Ellen Smith’s Journey

by: Guest contributor, Zach Subar
Ellen Smith’s journey to incorporating stand up desks into her classroom began in her first grade class, where raised tables provided an ideal platform for short students to stand throughout the day.

Smith, a teacher at Greenbrook Elementary School in Streamwood, Ill., floated the idea to her students, and some of them took her up on it. Typically, she said, more outgoing students would be the first to try out the new setup, but once other students saw what was going on, they often followed suit.

“You always have the kids who are maybe a little wiggly,” Smith said. “You could see them work, but their legs were moving. It just seemed like a good thing for them to have that spot to go to.”

Smith, however, then began teaching fourth graders. Students at that age are too tall to sit at a raised table. But she has seen the results that come with having standing desks in her classroom, and so she has begun a crowdfunded, nascent campaign  to make the desks available for her students.

Smith wants to raise $1,604 to purchase six standing desks for her classroom. So far, she’s raised close to $600, with just under $1,000 left to go.

She is moving forward with the effort because she has already seen the benefit of standing desks for kids. Her experience with her first grade class convinced her they work.

She needed partners to make it work. Smith wouldn’t have been able to bring the desks to her first grade classroom in the first place without some support from school administrators.

After she brought up the idea to those administrators, the school’s principal was moderately skeptical, saying that he would have to see how well the experiment worked. But the principal later stopped into her classroom and, to his delight, saw that the standing desks were being used effectively. Students who had a choice in the matter were picking standing desks over their more traditional sit-down counterparts.

Other teachers started popping into Smith’s classroom, asking her about her methods.

“They go, ‘Maybe I should make a change!’” Smith said.

One teacher in particular said that the desk increased the potential for creativity and collaboration among students in the classroom. Since students are more easily able to move around, there is more potential for them to work together in an organic way.

Assigned seating was also scrapped in favor of a naturally occurring seating environment.

These advantages are clear to Smith. Because of that, she simply sees herself as a teacher who is doing something that makes good sense—to her, there is nothing especially revolutionary about her effort.

“I see that I [could seem like] kind of that trailblazer doing something different, but other teachers are looking at this and saying, ‘Hmmm, maybe that works,’” she said.

Smith is hoping fundraising will pick up once the school year starts. Donors are able to comment on their reasons for donating online on the donation webpage; one, for example, said the effort hits particularly close to home.

“As a father of a young daughter, I want a better world for her and this is one way to help do it,” the donor said.

You can donate to Smith’s campaign here.