Why Do You Do What You Do?

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.

So, as fall arrives and I start dreaming of the ski season, I’ll examine this last point, “Why do I enjoy skiing in powder?” and try to pull out some insights about engaging learning environments.Winter in Whistler

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.

2 thoughts on “Why Do You Do What You Do?

  1. I think the concept of Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a great start for exploring student engagement. What are your thoughts about teacher feedback during this state of flow? What I mean is that flow involves an intense focus or an intense feeling – sometimes hard to describe exactly how it happens. But when we are learning we need not just feelings but also feedback. As a teacher, how do we not only guide learners to that flow-like place of engagement but also break this engagement apart to study why/how/when it happens in order to reach this state again?

    • Teacher feedback during flow…great question!

      That question makes me wonder how often we enter a state of flow with others and if it is even possible. Do musicians enter flow when jamming or is this something different? I wonder how often – if ever – students enter a state of flow with each other?

      I also wonder how much feedback students are receiving in their state of flow from their relationship with the task itself, rather than from others. Perhaps a student in a state of flow is hyper-sensitive to feedback from their relationship with the task: in waterskiing, one is unaware what the people in the boat might be signalling them to do, but the skier is likely hyper-aware of the relationship of the ski on water. It would be a shame if the student was receiving intimate feedback from the task which was interrupted by “secondhand” feedback from another person analyzing their relationship with the task.

      To answer your question: I’m not sure. Flow seems precious and temporary. Feedback from others can come later.

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