There is so much talk about student engagement – making sure that students are happy, entertained and totally engrossed in what they’re doing. But what about the teachers? How to ensure they’re happy and engaged in the process of teaching? The teaching, actually being in the classroom and interacting with the students, is essentially what keeps me (and many other teachers) in the profession. It is not all the other administrative ‘paperwork’ – the assessments, marking, planning or recording behaviour incidents. Rather, the joy in teaching lies in the process of the teacher and the students creating ideas together, whether it be a discussion, an essay, a play or an artwork. However, there is some important groundwork to be done before this is possible. It doesn’t just happen.
Flow isn’t just about individuals totally engrossed in what they’re doing. Groups that enter the state of flow are productive beyond the sum of all the contributing parts. Have you ever experience this emergent property of groups? For instance, a meeting, a discussion or a party where everyone was just involved and directed their attention towards the greater good (that would be especially relevant at a party!). All of a sudden, everything seems orderly, conflict diminishes, satisfaction increases and you don’t even have to do anything to maintain everyone’s motivation. Recently, a group of students and I deconstructed an essay question and then constructed an essay plan together. In this interactive process, the teacher responded to the students’ ideas as they were shared, provided instant feedback, and the student amended their ideas in that moment. There is a shared commitment to creating something together. Essentially, the teacher respects the students’ ideas and the student respects the profession of teaching. It is the give and take, the interactions and the reciprocity, that creates the joy.
As a teacher or a leader in general, you need to be aware. Deeply aware. You need to feel the group and the group needs to feel you, your authentic self that is at the service of the group. You need to be in flow yourself, you need to be dedicated and demonstrate a congruent system of values. Many years ago, I used to teach French in schools for young delinquents. I will never forget the energy and commitment of these young lads as they shouted out some sophisticated pieces of French vocabulary amongst a never-ending list of swear words that would raise my systolic blood pressure to more than 180 millimeters of Mercury. They were frightening and I respected them. I needed to be attuned to them, individually and collectively… and when we were in class, there were these rare moments of silence when the students were quiet, engaged and derived an intrinsic sense of joy from learning a new language. A group in flow or a well-managed classroom is like an orchestra. The leader or teacher has to act as conductor of this orchestra and with subtle and yet powerful gestures allow the individuals to become attuned with each other. Realistically, this doesn’t occur often but we can increase the chances of it happening by following the spontaneous movements of the group. Essentially, this means becoming more flexible and integrated. So next time you’re running a group or teaching, ask yourself the following:
- What is my real purpose of working with this group?
- How is this purpose congruent with my belief system?
- Are there any rigid plans or ideas that I am holding on to?
- What group need has to be acknowledged and responded to so that we are in flow?
Once you’re clear about your purpose (the one that is yours, intimate and real to YOU!) and you know how it fits with the development needs of the group, you will create conditions for flow. You will have to be persistent – groups themselves are very demanding of teachers. Continue and stick to what you know is true for you. Sooner or later you will see results. At least, that is what I have experienced time and time again. I wish you luck and I hope you can tap into the subtle and powerful forces that shape the groups you teach or lead. Watch the video below… listen attentively… that’s where you need to listen in your groups – beyond the words…
Kate Taylor & Piotr Jusik (international educators)