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40 Hour Workweek

Classroom Management, Education Trends, Equity Resources, Productivity Strategies, Podcast Articles   |   Apr 30, 2023

Finding flow in the classroom: how to teach productivity strategies to students

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Finding flow in the classroom: how to teach productivity strategies to students

By Angela Watson

Does it feel like every year, you have more and more students who COULD be successful in class, but just won’t “apply themselves”?

Are your students prone to shutting down when things are hard, giving up when they don’t understand, and not putting forth the necessary effort to complete assignments?

If so, you’re not alone, and that’s what today’s podcast episode is designed to address. These are struggles that are common to the human experience, and they’re especially typical for young people whose brains are still developing and who are just beginning to learn how to manage their time, energy, and focused attention.

I do think it’s gotten harder to stay focused in our modern world, and the events of the last few years (including the pandemic) along with technology developments have made the strain even greater.

None of these issues can be solved with lecturing, tutoring, additional homework, or having an adult sit down alongside kids and endlessly cajole them to “buckle down” and “stay focused.”

No matter how many times you say to kids, “You can do this; you just have to try,” it won’t change the pattern of behavior.

That’s because kids need strategies for pushing themselves through difficult tasks.

Time and attention management are teachable skills

Imagine if your students had the necessary tools to:

  • Find their flow during school work so they’re totally immersed
  • Take initiative in learning new things and problem-solving
  • Focus on assignments and concentrate with fewer distractions
  • Manage their time well and prioritize tasks
  • Create healthy sleep, work, and play habits to maximize energy
  • Tap into their creativity and use processes of divergent thinking

It may seem impossible now, but these are teachable skills. Through specific training techniques and practice, your students can be taught HOW to learn and HOW to stay focused.

I’m creating a new curriculum line called FINDING FLOW Solutions which is specially designed to help. I’ve been wanting to do this for YEARS but have been so focused on mindset and productivity practices for teachers that I didn’t have the bandwidth to translate that work for students.

I feel like the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program is really well established now to support teachers with managing their time and energy, and being effective and efficient in the classroom, and I’m finally ready to focus deeply on the FINDING FLOW curriculum line for students.

Listen to the audio below,
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You can download the first unit for free at findingflowsolutions.com. This initial curriculum line is geared toward teenagers and older pre-teens. The first set of resources for elementary and middle school grades will be available in time for back-to-school season in August, so if you teach younger students, you can sign up to get notified when they’re available at findingflowsolutions.com.

I’ll share more details about the curriculum that’s ready now for secondary students at the end of the article/podcast episode, but for now, Iet’s back up a bit, and do a deep dive together about what it looks like to find flow and how you can begin thinking about that for your classroom. I’ll also share where the term “flow” originates and why I’ve chosen that as the goal instead of productivity.

Shifting to a productivity co-experiment with students

When it comes to student engagement well, most teachers want to start with actionable strategies. You might be thinking, “I don’t need all the background info. Just tell me what to do. What are the quick tips and tricks that will help get my kids on-task and turning work in on time?”

Our students often think the same way when we ask them to think deeply about a concept. They, too, will often plead, “Can’t you just tell me what you want me to do?”

It’s a natural human tendency to look for the shortcut. We want to skip to the end result as quickly as possible.

And yet, true learning and transformation don’t happen without deep thinking. It requires time and practice to analyze, synthesize, and internalize new understandings.

This is why we want students to be self-directed in their learning and take initiative to figure things out for themselves. We want them to wrestle deeply with concepts and stick with complex ideas when they’re confused. We want them to think critically and engage in the struggle of understanding so they come out on the other side truly owning their own learning, ideas, and beliefs.

Two of the most powerful ways to help students experience this kind of learning are:

1) Explicitly teaching students how to optimize concentration, time, and energy

2) Model these strategies for students with enthusiasm, curiosity, and intellectual humility

That’s exactly what this unit is designed to help you do.

The first and most important step is to shift from viewing learning as something that you’re trying to get students to do and they’re resisting, and instead view learning as something that you experiment with together.

This mindset shift tends to be much more impactful than the practical strategies because it becomes the lens through which you see every aspect of your work and your time with students. Envision it:

  • What if we acknowledged that staying motivated, focused, and getting our work done is challenging, and even we as adults struggle with it?
  • What if, instead of constantly telling kids to focus and do their assignments, we illuminated how our brains work and explored ways to funnel our focus, time, and energy?
  • What if we presented productivity as one giant experiment that we can have fun doing alongside our students?

The resources in FINDING FLOW Solutions will help you and your students internalize this way of thinking, and establish the goal of finding flow in the classroom whenever possible.

Why teach kids about flow theory instead of just time management?

Flow theory was first developed by Hungarian-American researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s, and he continued studying flow until his death in 2021. He describes flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Experiencing flow means you are totally focused on the task at hand, and time passes without you even noticing because you’re so absorbed in it.

It’s not only the optimal state for learning and working, but it provides an optimal experience of being human. Csikszentmihalyi’s research has shown that experiencing flow is fun, gives us a sense of satisfaction about our work, makes learning more enjoyable, makes concentration feel easier, helps us perform at our highest levels, and leaves us feeling energized after working instead of exhausted.

The best part about flow? The ideal conditions for experiencing it are activities that require learning, improving, and applying our skills — not passive leisure activities. Tasks that grow our skill sets and require concentration are the exact type of tasks that make flow easiest to experience.

Therefore, we can intentionally create experiences in the classroom that support students in experiencing flow.

When students understand how flow works and what factors they personally need in order to experience flow, they’ll be able to concentrate, focus, and persevere through tasks much more easily in class. They’ll also be able to use what they learn about flow to help them enjoy and improve in activities outside of school, including gaming, sports, music, dancing, drawing, acting, and creative writing.

Learning to find flow (specifically) and be productive (in general) are both highly personalized, lifelong processes. They can be a fun adventure if you approach these goals through a self-development lens. This means learning about your own needs and preferences which help you show up as the best version of yourself and make a positive impact on the world.

When you see productivity through this perspective, you naturally observe a difference in the way you think about and treat your students. You no longer expect them to just “buckle down and get it done” since you’re aware of all the mental tricks and productivity hacks you yourself use to follow through on tasks. You no longer get as frustrated with kids who waste time because you understand some of the root causes, and you have tools to help.

I prefer the concept of “finding flow” to “managing time well,” because flow implies joy and ease. These are wonderful states of being, and every student (and teacher) deserves to feel joy and ease in the classroom!

What does it look like to view productivity through the personalized, lifelong process of finding flow?

Here are a few key ideas to understand:

  • Most people have not been formally taught strategies for managing their time, energy, and attention … and we need support. We’ve been given tasks and expected to just “figure it out” in terms of managing our time and getting things done. And yet, it’s not that simple, and no one should have to muddle through on their own when everyone is attempting to develop this skill set.
  • Our world is over-stimulating with massive amounts of information competing for our attention, so it’s natural to struggle with processing and prioritizing it all. We are bombarded with distractions constantly, and expected to just “exercise self-discipline” when technology was intentionally developed to be addictive. Kids are often expected to have self-regulation skills and levels of concentration that even adults don’t have.
  • School requires unpleasant, difficult, and uninteresting tasks at times, so it’s only natural for kids to struggle to get their schoolwork done. Given the nature of humans, the developmental capabilities of young people, and the structure of school, it’s unrealistic to expect kids to be intrinsically motivated to complete every task. We will be frustrated (and so will they!) if they’re expected to always complete assignments in a timely manner and put forth 100% effort. Even adults are not capable of meeting that standard.
  • Productivity is a learned skill that everyone can improve in. We can increase our capacity for deep thought and concentration. Certainly, staying focused and getting things done feels easier for some folks than others, but if someone is constantly late, unmotivated, or behind, that person is not doomed to those tendencies forever.
  • There are no “hopeless cases,” including people who have ADHD or are otherwise neurodivergent. Any adult or child struggling with productivity needs to know that there is nothing wrong with them; they just haven’t yet found systems that work for their personality and needs.
  • The most effective approach to one’s workflow changes all the time. A routine or habit will often work well for a couple of days or weeks or even a few months, then just stop working. This does not mean something is wrong with the person or their approach. They just need to be flexible and experiment with different ways to manage their time, energy, and focused attention.
  • Productivity is a lifelong experiment, and there’s no such thing as a failed experiment. All experiments give us feedback about what works and what doesn’t. In an experiment with productivity, we’re constantly tinkering with things, playing around, trying stuff out. We adjust our approach based on the information we learn from the experiment.

I’m inviting you to approach this unit as part of The Great Productivity Experiment alongside your students. This means you can build a toolbox of options to choose from when you’re struggling to get stuff done, and support students in doing the same.

It also means you can release any unreasonable expectations you hold for yourself, your colleagues, or your students about knowing how to intuitively use time well, and instead expect that we’re all experimenting with various levels of success.

Alongside your students, you can create space for low moods and high moods, low energy days and high energy days, and all different kinds of routines and approaches to learning.

The first set of resources is here!

Teachers of younger students can sign up to be notified when resources for your grade level are available and get more information about what’s coming.

Notify me when elementary resources are ready

Notify me when middle school resources are ready

The first two units for teens (grades 8-12) are available now. You can download the Foundations of Flow Unit for free and see if it’s a good fit for your students. If so, as a podcast listener, you have an invitation to sign up for beta testing and get the other 5 complete units for just $35 total. This is a steep discount from what the regular pricing will be.

Want to try the first unit of my new curriculum on productivity for FREE?

Enter your best email address, and I’ll send the Foundations of Flow unit straight to your inbox:

These lessons are designed to be no-prep or minimal prep. You don’t have to master any of these skills yourself before introducing them to students, as you’ll be learning alongside each other.

Each unit has:

  • A teacher’s guide (1 page per lesson): This tells you how to prepare and gives you the key ideas taught in the lesson.
  • An editable slideshow presentation to guide you and your students through each lesson: Teaching the concepts and introducing activities to students is super simple: just follow the prompts on each slide in PowerPoint or Google Slides! Most units have 80-120 slides, all with professionally designed graphics. All video clips are embedded in the slides so you can play them offline and won’t have problems with website blockers.
  • A 10-12 page student self-reflection journal in both printable and typable formats: The length of the journal depends on the unit, but the format is designed to minimize printing and paper use with no filler, fluff, or half-blank pages. You can also assign the journal to students in your LMS (such as Google Classroom) and keep everything digital.

If you decide to purchase now with the beta testing group, here’s my suggested timeline. Try out the first two units with your class this school year. Those first two units, Foundations of Flow and Student-Directed Learning, are great for supporting kids with the type of student-directed projects typically done at the end of the school year. Notice what works and what doesn’t for your students, and let us know so we can make updates over the summer!

Then when the new school year begins this fall, you’ll already have an idea of how Finding Flow fits into your schedule. Use those first two units to set a productive tone for learning right from the start. A new unit will be released each month in August, September, October, and November 2023 so you can continue building on students’ learning.

In terms of beta testing obligations … you can be involved as much or as little as you’d like! If you want to provide detailed feedback and suggestions, you’ll be invited to do so via email and Google Forms. But, you don’t have to fill anything out or meet any deadlines. If you run across any problems or questions as you implement the unit, just reach out!

So to sum up, you can download the free unit now to see if you like it, and purchase the other 5 units for $35 total now through May 31st 2023. That’s the cutoff date for joining the beta tester group.

If you are at all interested in these resources, purchasing now will get you the lowest price…and as a beta tester, you will be the first to have the complete set of all 6 units by November 2023! 

Purchase here

I’ve been sharing productivity practices for teachers for so many years, and many of you have really mastered these skills. I’m so excited to support you in introducing a kid-friendly version of productivity skills to your students. I can’t wait to interact with our beta testing group and hear your input and feedback about how to make this curriculum absolutely transformative for students.

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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