Since Steve Cardwell, Director of the Executive Educational Leadership Program at UBC, gave a presentation in our EDCI336 class last week on student engagement, I have been thinking about flow. Steven introduced flow as a state of learning that is achieved when students feel both a high sense of challenge and high sense of skill in a topic or activity.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in a Ted Talk called “Flow – The Secret to Happiness” (shared by a classmate on twitter), describes flow in more charismatic terms. Flow happens when “work is worth doing for its own sake” and when you want to “work until your heart’s content.” Mihaly suggests that in flow you feels a sense of clarity, ecstasy and timelessness. You know what you want to do and you know what you need to do is possible even though it is difficult. You get immediate feedback and you feel part of something larger.
This week I’ve been bringing awareness to those moments in my day when I feel flow. What are they? Why am I feeling flow at this time? How can I better indulge (or capitalize) on flow when it comes? How can I encourage more flow into my life? Funnily, I realized while making a mind-map about flow I was undistractable, critically thinking and curious. Perhaps an example of short-term flow.
In considering flow, I have become curious about how the notion of expanding comfort zones could align with encouraging students to find flow. After years of focusing on facilitating comfort zone pushing in an outdoor education context, I am often curious how the notion of comfort zones comes into classrooms. Especially in an era of personalized learning, I wonder where students find the motivation to push their own comfort zones, how they take on learning that is uncomfortable, and how they seek to learn what is currently unimaginable to them.
Often comfort zones lay at the edge of our skill and challenge level; interestingly, this is the same place flow is described to inhabit. Does this mean that in finding flow students are inherently pushing their comfort zone? Does this also mean that students desiring the satisfaction of working in a state of flow will be motivated to push their comfort zone? Perhaps in a classroom, I need to not worry about encouraging comfort zone pushing, but rather create space and opportunity for flow to occur, and trust that in a state of flow students are exploring the edges of their comfort zones.