Flow embraces us all…

Since completing my original thesis 10 years ago, the concept of flow has, unsurprisingly, been at the heart of everything I do as a teacher, musician and quality assurance evaluator and local councillor.

Even relaxing, when, for example, I am on a tennis court, I relish those precious moments when challenge, skill and immediate feedback align themselves perfectly, just like the sun and moon. As a result, my game is improving all the time, even though I am relatively a late starter with the bat and ball.

My awareness and appreciation of flow informs my understanding of what I am doing and how I communicate and interact with others. I am proud to be a flow ambassador as I fundamentally believe the more we collectively champion and promote the concept, the wider its appeal and impact.

Books like Investigating Flow, with its focus on composing in the music classroom, should have a wider interest beyond academic researchers like myself and my peers. Flow research potentially appeals to classroom teachers, school managers and governors and anyone else with a genuine interest in seeking ways to improve the education and life opportunities of children.   

There is a huge, huge research pool to dip into; there are currently circa 32,000 schools in UK, 10,250,000 full and part time pupils and 500,000 full-time teachers in the UK.

As anyone who steps through the classroom door knows, teaching is tougher than ever. For definitive evidence, look no further regular news headlines about recruitment and retention of teachers threatening our schools.

Fortunately, the flow message is gathering momentum all the time as I am witnessing  a growing corpus of research that specifically focuses on the usefulness of investigating and facilitating both pupils and teachers in  flow.

Two studies are definitely worth highlighting here and merit further exploration.

Beard and Hoy (2010) conducted an analysis of the nature and measurement of flow in elementary teachers. This is great work and provides useful insights for creating the best teaching and learning contexts. I’d love to see teachers read the research and apply it to their days jobs, just as I’d like to see music teachers read my findings and use the concept of flow to capture the imagination of their young musicians.

Delgado (2017) investigated intrinsic motivation and flow for music teachers compared to other subjects and found that flow experience and intrinsic motivation relate to job satisfaction rather than external reward.

Clearly flow has a relevance and importance away from educational contexts. As a society we want to discover new ways to make work (that can occupy up to 35% of our total waking hours) and leisure more enjoyable and rewarding beyond the pound in your pocket.

One of the challenges of any academic research is how to make it relevant to everyday life. This is because flow is a valid and robust concept that applies to creativity in all its forms.

For example, the North East, universally recognised by residents, visitors, tourists and people relocating to work or retire here, is a beautiful and unspoilt part of the country. The region attracts artists, musicians, photographers, poets, authors, climbers, walkers, cyclists, bikers, birders — in fact anyone who seeks to be moved and inspired by the natural world and a unique heritage stretching back centuries.

All of them are creating their own special moments, although most don’t even know they are achieving flow. Probably the most important aspect of flow is the desire to keep repeating what you like doing only to do it even better and achieve even greater satisfaction.

If people understand how moments of inspiration and excitement can be enhanced by planning and creating the ideal conditions for flow where high and equal levels of challenge and skill meet, then they and North East region can only benefit.