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  • David Zeffie

Joyful teaching

Updated: Mar 14



David Zeffie, Assistant Principal, The Gateway Academy


Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's investigations into 'optimal experience' revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically feel deep enjoyment, creativity and a total connection to what they are doing. His book, published in 1990, references Aristotle who concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness. So it led me to think about 'happy or joyful teaching' and 'happy or joyful learning' where the idea of flow is achieved not through ensuring that lesson observation criteria are met and ticked off, but where teachers and students are visibly enjoying their work and fulfilling a sense of purpose beyond the parameters of a programme of study.


Csikszentmihalyi asks the question 'what is enjoyment' and concluded that the feeling of enjoyment came from challenging activities which stretched a person's capacity and involved an element of curiosity with the added injection of risk. Many of the subjects of his research described the feeling when things were going well as an automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness.


In a classroom situation, with the multitude of variables that exist, it can be challenging to step outside of your teaching, to watch yourself almost, and evaluate whether or not what you are seeing is a teacher who is 'going through the motions' or a highly tuned athlete almost who is involved in the art of teaching whilst demonstrably enjoying the experience at the same time.


I think it is possible that we may have lost sight of what it means to really enjoy our teaching given the disruptors which we have had to bat away during the last year or so. Teachers have become so adept at reshaping their focus to meet the demands of a fast-flowing landscape that to really look inwards and remember why we teach in the first place may have become a little forgotten. As public servants our instinct is to serve, whether as teachers or leaders in our own classroom or across the school. There is no doubt that the joy of teaching comes from many sources - exam results, the lightbulb moments, the positive feedback and peer endorsements.


But really, at its heart, teaching is about sharing your love, passion, interest, energy, research, insights and enjoyment of your subject. To stand in front of a classful of minds is surely one of the greatest privileges that public service can offer. To become engrossed in your teaching so that nothing else matters; to own the moments of enlightenment not for altruistic reasons but so those minds may be piqued by a sense of curiosity and wonder; to demonstrate flow in all its glory where our ability is well matched to the opportunities for action, where there is a balance between challenges and skills and where action and awareness become merged.


But most importantly, where there is no worry of failure.




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