Saturday, July 7, 2012

Teaching "in the zone"

Flow at Work
image found at 
remember playing baseball and being "in the zone."  At bat, the ball seemed to move slower and appeared bigger.  In the field, I could anticipate where the ball would go before the batter made contact. On the mound, my focus was razor sharp and the distance to the catcher's mitt seemed more like 40 feet away than the actual 60 feet 6 inches.  When I think back over those moments, it was as if every move was effortless, instinctual, and exactly timed.

Now, I am not an expert on being in the zone.  As a matter of fact, I am reading Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly to try to understand this experience better.  Since I have not finished the book yet, I cannot make any decisions based on its suggestions.  However, after reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, I am led to believe that some aspect of being "in the zone" might have to do with the timing of habitual responses to a very specific cue which produces both a physical and psychological reward that acts to "recharge" a state of focus.

Unfortunately, the cue which led to the habit which may have led to being "in the zone" may be terribly difficult to identify.  While the physical responses may have developed over time with training and practice, the "in the zone" feeling was brought on by more than just a simple cue.  If it did, then being "in the zone" would happen more often.  Maybe there needs to be a perfect mixture of timing, temperature, student responses, preparation, attitude, what I had for breakfast, ...

There must be more to the cue that leads to being "in the zone" as opposed to being aware and present.

As a teacher, I find it harder to remember times in which I felt I was "in the zone" in class than I remember being a ball player (which was over 20 years ago).  That is not to say that I haven't had such moments.  I remember having times in class when the questions seemed to flow like a well timed Twitter feed.  The students were all engaged and their eyes were larger in anticipation.  There were no wasted words nor wasted movements.  One activity flowed in to the next with little friction.  Time flew by, yet when class ended, it was clear that significant progress was made.

The problem is not remembering what my "in the zone" class looked like.  The problem is pinpointing the cues that led to the feeling.

So, what does it feel like to be "in the zone" as a teacher?  Are you maximizing your chances of more "in the zone moments?"  Do you reflect on your classes to try to determine which cues led to better interactions with students?  Is your training, professional development, practice, etc. working to help you develop habits of teaching that are conducive to being in such moments?

Have you every been "in the zone" while teaching a class?  If so, how did it feel to you?

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