When was the last time you were in the flow?
When things are going well and you are in the zone then there’s no better place to be and life is worth living. This is often referred to as ‘flow’.
Teachers who experience flow in their classrooms can make learning special. They can also be lousy time managers because being in a state of flow often means you get absorbed in what you are doing and ‘forget the time’.
It was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who originally developed the concept of flow. That’s a hard name to pronounce but say it as follows: “Me high. Cheeks send me high.”
He says that people are their most creative, productive, and often, happiest when they are in this state of flow. He developed the term flow state because many of the people he interviewed such as athletes, musicians, artists etc described their optimal states of performance as instances when their work simply flowed out of them without much effort. This is a rewarding and intense mental state of engagement where we experience a range of positive sensations and what we are doing almost feels automatic.
Mihaly says flow is
A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
He describes 8 characteristics of flow:
- Complete concentration on the task
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding
- Effortlessness and ease
- There is a balance between challenge and skills
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
- There is a feeling of control over the task
Studies suggest that those who are internally driven with autotelic personalities tend to experience more flow. These people tend to have high interest in life, persistence and low self-centeredness.
Owen Schaffer (2013) proposed 7 flow conditions:
1. Knowing what to do
2. Knowing how to do it
3. Knowing how well you are doing
4. Knowing where to go
5. High perceived challenges
6. High perceived skills
7. Freedom from distractions
Schaffer published the Flow Condition Questionnaire (FCQ), which measures each of the seven conditions. When all seven conditions are fulfilled, the ultimate state of flow is reached. Flow can only occur when the activity is active – you have to do something in order to experience flow.
It is said that the workplace is the environment in which flow is experienced most often but as a teacher how often do you genuinely experience flow? Is this a spasmodic, chaotic and unpredictable experience or do you enter a state of flow more than three times a week?
As teachers we want our children to experience flow but do we create the conditions for them to be in the zone? Central to achieving a state of flow is that an activity has to be challenging at a level just above our current abilities. If a challenge is too hard then we can become anxious and throw in the towel. But if it’s too easy, we get bored – fast. What every lesson activity has to try and do is find the sweet spot so that it is difficult enough to challenge children without overwhelming them – try doing that for 30 children!
Going with the ‘flow’ is far from easy because you’ve got to capture 30 different personalities and if you’re lucky a lesson might just capture a sixth of those.