lot who just start selling their solution before even understanding your problem. Your needs deserve careful analysis and consideration by any vendor. Next, I would look for responsiveness—do they do what they say they are going to do, in a timely manner? Not everyone has done the work of creating a truly customer-responsive organization. Once they propose a solution, it ought to ladder back perfectly to your goals and answer your question—they need to show they were paying attention! When delivery comes there will inevitably be minor hiccups—watch how they handle these unplanned issues. Do they do it with efficiency and grace? Ultimately, you are trying to find vendors who understand your needs and are trustworthy. That trust must be earned.

Lisa SchmidtThought Leader: Lisa Schmidt, LEED-AP, is the director of Strategic Initiatives at National Office Furniture, a manufacturer of seating, tables, and case goods for learning environments and more.

Company: National Office Furniture


Contact Info: Lisa can be reached at [email protected].

Q: Education facilities at all levels are undergoing quite a bit of change. What is one trend you are following regarding new space types?

A: At National we are tracking the emerging trend to include spaces within schools or universities that are designed for reflection, or to offer respite. These spaces are primarily meant to provide students with a chance to step away from their usual “busyness.” They may be called a reflection room, meditation room, mindful room, or even multi-faith room.

Q: Why do today’s students need a place to get away from their usual tasks or schedules?

A: The pressures on students have multiplied, much as they have for adults. The push for excellence; the abundance of extracurricular activities; the all-too-familiar pattern of mass shootings. Certainly, the growing influence of social media on young lives can also exacerbate the stress that students of all ages are experiencing.

Research shows that the need for student mental health resources is increasing. For example, the American Psychological Association reports a 30 percent increase in college students seeking on-campus counseling. With 75 percent of all serious adult psychiatric illnesses starting by age 25, schools and universities play an essential role in addressing mental health issues early.

Q: How are institutions addressing the need for spaces which allow students to focus on their mental health?

A: A growing number of institutions are providing quiet spaces where students can gather their thoughts, reflect, pray, or meditate. These spaces may be furnished with soft seating, floor cushions, or mats. Calming colors are often used, and soft music may be played. If practical, these types of rooms or spaces are located in a quiet part of the building, with guidelines that restrict group study or conversation. The use of electronic devices may be discouraged or prohibited. Additional points may include restricting food or drink, or the use of scented candles or incense.

Experts recognize that emotional health is important for succeeding in school. This growing trend to provide reflective spaces is evidence of administrators seeking to engage students’ spirits as well as their brains.

Dieter BreitheckerThought Leader: Dr. Dieter Breithecker, Health and Kinetics Scientist, is the President of the Federal Institute on the Development of Posture and Movement in Germany.

Company: On behalf of VS America


Contact Info: [email protected]

Q: How does movement nourish the brain?

A: When muscle fibers are activated, blood circulation increases. The brain receives more oxygen and neuroplastic messengers support nerve cell growth and synaptic switching. Students’ brains are more alert and they are emotionally more engaged – conditions which have a positive impact on school performance.

Move your body and your mind will follow. As humans we have special sensory organs located in the inner ear and in the muscles, tendons, and joints. As “eyes” inside our bodies, they register muscle activities and stimulate our cerebral activities. But the positive effects of those sensory organs can only be revealed if they are regularly stimulated by motion. Just as eyes need daylight and noses need fresh air, the sense of balance, along with muscle and movement sensors, needs regular posture changes and movement. Keeping our sensory organs engaged keeps us aware and alert.

Q: What role does furniture have in learning environments?

A: Furniture in learning spaces plays a pivotal role, greatly influencing physiological learning behavior and social interactions. Furniture also creates opportunities for healthy and needs-appropriate behaviors by opening up possibilities for a variety of postural changes and movement.

Recent scientific findings make it clear that room furnishings based only on rigid chairs, tables, and tablet chairs lead to serious pressures on physical and mental health. These recent results are so significant that they are being captioned by magazines as “sitting is the new smoking” without seeming overly exaggerated.

The main culprit is passive sitting. The energy expenditure in sedentary behavior is so low that health risks have increased for multiple pathologies such as obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia, and even cancer (Dunstan et al. 2012 and Katzmarzyk et al. 2009, Haly et al. 2017, Healy et al. 2008).

Children often sit up to ten hours per day, and have poor posture while sitting. This behavior, ingrained from childhood, is a pattern we need to break.

Q: How often should students stand during the school day?

A: Sit as necessary but encourage as much postural change and exercise as possible.

Here’s a healthy recommendation for a school day:

  • 50% sitting (note: dynamic sitting on agile chairs so there is still movement)
  • 30% standing
  • 20% movement within the space

Consider how important movement is for all ages. People aged:

  • 6-10 should not sit more than 5 minutes at a time.
  • 11-15 not more than 10 minutes.
  • 16+ not more than 20 minutes at a time.

Jean NouvelThought Leader: Jean Nouvel, Architect, is a Pritzker Prize award-winning architect and designer whose constructions have changed the face of architecture worldwide.

Company: Jean Nouvel Design


Contact Info: [email protected]

Q How do you understand the relationship between school furniture, room design, and students’ learning experiences?

A: For me, every object poses a question. Every time we look at an object or a piece of furniture, we become more familiar with it and it makes an imprint in our minds. So I believe that we carry with us the experiences of furniture that we regularly used, especially in the educational environment. For that reason, it’s important that this furniture is made with love and care.

Q What attracted you most about the mission to create a chair for the education market with VS America?

A: My parents were teachers, and I am also the father of a little girl. I know all too well that children often perceive chairs as instruments of torture because they want to get up and jump around.

I still remember my wooden school bench and the chairs behind which we played hide and seek, so it’s very clear to me that these chairs have to be robust enough to withstand the hurricane-like nature of children. So it was quite clear to me that durability needed to be a central criteria in the design. Also, that school chairs must be able to be integrated into a variety of different types of schools. I believe that a piece of furniture must be able to adapt to its setting, which means that with our design, we have to be able to respond to all possible life situations.

Q How did your parents being teachers influence your design concept?

A: I always told my parents that schools should be more concerned with architecture and design. In my opinion, education in architecture and in design must take place in parallel, but in France everything is much too strictly separated. It’s also important that students learn from good examples and that they find these examples in the place where they spend a lot of time, namely in school. I haven’t been very involved with the educational content – although I myself have participated in the conception of a well-known educational institute – but I definitely think that the subject of architecture and design also raises questions for teachers and pupils.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management July/August 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.