Part 1: Catalytic Flow

We have served many roles in the development of schools. The concept of serving as “Catalytic Agents” in generating “Flow” is a conceptualization of that effort we think fits with our efforts and intent – where our strengths have emerged are in:
• Facilitating development of coherent plans, and preparing materials to explain and support that plan
• Supporting implementation of those plans (primarily through coaching but also drawing on other resources such as collaboration tools)
• Assisting with measuring and monitoring and applying those results in recursive processes in both the strategic plan and the implementation plans.

What we mean by Catalytic Agency:
A. Much of what we think of by Catalytic Agency grows out of what Csíkszentmihályi refers to as ”flow” something we think of as multiple forces moving together with synchronicity toward a coherent and well understood common outcome.
B. The other concept embedded in Catalytic Agency comes from chemistry – where a catalyst serves in a role of speeding up and/or reducing the energy required for a chemical reaction to occur. One characteristic of many catalysts is that they are self-refreshing – the process of catalyzing the reaction restores the catalytic capacity of the agent (some chemists may argue with this oversimplification but it’s a metaphor, ok? Visualize its implications as you will… same could be said for “flow”)

• Increase capacity to generate “flow”
• Stabilize + Build Coherence + Accelerate Focus Finding
• Measure What -> ? When -> ? Then Do What
• Strategic Phasing
• Identifying which factors are adaptable
• Identifying factors which have minimal flexibility (and whether this state can change)
• Identifying where scalability is most complex (intersection of complex factors)

Catalytic map1

Wikipedia on “Flow”
In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields, though has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions.[1] Achieving flow is often referred to as being in the zone.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.

As we reflect on our experiences across a spectrum of schools with an array of stripes and challenges in communities that cross many of the economic, geographic, political, theoretical, operational, and countless other educational “boxes”in our country, we are firmly rooted in our thoughts and feelings about a few things:
1. In this century, we must provide our students with a personalized education – this is not a product, a technology, an assessment; it is applying what we know about learning, what we know or could quickly learn about our students, and how we could better utilize all of this to support every student’s success in learning – going far beyond the minimums and boundaries embedded in the adopted content standards. Does this require a redefinition of the teaching profession and the role of school support operations? Probably – while every school district, and organization we have worked with has devoted resources to having that conversation, progress most often is diverted by other priorities.

2. Malcolm Gladwell suggested around 10,000 hours of focused practice (in Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow zone”) is a fair general guideline for what it takes to utilize one’s talents in innovative culture changing work. This poses a significant challenge when viewed through the lens of our current capacity building efforts in education. Do we even have a measurable sense of how the daily professional practice in our schools, classrooms and school management offices, or how the investment in developing new capacities through our professional development opportunities is even approaching “flow”, let alone having any chance at all of impacting the cultural development of our schools and students?

3. Learning is the pathway to everything, that pathway is open to everyone who has access to it, accelerating progress on that pathway frequently requires support, our challenge is to ensure equitable access and support.

Two papers released last year reflect substantial thought and effort in providing clarification of the challenges we face in schools from two different perspectives. The next two postings feature some clips and thoughts from each which seem to correlate with our notions of catalyzing opportunites in schools. These are definitely recommended reading – we’d lend you ours but they are all dog-eared and marked up.

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