by Susan Usha Dermond

The Flow Learning format provides a template for presenting to groups of every age on any topic. Good presenters and teachers instinctively knows that the audience must be warmed up before being receptive to the information the speaker wishes to communicate. Telling a joke, sharing a personal story, asking students to share one thing they already know about a topic to be addressed…all of these help engage attention and prepare participants for the main ideas of a lecture, class, demonstration, or learning activity. In Flow learning terms, these activities areAwaken Enthusiasm and Focus Attention.

In the field of applied psychology and education much research on perception and attention has occurred in the last fifty years. One of the most recent and entertaining studies went viral and became known as “the gorilla in the room.”  In a summary of research on attention published in Educational Leadership, the common sense conclusion is that  teachers “should use imaginative teaching and management strategies to enhance the development of their students’ adaptable attention processes.”

That sounds like an academic’s description of Flow Learning! First, an engaging activity that brings mind and body awareness to students’ attention, that possibly connects right and left brain and that results in group coherence through a response in unison sets the stage for learning. Because a certain amount of trust and student interest builds over time, a teacher who has an ongoing relationship with a class may not need  this Awaken Enthusiam step. But for a visiting presenter or teacher who does not know a group, beginning with awakening the energy stimulates student expectations and gets the students’ attention.

After an engaging start the group is ready immediately for a Focus Attention activity. In a committee or faculty meeting that might be as simple as asking someone to restate the goal of the meeting and for new items to add to the agenda. For a high school or college class, Focus Attention might take the form of a quick review of new terms or important historical characters which takes the forms of questions all students must answer true or false with thumbs up or thumbs down. Or it might be a video clip or a story.

Awakening enthusiasm and focusing attention, done with sensitivity, result in a state of relaxed alertness that is optimal for learning. Not until this state of relaxed alertness is achieved, is the group ready for the Direct Experience step that will enable learning to happen. Direct Experience may consist of  working in groups, watching a demonstration, role playing, a lecture, or a discussion.

Finally, the unique and expansive contribution of Flow Learning to our understanding of the ideal flow of a learning experience:  Sharing Inspiration. Sharing new insights with others reinforces our understanding and gives an opportunity reinforcement of new learning in the brain. The learning experience is expansive when shared.

This step can take almost an infinite number of forms:

  • For adults:  sharing with a colleague or customer the conclusions reached, writing a summary to be used in a company newsletter.

  • For high school and college students:  giving a presentation to the class, working with a group to apply what is learned, sharing with a partner how one can apply the new insights, or demonstrating mastery on a test.

  • For children:  making a book to share with parents, having one’s work put on a bulletin board, going to a classroom of younger children to demonstrate what has been learned.

This final step of Flow Learning completes the flow of energy from teacher to students to others. By serving as a channel to let the energy and insights keep flowing to others, students benefit by increased power of the flow of energy unblocked.

Aspects of Flow Learning have been touched on by other educators, but not in a way that gives us the idea of a class or lecture as a flow of energy between presenter and participants rather than a passive receiving of information from the presenter.  The name Flow Learning is a fortuitous reminder of the groundbreaking work of a researcher of positive psychology movement, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

In his seminal work Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihaly describes the ideal state of awareness when one is in the state of flow— a focused state of complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. Flow Learning gives us the framework to structure the classroom experience to best foster that state of awareness in learners.

* ASCD, Educational Leadership, vol 50, no. 4,

by Susan Dermond

Parents love their children and want to give them everything they need to become happy, fulfilled adults. In my thirty-six years of working with parents, I have known many who go to extraordinary lengths to nurture their children.

Perhaps you are one of them. You drive them to lessons, enroll them in camps, and get them to all the practices and games for sports teams. I know parents who do all of this plus take their children camping, to science museums, to Scouts, and to temple, synagogue, or Sunday schools. Many of these children are full of confidence, competence, and joy, but many more of them are stressed out. The least disappointment or unfulfilled desire sends them in a tailspin and they pout, cry, or whine. They get bored easily. Their voices are often high-pitched and anxious, rather than relaxed.

These children need the one thing their loving parents have not given them. They need SILENCE.


In order to have any time at all for her own thoughts, to get in touch with her own feelings, to imagine, to create, a child needs to have quiet times. The inner self needs silence and solitude to develop.

Most religions teach us the necessity of being alone in silence as part of their mystical tradition. In Judaism, this tradition is called hitbodedut, a form of prayer in solitude which leads to self-transcendence. In yoga it is called pratyahara, the interiorization of the mind. Saint Teresa of Avila calls it the Prayer of Quiet, a state in which the soul experiences a quiet, deep and peaceful happiness of the will, without being able to decide precisely what it is, although it can clearly see how it differs from the happiness of the world.”

At the end of a week-long class on Education for Life [TM] I asked the parents to come to the last class with one idea of how they would put these ideas about nurturing the whole child into practice.

One couple had an overactive little daughter. The dad stood up and shared that they realized their child had no quiet time in her life. The parents meditated–before she got up in the morning. They had quiet time after she went to bed. But they now were seeing that their daughter had little peace in her life. All of her waking hours she was either at nursery school or at home with TV or radios on and her parents busily cooking, cleaning, and talking on the phone.

They decided to have silence (or relative silence) on Saturday mornings. They would leave off the music, the news, the entertainment. They would turn the phone OFF, and they would not even talk with each other any more than absolutely necessary. Their interactions with their daughter would include quiet play, concentration games, and conversation. They would give her creative materials and let her draw, cut out, glue, and color.

What a wonderful change in this little girl’s life. If she had this sort of environment every night of the week, she would be a calmer, more relaxed child. For these parents, withdrawing from their busyness even once a week with their daughter would open a door for this child.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy and effort on the part of parents to provide their children with a quiet, peaceful environment in which to develop. It goes against the predominant trend of mainstream society. Yet, not to do so runs the risk of children becoming teenagers who don’t know themselves or what brings them real happiness.

Susan Dermond founded the  Living Wisdom School in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of Calm and Compassionate Children. She writes and speaks about spiritual education and teaches yoga.

Source Citation

Dermond, Susan. 2002. Raising Your Child With Spirit: Eloquence in Silence. Tikkun 17(1): 80.