Learning can flow like a child on a raft rolling downstream on a strong current or meander lazily around on a tube on a quiet stream. Learning can flounder on a dry and cracked riverbed. With flow, the learning task is easier and more enjoyable. Without flow, it is difficult to concentrate and persist.

Flow happens when a great challenge hijacks a greater skill honed by labor. And, without effort, there is no joyful, creative learning. There is no peak experience.

Flow emanates from the convergence of attention and persistence and is crucial to engagement in learning. Flow comes to the classroom when students know how to use their strengths to increase their engagement in learning, commitment to learning, and persistence for learning - even when the task is difficult or the barrier is high.

Students climb to the top of the tree, hit the highest note, offer a helping hand, or figure out long division, and in the process - not the outcome, find their flow and fulfillment. The dividend is that students who flow into learning feel the amusement, pleasure, and gladness that emanates from personal best whether they win the race or prize, or not. Teachers cheer students abundantly as they push students past the dam of anxiety and boredom and help them to flow beyond the task.

Flow happens when the mind escapes it’s boundaries and sets the imagination free. Flow does not attend to the barriers, flow moves past them. Flow is effortless absorption in the task, in the moment, in the potential. Flow is the fluid emotional strength that energizes and synergizes interests, aptitudes, and talents perfectly aligned with the task, and wholly absorbed by it.

Flow is effortless energy. Teachers know it when they see it. They see it when students engage patience in the face of frustration, when they help a friend, whey they share meaning, and when they work to improve for the sake of improvement only. Teachers see it when they know it. They announce the emotional strength, they recognize the relationships, they delight in the value of the student’s work, and they applaud personal accomplishment

When students are fully engaged in the learning process, working to find the solution or finish the project, there is learning flow. When the student’s heart, mind, muscle, and soul synchronize the learning, the student is flowing and overflowing.


“If you have a good idea, use it so that you will not only accomplish something, but so that you can make room for new ones to flow into you.” - Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony.



Buck, B., Carr, S.R. & Robertson, J. (2008). Positive psychology and student engagement. Journal of Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives in Education, Vol. 1, No. 1, 28 – 35.

Suttie, J. (April 17, 2012). Eight tips for fostering flow in the classroom. Berkeley, CA: Greater Good Science Center.

Aguilar, E. (March 27, 2013). Beyond student engagement: Achieving a state of flow. George Lucas Foundation: Edutopia


Hollingsworth, P. & Lewis, G. (2006). Active learning: Increasing flow in the classroom. New York: Random House/Crown Publishing Group

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper

Maslow, A. (1962). Towards a psychology of being. New York: NY: Van Nostrand, 1962


Flow: Psychology, Creativity & Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

TED Talk - Flow: the Secret to Happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Web Resources

Slide Show, Flow and Education, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

AVAILABLE NOWPositive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom and is the first in a series intended to help teachers build positive psychology classrooms consistent with affective neuroscience

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About the Author

Patty O'Grady, Ph.D.

Patty O’Grady, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Tampa committed to transformational education. She is the author of Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom.

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