Monthly Archives: October 2016

Focus In & Let it Flow

“Stop what you’re doing,” Verena von Pfetten of The New York Times instructs us in her recent article, “Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?).”

She quickly qualifies her directive: “Well, keep reading. Just stop everything else that you’re doing. Mute your music. Turn off your television. Put down your sandwich and ignore that text message. While you’re at it, put your phone away entirely. (Unless you’re reading this on your phone. In which case, don’t. But the other rules still apply.) Just read. You are now monotasking.”

Monotasking — as in, doing one thing.

As in, not multitasking.

A great example of monotasking is, apparently, reading — what people in previous centuries used to do as a diversion from the tedium of life, but now, in the midst of a teeming 21st century life, do to reverse or assuage existential angst, exhaustion, or frenetic distraction. That something as elemental as reading is being rebranded is just further evidence of our becoming untethered from traditional ways of thinking about traditional habits.

For example, Pfetten quotes a 28-year-old writer who revels in the simple pleasure of doing one thing at a time at work: “If I keep looking at my phone or my inbox or various websites, working feels a lot more tortuous. When I’m focused and making progress, work is actually pleasurable.”

Another word for this natural and age-old phenomenon of paying attention to the thing–singular–we are doing is “flow,” defined by Bill Burnet and Dave Evans of Stanford D-School in Designing Your Life as “total engagement.”

Say Burnet and Evans, “Flow is engagement on steroids. Flow is that state of being in which time stands still, you’re totally engaged in an activity, and the challenge of that particular activity matches up with your skill — so you’re neither bored because it’s too easy nor anxious because it’s too hard.” People experiencing flow describe all manner of benefits including “ecstasy,” “euphoria,” “calm,” “peace” and “the feeling of disappearing.”

That feeling of increased dopamine that we experience when we repeatedly check our inbox or get lost in a chain of text messages can also be triggered when we focus in and let it flow. Monotasking — doing whatever we are doing in fullness with focus — is still the gold standard of really getting things done.

Instructional Coaching’s 1:1 Hinge

I was lucky to be in Kansas last week with Jim Knight, a leader of the Instructional Coaching movement in education. I heard about instructional coaching a few years ago from a forward-thinking friend in education, Matt Horvat, who had just created a new position at his school in Redmond, WA, for the express purpose of giving teachers some targeted support in their classrooms. At the time, I wondered whether teachers would want to work with an on-staff coach. Now, I am convinced that if done the way Jim Knight suggests, instructional coaching is not only a sound idea but a necessity in any school committed to constantly improving teaching and learning.

Successful instructional coaching relies on a few simple things: 1) the coach is not an administrator responsible for evaluation; 2) the teacher wants coaching and has a goal in mind; and 3) the coach and the teacher engage in an equal partnership where learning is the outcome of co-created dialogue, experience, and feedback. The hinge, though, is likely 4): the coach and the teacher work one on one. In a world where time and attention are perhaps our most valuable commodities, this one on one relationship remains the heart of learning. As I participated in Jim’s workshop, I considered how his coaching approach mirrors the ideal student-teacher relationship, where grades are not given, the student knows what he/she hopes to or needs to learn, and the student and teacher both adopt a learning stance.

During one of the seminars, my eyes began to wander around the room and landed on a dynamic but silent scene. A hearing impaired educator was sitting across from a woman dressed in black who was engaged in translating Jim’s words into sign language. The interpreter was using every element of her face, hands, and body to communicate and connect with the educator. They appeared to be locked in full communication with one another. Both parties clearly wanted to be there and to connect; their desire to learn from one another and to gain knowledge was palpable.

I thought as I watched, this is the dance of education — the sharing of information, the listening, the responding to, the feedback about, the final analysis or the decision to keep thinking — and it is sometimes the most profound when done one-on-one.

All of the content published on this blog is the original work and intellectual property of Jessica Flaxman.