Tag Archives: flow

Fresh Year, Fresh Start: How Ridley helps students forge their own paths

Written by Head of Upper School, Michele Bett

A new school year is just around the corner, and it is holding out hands full of promise. It is time for another fresh start, time to discover the wealth of untapped potential among our magnificent community of learners. Who can say what great new friendships will be forged in the Houses of Ridley College, what tests of courage, commitment, and collaboration will be faced on our sports fields, or what giant steps will be taken on the path of success?

Ah, but what do I mean by “success”? What do we at Ridley think we are trying to achieve? I would like to explore – and perhaps clarify – what success looks like from a Ridley College perspective, and to suggest a way for you parents to help.

Sir Ken Robinson’s highly regarded book, Finding Your Element: How to discover your talents and passions and transform your life, might be a good place to begin our exploration. Robinson says that one’s “element” is the convergence of natural talents and personal passions, and that finding one’s element is the most important quest that any of us can have. Finding your element is the quest to find yourself.

This quest involves both an outward and inward journey. The outward journey is the discovery of the opportunities the world can offer. The inward journey includes unlocking a student’s academic aptitude and accepting one’s unique purpose. 

Speaking of purpose, I have been impressed by Richard Leider’s recently published The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better. In this book, the author says that to live with purpose is to actively live one’s values. Purpose is our essence and what makes each of us so special. When we get up in the morning ready to contribute to the world, we are living with purpose, living with meaning. Living like this is not just living – it is living well.

Research suggests that having a purpose requires an aim outside ourselves. Naming our purpose helps satisfy our need to matter and feel worthy. Through a Ridley College lens, we can see three important messages for our students:

  • They are part of something bigger than themselves;
  • They are committing to live a life of service; 
  • They are going to transform a world that needs them.

So when we talk about steps on the path of success, we are saying that the quest for each of us at Ridley is to find our element, our passion, and our purpose. Once we identify these, we need to learn how to live these values every day.

We believe that advisors, housemasters, teachers and coaches can all provide invaluable assistance to students on this quest because authentic learning and discovery thrive in a kind and caring community.

I think that high school is the right time for young people to begin thinking about these things. Students confront a bewildering range of choices and must make decisions all the time, but the most important of these decisions have to do with their own identity and integrity. 

I am reminded of a poem that many of you will be familiar with by American poet Robert Frost, called “The Road Not Taken.” In it, the speaker is walking through the woods, comes upon a fork in the path ahead and wonders which way to go. It is not always easy to know which road leads to success, to one’s purpose. As Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once said, you cannot connect the dots going forward; you can only connect the dots looking back. In other words, despite our best-laid plans, we can never know the future. It is only when we look back on those choices, those experiences, those seemingly chance encounters, that we can discern a direction.

So it is in the poem. The speaker finally chooses one of the roads, recognizing he will never know what he has missed by not choosing the other, but concluding that his choice has “made all the difference” in his life. The Grateful Dead sang a similar sentiment: 

There is a road, no simple highway

Between the dawn and the dark of night,

And if you go, no one may follow,

That path is for your steps alone.

As their popular song suggests, this path, this quest for one’s element, passion and purpose is exclusive, singular, “for your steps alone.” This year, each of us at Ridley will make choices that help to define us as unique individuals and to name that purpose that drives us forward. There is always some risk in making a choice, since we cannot know exactly where it will lead us, but when we look back one day we will be able to connect those dots, to see how our life’s path has led us to become who we are.

Given the various quests of the members of our community and the many pathways that lie ahead of us, perhaps you will understand when I write how delighted I am by the wonderful adventure that awaits us this year. But I also mentioned that there is a way that you could help. Of course, as parents you know your children in ways we never can, but there is one area on which to focus that I think could be valuable. 

Lea Waters, the developer of the Visible Well-Being program (which as some of you know has been adopted by Ridley College), has recently published a study that investigates the relationship between what she calls “strength-based parenting” and educational outcomes. 

A strength-based approach to parenting is one in which parents encourage their children to recognize and use their own character strengths. These strengths may include humour, kindness, self-control, persistence and so on. Waters accepts that emotional warmth and appropriate control are important aspects of parenting, but suggests that awareness and acknowledgement by parents of their child’s strengths helps support the healthy development of the child’s character and personality. 

Furthermore, Waters’ work shows how promoting a young person’s character strengths fosters academic achievement. She found that strength-based parenting not only influences a child’s well-being but also positively affects academic outcomes. Surely, it is good to know that Ridley’s emphasis on our students’ visible well-being has benefits both in and outside the classroom. Universities in Canada and beyond are still interested in student grades, and I believe that our educational priorities, along with your support, provide the best possible environment for young people to flourish academically, socially and personally.

In closing, I want to offer a warm welcome as we embark on our exciting, collective journey of discovery this year. Ridley’s faculty and administration are dedicated to helping each of our students discover their element, passion and purpose, and to thrive in every area of school life. This year will provide many challenges for us all – but challenges are simply stepping-stones to growth when we love what we do. 

Author and speaker Simon Sinek famously said, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.” One of our most important tasks as educators – and parents – is to help your children, our students, find their passion by discovering what they truly love.

Adding Flow to a Positive Education

In recent years, researchers have identified predictors of success as well as keys to living a satisfying, happy life. At Ridley we are infusing the best of this research – centred on grit and flow – into a Ridley education to help instill in our students the lifelong habits they need for success in our global community. At Ridley being a student is about more than passing tests and meeting standards, it is about flourishing.

Flow is an optimal psychological state that people experience when engaged in an activity that is appropriately challenging to their skill level, often resulting in immersion and concentrated focus on a task. This can result in deep learning and high levels of personal and work satisfaction.

If you’ve ever heard someone describe a time when their performance excelled and they used the term being “in the zone”, what they are describing is an experience of flow. It occurs when your skill level and the challenge at hand are equal.

Flow can be experienced in any task, in any field of activity, including academics, athletics, and the arts. Teachers at Ridley try to understand flow in order to help their students optimize their learning. The experience of flow is universal and it has been reported to occur across different classes, genders, ages, cultures and it can be experienced in many types of activities, making it a perfect tool to incorporate into the multinational learning culture at Ridley.

Flow was first recognized by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned psychologist and distinguished professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University. Inspired by Carl Jung, he has spent more than 25 years researching flow, a state of “intense emotional involvement” and timelessness that comes from immersive and challenging activities. Through his research he found that people were most creative, productive, and often, happiest when they are in this state of flow.

Flow is one of eight mental states that can happen during the learning process, which Csikszentmihalyi outlines in his flow theory. In addition to flow, these mental states include anxiety, apathy, arousal, boredom, control, relaxation, and worry.

Flow is the optimal state for learning, as it is where skill level and challenge level of a task are at their highest. This creates an opportunity for learning and intense focus, where learners can even feel that they lose track of time because they are so immersed in the task. Flow is a constant balancing act between anxiety, where the difficulty is too high for the person’s skill, and boredom, where the difficulty is too low.

“Inducing flow is about the balance between the level of skill and the size of the challenge at hand.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow is a dynamic rather than static state, since a properly constructed flow activity leads to increased skill, challenge, and complexity over time. Since skill doesn’t remain static, repeating the same activity would fall into boredom; the flow reward inspires one to face harder and harder challenges, as skill increases.

The experience of flow in everyday life is an important component of creativity and well-being. it is also intrinsically rewarding, the more you practice it, the more you seek to replicate these experiences, which help lead to a fully engaged and happy life.

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow is more likely to happen when students find the right balance between the skills they have and the challenge they face. Pursuing this path can enable them to flow, focus, finish, and as a by-product, flourish.

Ridley Exploring Mindfulness as Part of a Positive Education

Ridley strives to be at the forefront of educational development, to ensure our students become successful members of the global community. For this reason, our school was an early adopter amongst independent schools, embracing positive education as a fundamental approach to learning.

Being on the leading edge of positive education means continuing to explore new ideas and research as it becomes available. This semester, the students of Lower School have been part of a pilot programme to evaluate the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation on students. The programme developed by Jacqueline Oscvirk, creator of The Mindful Family, involves students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 practicing mindfulness twice weekly.

Mindfulness meditation focuses the human brain on what is being sensed at each moment, instead of the past or future. It is a way to calm the mind and develop clarity, calmness, empathy, and positivity.

Within educational systems, mindfulness has shown an improvement in students’ attention and focus, emotional regulation, creativity, as well as problem solving skills. Studies have shown youth benefit from learning mindfulness, in terms of improved cognitive outcomes, social-emotional skills, and well-being. These benefits may lead to long-term improvements in life.

“Our intention is to equip all of our Lower School students with the tools to overcome everyday challenges.” – Hanna Kidd, Lower School Counsellor

There is substantial evidence that skills which increase resilience, positive emotion, engagement, and meaning can be taught to school children. In this way, without compromising either, Ridley teaches both the skills of well-being and the skills of achievement.

“It’s another tool for teachers to use,” says Hanna Kidd. The Grade 7 and 8 students will begin their mindfulness training in early April, with the goal of using mindfulness to help reduce stress and anxiety as they prepare for exams.

Ridley is incorporating the latest research in positive education from around the world. Discoveries such as gritthe ability to persevere through challengesby Dr. Angela Duckworth, and flowthe ability to become immersed in a challenging taskby Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, have already been added. Based on this science, Ridley equips students to deal with the daily demands of life and learning by creating an environment that:

• Generates positive emotions
• Practices mindfulness
• Builds on strengths not deficits
• Models grit and resilience
• Nurtures positive relationships
• Encourages goal setting and accomplishments
• Fuels our vitality

Ridley students are empowered to embrace their individuality, develop who they are, strive for who they will be, and define the lives they will lead. They develop the intellectual, physical, emotional, and social skills needed to succeed. They are inspired to acquire the knowledge, explore the truths, and nurture the values that will allow them to lead flourishing lives.