Finding Flow

Head of School, Dr. Jessie Barrie
In my graduate work at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I came across the concept of “flow.” Identified by the Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, flow represents a heightened state of focus in which one’s competency or skill level appropriately matches the challenge at hand, where one feels highly engaged and energized, and where a sense of time or distraction disappears.  Csíkszentmihályi described flow (in an interview with WIRED magazine) as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one...Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost." If you are interested in learning more about flow, check out this TED talk.  

I had a significant experience of flow last week, as I stood in front of the hundreds of grandparents and grandfriends who joined us on November 26. As I shared my passion and pride for the school and saw them engaging so meaningfully with their grandchildren and our community, I was overwhelmed with feelings of flow. As a new Head of School, I admit there are moments when I struggle with “imposter syndrome” and wonder if I have the skills needed to thrive in this significant role. Standing at the podium, engaging with our supporters, and believing in my message created a powerful moment of feeling appropriately prepared and capable for the challenges of the job; of having fun with what could have been a stressful public-speaking experience; of having no sense of how much time had passed; of wanting it to go on forever.  Flow. 

Flow is deeply connected to the concept of intrinsic motivation, where an individual is driven not by extrinsic rewards (grades, awards, money, reputation), but by internal rewards (feeling competent, being challenged, getting better, etc.). As an educator, thinking about how we can design learning experiences that foster students’ intrinsic motivation to learn is critical to supporting joy in lifelong learning and  combating the very real consequences (pressure, anxiety, depression, hopelessness as a start) that can arise from an educational model that subtly or very blatantly celebrates SAT scores and selective college admissions over qualities such as tenacity, creativity, kindness, collaboration, and courage. We ultimately know that these are the very things that will most significantly impact a person’s success as a learner and a leader;  yet many students continue to experience a sense that the true measure of their success is the score on a standardized test or their GPA. This realization can make students terrified of failure (an essential life lesson) and keep them from engaging in opportunities that will build resiliency and help them find their passions.  

As a student, my strongest educational memories connect to those classes and assignments where I found my flow—where I would move far past checking the box of completion or minimal expectation because I was so deeply engaged, appropriately challenged, and enjoying the process. I admit that even the comprehensive exam I took to complete my master’s degree—an entire weekend spent answering a very complicated and layered question about the “No Child Left Behind” educational policy—created a space of flow, as I creatively and comprehensively curated my response from two years’ worth of notes, lectures, research, and deep thought. 

As we focus on Challenging Education at Bosque, one of the ways we hope to do this is by designing educational experiences that allow our students to experience flow and intrinsic motivation. I have seen them in this space as they share their passion for inquiry questions and projects, passionately talk about what they are learning in classes, and find meaningful ways to contribute to our community. I would love to hear from you as you observe them in these moments of flow connected to their experiences at Bosque.

All the best,

Jessie Barrie, PhD
Head of School