Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Being in the Zone

I have been reflecting on my teaching journey asking myself whether I provided opportunities for children to be in their element or not. The first entry, I wrote on the day that I was preparing to meet Sir Ken Robinson, can be found here. This one surrounds a young fellow named Brent.
I had the unique opportunity to have taught Brent’s older brother and sister and was acquainted with Brent before he ever entered our school. He was a wild and free spirit and although I was in awe of him, I was also terrified to have him come in to a classroom situation, which might stifle him and ask him to comply with rules that did not match his learning gifts. My principal shared my anticipated angst and as we collaborated and prepared for the start of a new year, I remember him actually feeling sorry for me.
On the first day of school in Brent’s grade one year, he joyously entered the building desperate to soak up as much information as possible. I was captivated by his curious nature and his ability to shut off the immediate world and focus in on a particular interest. I don’t ever remember teaching Brent to read. It seemed as if somehow by osmosis, he just absorbed words and fell into stories with ease.
We had a wonderful bank of windows that ran across the east side of the classroom. One particular morning Brent entered and pointed out all of these different shaped and contrasting unshaped clouds. He then stood there peering out of the windows in silence with deep concentration. I gazed at him and finally asked if he would like to study clouds? His eyes grew wide and with astonishment he asked, “Can I?” My response was, “Absolutely!” I began to clear every bit of work that I had prepared for him and enlisted the librarian to find as many resources about clouds that she could. Brent spent every day for two weeks studying clouds. When other students found information about clouds, they promptly offered it to Brent. He told all of us about his findings, drew pictures and diagrams and recorded information and then with a grand and noticeable exhale, he sat back in his desk chair with sheer exhaustion and whispered “Done.”
And he was.
Brent had been fully engaged in personal, purposeful learning. Sir Ken would say that Brent had been in “the zone”.
And what about me?
I see education first and foremost as a relationship-building endeavour. I suspect I always have. By knowing each individual's strengths, loves, passions and desires, as well as their preferred learning style/s and by using many strategies to collaborate with each student, I hope that I assisted them in being fully engaged in the way that Brent was.
Through thorough planning, internalization of curriculum and strong classroom management skills, as well as being secure in my teaching/learning journey and recognizing that Brent was a key component for me in becoming a better educator, I too was engaged in personal, purposeful learning.


  1. thanks for another great post, Ellyn. If all teachers approached their students this way, I think we would have more engaged students. How do teachers encourage the curiosity of each student in their class without personal burnout?

  2. Thanks Ruth.
    Burnout is a reality that I too have faced and I am not sure it can be completely avoided unless one is so detached from what they do. With that I will speak to detachment first because as a teacher we have to detach ourselves from our work - somewhat. I have been fortunate to have had more supportive administrators and colleagues than not. I am reminded of three dynamic administrators who knew when to send me to a lecture/conference/workshop for rejuvenation purposes. Those breaks immersed with other colleagues are crucial but also the continued support of an administrator or administrative team who celebrates you as a teacher and offers you leadership and resources without pressure, is so affirming and healthy.

    The top two ways that assisted me in remaining even and rational were and are
    1. Personal Relaxation Techniques

    - meditation
    - time honoured for self
    - adequate sleep

    2. Laughter

    - time with close friends
    - even funny shows if need be

    Thanks for visiting Ruth.