STOKE: What surfers know and why teachers should care?

This is a fantastic guest blog from my colleague Paul Horrell @hozmeister . He is a brilliant teacher and needs your help with this blog post! Happy reading!

You can read more about when he won a UK Innovative Teaching award here:

Here he is: What surfers know and why teachers should care?

I have just read an article entitled “What Surfers Know, and Why Parents Should Care”. The article is about inspiring children. Although I’m not a parent, I am a teacher, so it’s my job to inspire children.

I’m also a surfer. Now I generally try not to fuel the usual surfer stereotypes, but sure, on occasion I’ve been known to use the term “stoked” (hey, it’s no “gnarly”, dude!). It’s a term Mihaly Csikszentmihaly elegantly defines in the article as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.” (“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”).

I am relatively new to teaching (3 years) compared to surfing (25), so I’m still learning to trim. But it seems to me that in order to inspire children – students – we first need to get them stoked. “When they’re stoked,” Lisa Pliscou says in the same piece, “they’re carving out neural pathways in their brain that support the habit of being curious, engaged and passionately involved. Isn’t this the kind of person we want them to be—now and down the road?” I know that’s the kind of person I want in my classroom.

I love the idea of giving “the gift of stoke” as Pliscou puts it. So I have a mission – to get my students stoked.

It’s not a new mission, because I’d like to think this is my objective every time I come to work. But from now on it’s a more focused objective (hmm, it might even become the lesson objective). It’s also not an easy mission, despite working at an innovative school, because one man’s stoke is another man’s boredom. In the same article Eric Jensen, the author of Enriching the Brain, says “We all have to find and nurture our ‘stoke’—our favorite unabashed bliss. It brings energy, vitality and meaning to our life. Without it, we’re confronted with one intractable problem after another. With ‘stoke,’ life is spiced with a never-emptying shaker of positive energy.” The article goes on to say “There is a strong and proven correlation between stoke and enhanced performance, skill development, motivation and personal growth. There’s also a powerful correlation between happiness and overall well-being.”

The way I see it, if I can get the young people stoked on life, then the learning part will take care of itself. The connections between their stoke and their learning will be made by them. Never again will we hear “why do we need to learn this?” Or – if we still do, perhaps it’s a valid question after all?

My reason for this post on the chickendude’s blog is to ask for ideas. I’m certain this mission of mine is shared by many reading this now, and am equally sure you will have great ideas on how I begin to achieve my goals. Please, comment below your thoughts and findings or get in touch: directly.

The first stage is surely to lead by example – to show our students how passionate we are about our own lives – whether it’s our teaching subject or something outside of school doesn’t really matter, only that we are completely stoked about it. Lisa Pliscou, asks “While the big question is ‘What gets your kids stoked?’ an equally important question is ‘What gets YOU stoked?’.

My final thought is from Physician Joel O. Ying, MD, who states “Getting stoked and excited about life is about feeding the fires of creativity, expression and achievement.”

Isn’t feeding the fires of creativity, expression and achievement exactly what education is about?

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