Happiness and Flow

I’ve been thinking a lot today about happiness because of a book that I got yesterday from the bookstore. The book is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, a psychologist who has spent years studying creativity. I had bought this book before but it hadn’t really done much for me so I sold it at the local used book store. Lately it has been on my mind, so when I saw it at the bookstore last night I bought this copy. This time it is really captivating my interest, especially since flow is such a powerful thing in my life. Flow is the term used to define the phenomenon of perfect focus – when you are so focused on an activity that time doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except the activity that you are doing. I know from my own personal life that flow is an exhilarating experience, one that I look forward to with anticipation and remember fondly when it is over. It is the feeling that motivates me to keep going when I feel like giving up on a project that I have been working so hard on.

One of the things that I have been trying to do is figure out how to bring the phenomenon of flow into the classroom. Children would greatly benefit from flow, and I feel that they probably experience it more than we do as adults. When we are adults we are busy doing all of those things that are expected of us, and not necessarily those things that we want to do. Experiences that involve flow are experiences that are personally satisfying to us, those activities that we are loathe to stop doing in order to do something else. How many times have children told us that they don’t want to clean up, that they want to keep playing? Is that flow? Do they get so involved in their own activities that time seems to stand still and nothing else is important? Probably. Children may experience flow a lot, especially those that are given the opportunity to choose their own work rather than being told what to do all day.

Maria Montessori developed the Theory of Concentrated Attention when she was teaching because she noticed a similar phenomenon. She noticed that when children were involved in a task that was challenging – but not too challenging – it was almost as if they blocked out the world around them and they were completely consumed by the task that they were working on. Montessori judged all of the materials that she used by this phenomenon: if the material led children to this concentrated attention, then it was kept in the classroom. If it didn’t, then it didn’t stay. I have tried to use this same method to determine what types of materials should be present in the classroom. Creating an atmosphere that is conducive to concentrated attention and flow isn’t necessarily hard, but it means that there will be a lot more loose parts in the classroom and not so many manufactured toys. It means that children have more choice, as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Mihaly’s assertion that creating a life where flow is more present creates feelings of happiness and productivity. I haven’t read all of the book yet; this is simply his assertion in the first chapter. He says that in order for us to feel that our lives are meaningful, we need to feel that we are in control of our lives. But he isn’t talking about the material aspects of life. He is talking about the mental aspects of life – our mindset and how we view our place in the world.

So far it looks like it is going to be a great read, and I hope to share more of my insights as I continue reading the book.

Advertisements

Reconnecting With Yourself

Teachers have a knack for putting the needs of others before their own. Children cry out for attention, and very young children have constant needs for teachers to meet. Teachers must also meet the needs of the program that they work for. Demands on teachers are constant, and it is all too easy for teachers to focus on the needs of the others around them to the detriment of themselves.

I struggle every day with keeping a feeling of authenticity in my classroom. Being an authentic teacher can mean many different things to different teachers, but to me being authentic means teaching from the heart, from the wellspring of passion that lives inside you and comes out in the classroom. Teachers do what they do because they are passionate about teaching, but a lot of teachers have lost touch with the passion that they had when they first started teaching. Meeting the demands of everyone around them at the expense of their own needs can quickly push teaches towards burnout. Some teachers find themselves stuck in a rut when it comes to their teaching, preventing the same information year after year until the material feels old and uninspired. Some teachers just feel so drained from the energy that it takes to meet the demands of others that they have nothing left to create new and inspiring material for the class. These feelings directly affect the relationships with the children that they teach.

Are your classroom relationships run down because of a general lack of magic and fire throughout the day? How do you get that fire back and re-ignite the passion and joy that you have for teaching?

The key is to take a step back and reconnect with yourself and with the passion that had you excited to teach . You have to reconnect with the passionate, purposeful teacher that you were and rediscover the reasons why you wanted to teach in the first place. Take a moment and write down any thoughts that you have about the reasons why you started teaching.

Now that you have reconnected with that part of yourself that wanted to be a teacher, it is time to reconnect with that part of yourself that truly loves to teach. You need to define what makes teaching meaningful to you and what part of teaching you enjoy the most. Write down your thoughts and really connect with that part of yourself that is passionate about teaching.

Next you need to think back and remember some of the activities and projects that really got you excited. Some projects that excite you may even be those that you have seen but feel like you can’t accomplish. What kind of projects get you excited? Be specific, and use lots of descriptive words to define the projects.

Finally, think back to the days when you couldn’t wait to get out if the bed and teach. What was it that had you so excited and eager to be in the classroom back in those days?

Hopefully the answers that you have given to these questions have built up a spark, a reconnecting with that passion to teach that is inside you. In later posts we are going to build on this spark and use it to build a foundation for passionate, authentic teaching. Whenever I begin to feel burnt out or stressed about my teaching, I always return to this exercise because it is truly inspiring to reconnect with that passionate part of myself and remember what it is about teaching that I am so passionate about.

Rediscovering My Passion

One thing that I’ve learned from years of teaching is, when stress and burn out hit it is time to slow down. In some cases it is time to stop. Like now. Now would be the time for me to stop and take a good hard look at what I’m doing. What am I doing? I switched jobs because the stress was killing me. Now I am in a low-stress teaching job, one that has been much more enjoyable than where I came from. I have been trying to write a book, but I’m not getting much enjoyment out of that right now. Am I doing what I want to be doing?

The answer is no. I am not doing what I want to be doing. I want to be connecting more. I want to get back to my passions of creativity and curiosity. I enjoyed blogging and writing about creativity and reading and studying about it also. The stuff that I have been blogging about has been great and it is important in the classroom, but everything that I have been blogging about is applicable to the one goal that I have always had in the classroom: to inspire creativity in my students. The problem that I have had is that I have overlooked this goal and focused on the nuts and bolts. I am not a nuts and bolts kind of person, and the approach that I decided to take on these blog posts has been driving me crazy. It is time for me to take a step back, stop, and tie all of this back to my main love, creativity. I love watching students be creative. I love encouraging them to find creative solutions to problems and to be innovative. I love providing them with materials and watching what they do with them in their own creative ways. I love talking to them about a new topic and finding out all of the creative things that they think about the topic, and then going out and learning more about the topic with them. I love it, and it is time for me to recognize that this is where my passion is. It is time for me to take that into consideration no matter what I am writing or doing. No matter what I write, it has to be me, and there is nothing more me than my ultimate passion.

My Yoga Journey

About a year ago I was in school, working full time in a stressful environment, and trying to keep my house in order. To say that I was completely stressed out was an understatement. I was stressed out, burnt out, and working hard just to keep my head above water. I needed some way to decompress.

When school ended for the semester I began to explore options for stress relief. I’ve tried to do yoga on and off throughout the years, but I’ve been intimidated by the skinny people doing poses designed for the mega-flexible. I wasn’t sure if I could get past that enough to try to do much yoga, but I was willing to give it a shot. I invested in a beginner’s yoga DVD and began my journey. I was glad I did. It didn’t take me long to realize that yoga is about letting go of where you want to be and accepting where you are, no matter where that is. So I learned that flexibility doesn’t matter so much as tuning in to myself.

That has been my big take-away from yoga: tuning in to myself. Yoga is about so much more than the poses. It is about connecting with yourself, whether it is the good parts or the bad, and accepting all of those pieces of yourself. Sure, there are parts of ourselves that we would all like to work on, and yoga doesn’t tell us that we can’t work on those pieces. It does tell me that I am okay despite those pieces, and it helps me focus on working on what needs to be worked on.

I needed that lesson because I was giving so much of myself away. I gave pieces of myself away in my job and in my school work. I gave pieces of myself away to my family and my small business. I kept giving pieces of myself away every day, and I did not stop to reconnect with that part of myself that needs to feel loved and accepted, that part of me that is so passionate about what I do and why I do it. Yoga is an important part of my life now because it helps me reconnect.

Writing this post became important to me a few weeks ago because I realized that, even though I was doing yoga to reconnect with myself, I wasn’t truly reconnecting with my passion to teach. My passion for teaching has been driving me for many years, and through the burnout and the stress I have lost my connection to that. Add to that the stress and uncertainty of changing jobs, and through changing jobs the loss of certainty of the direction of the company. I love my company and I love teaching, and I don’t want to lose those things simply because I haven’t slowed down enough to reconnect with that passion inside of me. It is time for me to reconnect, to slow down. All of my previous recent posts have been written in hopes of publishing a book. I believe in every word that I have published here, but in some ways I feel like I am concentrating on the forest and forgetting about the trees. The trees – the children and the relationships that we go back to day after day. The love and the curiosity and the creativity that is let loose every day in the classroom. Those are my passion, and while everything I am writing here is important, it is also important to not forget about these aspects of the classroom.

I have been struggling with writing about taking care of ourselves first, because as teachers we give so much of ourselves away. I have been trying to write about how to get that passion back once you hit burn-out, because that is what I am trying to do right now. Looking at the forest hasn’t helped. It is time to look at the trees.

Broken Relationships

Usually when I post about relationships on this blog, I post about building positive relationships. Today, however, I experienced broken relationships in my classroom, which is why I have felt prompted to write about them.

Child: “I don’t like you, Ms. Sarah. I don’t like your kids, either. I’m going away and I am not coming back.”

These are the words that I heard today when I was out on the playground. Now, the child had taken another child’s shoe and wasn’t giving it back to them, even as the shoe-less child was screaming “GIVE ME BACK MY SHOE!” I told her to give the shoe back to the other child. After she did, those were the words that she said to me.

It had already been a long day before this happened, and for some reason I was extremely tired. I knew this, so I was fighting to breathe and keep my calm through all of the emotional turmoil that seemed to be going on around me today. After all, if the teacher can’t respond to turmoil calmly and consistently, there really can’t be a feeling of safety in the classroom. I had been trying so hard to figure out just why I was so tired and why I felt like I needed to breathe just to get through every moment. I knew I hadn’t slept well the night before, but I didn’t think it would cause the kind of day I had been having.

But I should know better. One of the things that I teach during my workshops is that:

In order to be an authentic teacher, you must take care of yourself first.

Being authentic can mean many different things to many different people, but in order for anyone to be authentic – to be truly them, they have to take care of themselves first. I know that when I sleep at night, I have to have the room cold. If the room is not cold, I will wake up and I will not be able to go back to sleep. I know that I have to have eight hours of sleep a night, or I will have no patience and I will feel bad. And yet I did not check to make sure that my room would be cold. And I didn’t get eight hours of sleep. I didn’t take care of myself first. Because of that, I had a really rough day in which I was tired and low on patience in a room full of three-year-olds.

Teachers are so busy taking care of everyone else: the children in the classroom, families (if they have them), parents, lesson plans, ideas for the classroom, etc., etc. But it is important for us to remember that, in order for us to be able to take care of everyone else, we have to take care of ourselves first. Even those of us in professional development need to remember that.

I saw a great quote on Facebook yesterday about being authentic: “You actually have to practice being authentic, because the world puts so many layers of ‘should’ onto you.” I saw this quote on the page of Baptiste Yoga. I do yoga a lot. I used to do it in the classroom with my kids. I do it at home in order to make myself slow down and breathe and calm down. It is one of the ways that I take care of myself first. I find that if I do yoga and meditate, my patience level is much higher and I can slow down and think things through better before I simply react. Working with any age requires that you slow down and think about how you are going to respond to situations in the classroom. After all, these children are looking at everything we do. If we act emotional and out of control, so will the children. If we act calm and in control, the children will, too. It is important to be the calm that we want others to be. And it is important that we take care of ourselves first so that we can make that happen.

Tomorrow, I am hoping to repair the broken relationships that were caused by my lack of good, quality sleep. Three-year-olds are pretty resilient, so it shouldn’t be too hard. Plus, we are working on making a zoo and we are learning all kinds of cool stuff about animals. I’m sure we can come up with some absolutely amazing animal activities that will help repair the broken relationships of today.

But for now, I am going to bed – in my cold room.

Technology and Curiosity

I ran into this wonderful article from TeachThought about the link between technology and curiosity. I am not that familiar with TeachThought, but one of the greatest aspects of my blogging adventure in the past few months is the journey I have had discovering other people just as interested in education and learning as I am. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.

The Impact of Technology on Curiosity

Integrity Part II

It has been a very long time since the last time I posted. I didn’t realize how long it had been, but looking at the dates on the posts, I guess it makes sense. Being somewhat of a student of philosophy in my spare time, and studying mostly the work of Ayn Rand, it would make sense that I would abhor the idea of altruism. But this weekend, after a time of reflection, I have realized that I have been practicing altruism for several months. The result has been a nightmare that I have continually tried to blame on the circumstances around me, but has ultimately been my own fault.

It started about a year ago, when a conversation with a fellow teacher about curriculum turned into a conversation about summer camp. The conversation was uplifting to me at the time because we were talking about collaborating to plan summer camp, coming up with all sorts of creative ideas and ways to keep the children engaged throughout the summer months. That conversation blossomed into me completing three different summer camp calendars on my own, booking field trips on my own, planning activities on my own, and doing everything for a class that was not my own. And since we got a new director during the summer months, I was unable to enjoy the fruits of my labor, but it was made known to me prior to the new director taking the helm that I probably wouldn’t get to enjoy them anyway. So why did I take on the challenge? At this point I really have no idea, because the collaboration never happened (I wasn’t sure that it was going to happen in the first place) and the end of summer camp fell apart with the changing of the guard. Guilt ran rampant as I tried to distance myself from the implosion, but since I felt like I was ultimately  responsible for summer camp, I felt guilty.

The guilt continued when it came to my own classroom. Since I had been so involved with putting summer camp together, a teacher that had just been hired (with no experience) was put in my classroom. I listened from the office, which was across the hall from my classroom, as my room fell apart. But there was nothing I could do. I was busy up to my neck in planning summer camp. When I was taken off of summer camp duty, there had been complaints about my classroom and I was put back into the room. I was also charged with training the teacher in the classroom, but I was so mired in guilt by that time over summer camp that I couldn’t really do a great job of it, which brought on even more guilt.

It just kept going and going. I switched classrooms and co-teachers. I was given a choice between two teachers, and chose according to altruistic reasons rather than sound, value-driven reasoning. I had talked to the teacher that I chose enough to have the impression that she’d had a hard time and been misunderstood in the past. I figured that if she worked with me, maybe that would help. Instead, it brought me down and increased my guilt as I began to feel like a failure, simply because I could not change her attitude. And when I approached my new boss and explained to her that I couldn’t lower my standards in order to work with her (after I realized my mistake), I was told that I would have to compromise.

A lot has happened since then. I am in a new classroom with a new co-teacher, after going through the needed steps to secure a transfer to another center. I have had to backtrack through my actions and figure out where all of the guilt has come from. And I have had to absolve myself of this guilt and figure out who I am and what my goals are. I have found that when you do something for altruistic reasons, you lose a part of yourself in the process. I have actually felt like I have been unraveling during the past few months, and have worked hard to try to pick up the pieces of myself and put them back together. I have been in the process of trying to start a business in the middle of all of this, and the stress of the guilt has been such that I have had to put the business on the sidelines so that I could figure myself out.

I am very glad that I went through the process of figuring this out over the weekend. I have needed to do this for quite a while, but guilt has a way of consuming you and making it hard for you to see anything else. The important thing is to wade through it and figure out the root of it. That is what integrity is about. I know that if I am feeling guilt, then I have strayed from my beliefs. Sorting through the feelings and the causes of them will help me to get on the right path again. Understanding that my actions have been altruistic in nature can help me to remember the reasons for what I started before I began dealing with life altruistically. I was going to school, and was beginning to think about the business before the summer camp issues began. Maybe I can get back to the place where those things can be a possibility again.