Most educators frequently reflect on their practice including why and how they do things. They are constantly refining their pedagogy asking themselves the questions: Why am I doing it this way? What am I achieving? What outcomes are my actions leading to? Why do I do what I do?
It may be just as enlightening for educators who wish to create engaging learning environments to ask this last question, “Why do I do what I do?” of how they spend their leisure time. As a child, why did I enjoy playing hockey so much? Why do I enjoy kayaking? What is so exhilarating about skiing in powder?
It is usually pretty obvious to us what we enjoy and don’t enjoy so the question might seem unnecessary. But digging further and determining what we enjoy about activities can enlighten some key elements of an engaging learning environment.
Despite the immense amount of technology needed to ski in powder comfortably (boots, bindings, skis, clothing…) there is also a synergistic connection one has with the natural world – of working with gravity, rather than against it, of playing within gravity’s rules but with just a little room to bend them. Like catching a wave on a surfboard or laughing uncontrollably, skiing can capture my complete attention so that nothing else – nothing stressful, nothing negative, not more than one thing – occupies my mind and I escape time. Falling in soft powder is of little worry and even necessary as I try to push my limits in order to enjoy the inherent satisfaction of improvement. There is a little bit of freedom to choose my path, even if the saying is true that, “Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads.” And to be outside all day, in cold fresh air, scanning vast mountain ranges which are on such a grander scale than what I normally see during the week.
I pull from this that I, and I assume most other learners too, crave entering a state of flow; want a challenging and supportive learning culture where mistakes have soft landings; where improvement happens and is recognized as happening; where there is synergy, whether among participant and nature, or among participants; where we are pulled away from what we normally see or get to do; and where there is some level of choice, some decision making, even – because life is like this – if factors like gravity or a mountain guide the way.
My professional growth plan this year focuses on learner engagement: What is it? What are the key factors? And how do we truly know that learners are engaged and not just compliant? I’m keen to learn more and will share it in blog posts throughout the year.