Tuesday, July 20, 2010


One of the blogs I follow is entitled “Flow” by Wendy James. I’m not sure when she created the blog but the name intrigues me as I had read about the concept in a book by Daniel Pink called “Drive”. According to Wikipedia, “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields."

"According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.”

This graphic illustrates that flow occurs when the challenge of a task and skill level are both high. In his book, Pink describes a phenomena called “Goldilocks tasks”, where the task at hand is just challenging enough to test the skills of the learner, not too hard and not too easy. Flow can occur when teachers and students face tasks that are appropriate for their skill (and interest) level.

This relates well to the SPSD objectives of student engagement, in particular, competency. Briefly, the components of student engagement are:

1. Competency- students need to feel like they can master the material

2. Potency- students need to have power in their learning

3. Belonging- students need to belong to a group with some common beliefs or goals

4. Relevance- students need to think the subject matter has something to do with them

There is also a video game invented by Jenova Chen which utilizes Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Goldilocks tasks and flow called Flow. “Flow is part of Chen's thesis research at the University of Southern California's Interactive Media Division and includes an embedded design of dynamic game difficulty balancing which allows players with different skill levels to intuitively customize their experiences and enjoy the game at their own desired pace.” (Wikipedia)

In terms of change management, people within an organization will be capable of change depending on the skills they have and the challenge the change poses to them. Change leaders need to help set the stage for change and enable stakeholders to be a part of the change at their level. This does not mean that everyone will be comfortable with the change. In every school I have been in, some teachers say that they are afraid of computers and technology. One of the challenges that change leaders face is to help staff find the “Goldilocks level” for them, so that they can be part of the “flow”.

Perhaps most importantly, staff will need to own the change (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement), yet will need on-going professional development and guidance over a long term. What a nice thought, 21st century schools, with flow!

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