Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Are you (and your students) in the zone?

“You’re almost unconscious to what’s going on around you. It’s literally the most peculiar feeling. It’s like being in a tunnel but you don’t see anything else. You just see what you are doing. Time changes. Somebody could ask you how long you’ve been doing it and you could have said twenty minutes but it was actually nine hours.” That’s how Ewa Laurence, the most famous billiard player on the planet, describes being in the zone and I guess we all know what she’s talking about. You start doing something you love and are good at, and the rest of the world seems to disappear. Time flies and you feel energetic even after spending hours doing one single task.

The concept of being in the zone or in flow appeared in the 60s. Psychologists have studied how sportspeople and artists enter a state of complete absorption when doing what they love. The one task at hand absorbs them completely and, without making the conscious decision to do so, they lose awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs.

Is it possible to apply this concept to education? Well, Sir Ken Robinson, one of the most well-known experts in the field, talks about this state of mind in his book “The Element” (for a summary of the book, click here). According to him, we can all experience this frequently if we recognize our unique talents. He encourages us to discover what we are naturally good at and realise how one activity ignites our passion. This activity we enjoy so much is what he calls “the Element”. It’s not something you like doing; he explains this task should give you a sense of identity, purpose and well being. The book is full of testimonies of people who have discovered what their Element is. They are successful and happy with their lives but in the past a big group of them weren’t considered talented and some were utterly miserable because they didn’t do well at school. Sir Ken says, “Many of them did not discover what they could do-and who they really were- until they’d left school and recovered from their education.”

Can school become a window to another world? Could we help our students discover what their personal passion, their “Element”, is? Would it be possible for them to enter “the zone” while in class? Well, I believe we can (and we should) help students achieve their full potential. We want all children to see schools as places where they are inspired to experiment and discover what their true passions are. Will the system allow them to do so? Well, things need to be transformed but, for the time being, I’ll just do as much as I can. I am a big believer in the Gandhi quote “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” These are some of the things I have started doing:

  • Remember all the time there are no “weak students”. Every child is born with different natural talents. Some skills are evident at school, but others are not. For more than 30 years Howard Gardner and many others have talked about multiple intelligences. Recently, I’ve been creating more and more activities where all kinds of students (those who are visual, hands-on, auditory, etc) can learn more efficiently. 

  • Help students identify skills that the system (or themselves) have not noticed yet. I’m encouraging students to try out new things so that they can find what they really enjoy. Experimenting with new activities is fun and when they find something they feel passionate about I stimulate them to continue doing it. 

  • Encourage students who already know what they love to follow their paths (even if it I truly believe they won’t make a living out of it). Why shouldn’t I take their dreams seriously? We live in an era of constant change. Nobody knows what the world will look like in 10 years so who says being a lawyer will be better than being a painter? 

  • Help students overcome some of the obstacles in their way. Teenagers tend to imitate their peers and they usually adapt to what parents and society wants, but sometimes finding your Element means swimming against the tide. If a student is not confident enough, he will follow the crowd and forget about his passions. Let’s help them keep their visions in the face of resistance! 

What else could we do to foster student development? What do you think?

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