Engagement in the context of Positive Psychology and PERMA relates to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has coined ‘flow’ or the ‘psychology of optimal experience’. Flow refers to looking up from a task and realising you’ve been at it for ages, having lost hours while being completely absorbed in it. “Being at one with the music” or completely immersed are other analogies used to describe high levels of engagement.
The opposite is of course disengagement – and we know the negative consequences that students experience when they’re disengaged. Teachers are also affected by disengagement, with it having a significant effect on absenteeism and lateness, retention rates, professional relationships and performance.
Ideally we want teachers to be passionate about and engaged in their work. The challenge as I see it is to maximise opportunities for this because after all, if teachers are positive and able to connect and relate well to their students, won’t their lessons be more appealing and engaging?
Realistically, there are some jobs and some situations that teachers don’t like and/or find difficult (paperwork anyone?). We are, after all, only human. So what can we do then to maximise our performance when jobs on the to-do list aren’t so appealing?
Seligman suggests using our strengths during these times. He argues that if we are able to put to use personal qualities that come easily to us, we’re more likely to reach a higher level of engagement and enjoyment (and therefore flow) in those tasks that we don’t necessarily love. He’s devised a simple test called the VIA Survey of Character Strengths which is free and relatively quick and easy to use. There’s also another version included as an appendix in his 2011 publication ‘Flourish’ (pp243-265) which I recommend as a great way to make time on a short airplane ride (or alternatively a bus or train commute) go quickly.
I’ve done both tests. I did the ‘Flourish’ one in May last year and learnt (but was not surprised to see) that my top three Signature Strengths were:
i) Love of learning
iii) Social Intelligence
I finally got around to doing the electronic version last weekend. My top three this time were:
i) Fairness, equality, social justice
iii) Social Intelligence
I’m not sure if it’s the result of the tests being done at a different time in my life or whether the results are because of differences in the tests. Regardless, its clear that Social Intelligence is a particular strength of mine (might explain why I do what I’m doing!) and the other character strengths are of no surprise to me. I’m not sure that if someone had asked me before I did the tests that I would have been able to identify them but having them given to me through the results of the test was useful. I can definitely see how they fit and those who know me would attest to their accuracy.
It is important at this point to not be offended or worried about the qualities that don’t come up as your strengths. For a split second I felt a despondency about scoring low in Curiosity and Citizenship (I’m a good citizen – I don’t steal cars!). What’s important is that you recognise that you can’t be everything to everyone and that this test isn’t a measure of your good or worth. It is a strengths test, designed to assist you in working out what comes naturally and easily to you in the hope that you can use these qualities at times when things are unpleasant and to make those tasks more enjoyable and increase your engagement in them.