Category Archives: Reflection

Teen Programs: 3 Improv Activities That Will Give Your Students Skills For The Job Hunt

By Engager Lawrese Brown

I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop, “Improv For Job Seekers,” to a group of high school graduates. When preparing my curriculum, I thought carefully and critically about the skills that enable people to job hunt effectively, because those skills would direct the improv activities of the session.

arts-connection-teensMost students selected the session because “improv makes you quicker on your feet and that’s important when interviewing.” While communication skills are definitely a key piece of the job hunt, I also wanted students to enhance the less obvious, but no less important skills that would help them land a job. Skills like listening, creativity, attitude, collaboration and problem solving. This article highlights 3 key activities you can use to help your students hone these skills.

Activity #1: Last Word Response (Job Hunting Skill: Listening)

Instructions: “Who would say they are a good listener?” Most students did, and many nodded their heads in agreement. “This game Last Word Response, how well you listen from start to finish. In order to succeed at this game, you have to remain fully present because your sentence or phrase must start with the last word the person before you used.

For example, one student may start by saying a general phrase or sentence such as “I love cats,” the next person then starts their sentence with the last word of the previous person’s sentence and could say something like “Cats are cool pets,” the next person could say, “pets are named after people,” etc. Uh oh. For most of us – professionals young and mature – we’d make a case that listening is paying attention when someone else is speaking, but we’d also readily admit that while someone is speaking we are also thinking of what we want to say.

Takeaway: Sometimes we can get away with not listening until the very last word, yet other times (like when the hiring manager asks a two-part question in an interview – “What’s your greatest weakness? How have you been improving in that area?”) – it can cost you. The students – when they weren’t caught not listening – said it best, “when you actively listening its easier to make connections with the speaker,” and that’s critical when interviewing, networking and communicating.

Activity #2: Blind Line-Up (Job Hunting Skills: Creativity, Problem Solving)

These days’ companies want all their professionals to demonstrate creativity, because that quality is at the root of innovation. Companies want professionals who are going to push them to do things differently than they’ve done them before and that’s the
exact purpose of the game, Blind Line-Up.

In this game, students are given three team tasks, such as lining-up in alphabetical order by first names, lining up by the #of minutes in their commute this a.m., or lining up in height order. Sounds easy right? The students are them prompted to complete the task in one of the three ways: with their eyes closed, no talking, or my favorite – with their eyes closed and no talking.

Takeaways: Many students incredulously inquired “how can we do this with our eyes closed?” All professionals can relate to feeling both confusion and resignation when faced with a new challenge or trying something for the first time. Yet, somehow – despite the uncertainty, lack of resources, stipulations, and roadblocks- we get it done, just as the students did. How? Because we tried, adjusted, and tried again. The students didn’t succeed at every task the first time, and that’s good because immediate success wasn’t the point. As students noted, “it was about finding new strategies,” “being resourceful” and ensuring “everyone was on the same page or using the same method to communicate.” The latter is what enables us to approach and solve problems in new ways.

Activity #3: Pass The Gesture (Job Skills: Collaboration, Attitude, Initiative)

Ask any high school student or professional about group projects and teamwork and there’s a collective sigh. Because of rough experiences, “some people are lazy and don’t do work,” “its easier by myself because I have high standards,” and “there can be a lot of miscommunication,” – many of us have decided that’s it better to execute any new project alone.

The only problem with that is everything about succeeding in a job has to do with how well you work with others. And that’s why being able to work in a team and being a good team player is important.

In the game, Pass The Gesture, each student says a word/phrase (ex. Yes, excellent, BAM, woo, etc.) and does an accompanying gesture (stomp your foot, snap your hands, spin, etc.). If student #1 starts by saying wow and throwing their hands up then each student in the circle has to do exactly that, say wow and throw their hands up, until we’re back at student #1. Student #2 then initiates a new, different gesture and word that everyone must repeat around the circle.

Takeaway: What inevitably happens is someone does a gesture that is too big, too much, too new and maybe even too complex (ex. Dougie, headstand, etc.) that other individuals shy away from fully attempting it. For example, instead of saying wow with the bright, confident tone of the student who started it, we let out an unenthusiastic, low “wow” or if we’re led to lift our hands way above our heads it’s tempting to lift them just above our shoulders.

hudson-river-museum-teens-1When these moments happen, I ask, “How much more confident do you feel as a leader when you know your team supports you?” Or “how much better is it working on a team when we know others are as fully committed to doing the tasks as well as we are?” Its those things – being able to rely on others and being fully committed to a common result that build trust. Also, how we approach something demonstrates our attitude and our attitude is critical to our success. Would you hire someone who complained whenever the company had to adjust or pivot on a project or would you hire the person who was enthusiastic and demonstrated a “can-do” attitude? As one student noted during their final reflection, “attitude is everything.”

The Balance Between Initiative & Flexibility When Working In Teams

By Engager Lawrese Brown

The Blind Leading The Blind. That is literally what happened when I was facilitating a Blind Trust activity for a group of teens. During the activity, each person guides their partner around the room by their fingertips while their partner’s eyes are closed.

At the end of the activity, I asked the pairs “How did it feel to be led? How did it feel to have your eyes closed?” That’s when one of the pairs said, “We both had our eyes closed as we moved around the room.”

de298b_55847c546b2247039f8ca70e92f4db12mv2I was intrigued. I’d facilitated this activity frequently and never had that happen before. I then had the remaining teens do another round where both people in the pair tried to navigate around the room with their eyes closed. The final round was absolutely comical, but also a critical “aha” moment for us. As one teen said, “You need someone to lead so that you have direction.”

We know that you need leaders and followers, but we don’t often talk about the skill it takes to lead (initiative) and the skill involved in following (flexibility). As an instructor, it was the perfect demonstration of improvisations reliance on both. The final round showed us the importance of being both enterprising and easygoing when focused on achieving a result.

There is a tendency on teams to think in extremes – either you are easy going and go with it or you are being assertive and taking charge. But what would happen if we celebrated teammates that demonstrated both qualities equally?

If you’re too easygoing, you’ll never take action. And if you’re too assertive, you’ll leave no room to adapt. As the activity fundamentally showed us, progress (movement) and success (not bumping into anyone or anything) relies on a balance of both.
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Imagine how we would shift our behavior on teams if we knew that every time there was a department project, the team’s ability to reach the desired result was the only metric we were judged on. There wasn’t an opportunity for you to say, “Well I did my part…” or conversely, “Well I did what everyone else was doing…”

de298b_3037f3252cdf40639a372277971b37c4mv2Accepting that teamwork requires a balance of initiative and flexibility (or leading and following from all members of the team) is the best way to hold everyone accountable for the times final result. Both improv and teamwork are like having a great conversation, it’s not just what you say that’s great, but it’s also what others said to you. That balance is where the magic happens.

November #YesAndTube Recap!

What a month November was… We are looking forward to a chill December and a rocking New Year! If you missed our November videos, here’s a recap. And don’t forget, you can subscribe to our Youtube channel and watch them as they roll out every Monday!

November 7:

November 14:

November 21:

November 28:

Election Response

Dear Friends of The Engaging Educator:

The last week was difficult for many of us here at EE. I can say without hesitation, as a 100% woman-owned and operated business, we’ve had a rough week. Personally, I’ve found myself in a myriad of emotions – from sad, to rage, to charged, to distracted, then back to sad. And you know what? It’s all ok.

This isn’t a plea to move on. This isn’t an ask to cheer up, or to protest, or to rage, or to make beautiful things. It IS an ask to start listening better. We at EE maintain that listening and communication are essential skills that we all need to be better at.

The two most powerful things I’ve seen this past week – the first, a post on Twitter from a friend: “Request: stop dictating how others are handling their grief/confusion/fear. It only divides us. Just be a good human, please.”

It is ok to be whatever you are feeling right now. People have been giving flack for posting happy photos, or ‘normal’ posts, or Harry Potter quotes – and if you’re just ignoring what happened, that’s on you – but do not criticize how people are handling this. We’re all different. Let everyone deal with grief in their own way.

The second was a friend’s photo from the protests in NYC. She had captured a sign that said “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” We will all grow from this – I refuse to believe this is the downfall of all that is good in the world. After we grieve, we take action.

More on our post-election thoughts here, in our weekly video. I’ll let you decide to watch it or not:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB6CL-AXHxY

Finally, just take care of one another. I’ve hugged more people in the past week than every, and while a hug can’t save us from the hate in the world, the fact we are all in this together can. Elevate each other, look out for one another, and again, listen better.

Yes, Anding and Elevating Ya’ll Forever-
Jen Brown, Founder
The Engaging Educator

On Flexibility As An Instructor

By Engager Jill Frutkin

I love it when educators come to class. There is a knowing look when I tell them I was an elementary classroom teacher for years.

You can plan the world’s greatest lesson – complete with the most appropriate standards, the most engaging materials, the most thoughtful grouping – and then there’s a fire drill. Or half the class is absent. Or what you thought was engaging is actually totally boring to them.

copy-of-img_4469To be a great teacher means you think (and eat lunch, and do most things at work) on your feet. You need to be taking the temperature of your students needs constantly, and re adjusting accordingly. Something you did not expect is always going to happen – and this is actually a very good thing.

By being in the moment and paying attention to how students react, you can seize the real teachable moments. The combination of planned activity, uncontrollable circumstance and a listening teacher ready to respond creates an ideal environment for real learning.

I found this to be true in an EE improv workshop this fall. I was leading a session in an office with a team of employees, focusing on team building, agility, and communication. I started the session with my favorite warm up, “Rubber Chicken”. The exercise aims to connect our bodies with our voices with our heads and our hearts. We shake out our limbs (body), while loudly counting down from 8 (voices, heads) and making eye contact with someone in the circle for each limb (hearts). It’s a great exercise to bring a group together, warm up, and create a safe, unison space.

copy-of-img_4484Before we started, I modeled how the exercise looks and sounds, shaking my arm and loudly counting to 8, projecting my voice and connecting it to my movement. I noticed a few alarmed faces, and told them not to worry, we’d be doing the exercise in unison, so that nobody would be listening to any one individual voice. The alarmed faces told me that volume level was a definite no-no. We couldn’t be that loud – people were working down the hall.

For a split second, I froze. I didn’t want to offend or upset anyone, and this was not a great start. Then I turned the moment into a lesson. I was there to teach flexibility, and this was an opportunity to model agility in the moment.

I thanked the participants for letting me know the parameters of the room. Then I pointed out that the objective wasn’t to be loud – it was to warm up, and to connect our voices to our bodies. We could easily keep the same intention and intensity with a quiet volume. I made my agility transparent – thinking aloud with participants. When a situation you didn’t expect copy-of-img_4461comes up, one way to imagine a solution is to look at what is most important. In this case, the warming up and connection was most important, not the volume. We could easily make the adjustment and continue with the exercise.

It was a fantastic workshop, and the participants were engaged, joyful, and reflective. The moment of flexibility was a great lesson to me – it deepened how I see an exercise I use daily – and I hope that by making my agility transparent, I modeled flexible thinking and problem solving. I truly believe that using the principles of improv help us find valuable teachable moments in every situation.

#YesAndTube Rollout Recap!

Wow, we just completed out first month of weekly #YesAndTube videos! You can watch all the weekly tips below, plus subscribe to our Youtube channel and watch them as they roll out every Monday!

Happy Birthday, EE!

OMG, we are FOUR YEARS OLD TODAY!!! Thanks to the Engagers and Staff who took a little time to share something they’ve improved upon during their time with EE, or something they love about their job!

IMG_9948As a new member of the EE team, I’m excited to Inspire others to feel confident in front of a room, whether it’s for work, their hobby, or even just a gathering of old friends and new. Feeling comfortable in your skin is something that I’ve learned is so important when being your most genuine and authentic self! All my love, Jen – Jen Glantz, Engager

Being an engager is a dream job: I get to meet new people and learn, laugh and improv(e)! It is endlessly satisfying to see how improv – and the EE ethos – helps us listen, communicate and make progress on our goals. I feel so lucky to work with such an inspiring, smart and caring staff of women as we grow and expand. Happy Birthday, EE! Let’s all eat cake! – Jill Frutkin, Engager

museummashup-2016_24464992703_oAs an engager, I have learned the enormous potential held in every single person. I have witnessed what is possible when we come together to explore how to share our voice with the world. – Minna Taylor, Engager

I love working with people who are so enthusiastic and passionate about the work they’re doing. I love feeling like it’s okay — encouraged, even! — to be excited about the work we’re doing and the folks we’re doing it with. – Shaelyn Amaio, Social Media and Graphics

I’ve definitely improved on initiative taking and thinking outside the box for creative admin solutions! Working with a team of people who are all creatives, not to mention just awesome people, makes admin work a joy! Plus, I love that our team is all women! – Erin Moncada, Admin Director

image5What I LOVE most about being an Engager is being a part of a group of bad-ass (can I say that?!) women who bring a varied set of skills, strengths, and accomplishments to the table. I’m inspired every time I co-teach, observe, and speak to the fellow engagers. The Engagers and the professionals that take EE’s classes always challenge me to bring my A-game – and no two classes are ever the same. I’m undoubtedly a better facilitator and educator because of my time with EE, and I’m looking forward to another amazing year. – Lawrese Brown, Engager

I LOVE my job. How many people get to say that? I get to help people get out of their heads and feel good about their communication. Not to mention, it’s fun! Seriously, huge love for EE, the other engagers, and all the wonderful people we’ve had the privilege to teach. – Olive Persimmon, Engager

improv. jpgWhat I love most about being an Engager is what I learn from students. A lot of people think that teachers are the ones with the answers, but I’m constantly being taught by the people who take my classes. It’s so inspiring to see how bravely people embrace something so foreign to them and it makes me more courageous in my life and work. – Molly Anne Coogan, Engager

Engaging Educator has made me more fearless! I love being part of a team of fearless woman who take risks and ‘yes…and” to success. – Hillary Murrell, Engager

EE Announces Weekly Video Series!

FRIENDS!!!!! We have exciting news: Starting in October, we will be posting a new video each Monday, with improv tips, tricks, and lessons you can take and use in your life!

Here’s the announcement video from our Founder, Jen Brown:

Also… JUST KIDDING!!!! We couldn’t wait until October! Here’s the first one!

Doing Something: Reflections on Year 1 of SECCA Summer Art Camp

I’ve been busy in North Carolina.

Now, I moved for all the right reasons – love, a need for a life, a quieter pace. While I do have that, and a healthy work life balance, I’m still working a lot. I haven’t been vocal on the company page, EE Twitter or my personal Facebook (happily deleted) – it’s been absolute bliss following my little EE heart, experimenting with the things I couldn’t afford to experiment with in NYC. This makes for a busy schedule with ideas that get the follow through they deserve.

The Outdoor Gang goes on an adventure

The Outdoor Gang goes on an adventure

This summer I had the pleasure of co-teaching and co-creating an Art through Improv Camp with the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. Full disclosure – I got to do all of this with my husband, Alex, who is the Programs Coordinator at SECCA, so it was pretty awesome right there. But it was the first time in a long time that I got to create a public museum program with improv where it wasn’t my job to focus on the art-making and gallery component. Improv was an equal component as a way ‘in’ to the exhibition. For the first time in my little museum educator turned improv educator turned business owner and educator heart, I got to run with ideas.

The entire week was one success after another. I think it can best be described from the difference on the first day and last day: SECCA’s awesome Executive Director Gordon Peterson came down on the first day to say hi to the campers, and they looked at him like…well like he was a fancy guy in a suit. These kids were QUIET. And SHY. SILENT might be the best word. They basically uncomfortably stared at him until he stopped talking and left.

I think at this moment Alex got nervous that we (I) were (WAS) crazy.

We started in the gallery with Keith Haring and created our very own Pop Shop Prints, which were available to the public. In the afternoon, we focused on repetition within improv, to echo our repetition within printmaking.

Zip Zap Zop was like pulling teeth.

Gallery Talks

Gallery Talks

Slow, scared, and just a general ‘nope’ attitude. But slowly, I saw the kids taking little risks, even on that first afternoon. Being a bit louder onstage. Slowly taking the lead and initiative in scene work. By the end of the day, we played Hot Spot – and a few kids balked at it. For those of you who haven’t experienced my ‘way’ of playing – one person stands in the center of a circle and starts singing a song. When the people on the outside of the circle know the song, they start to sing along, backing that center person up. The moment someone on the outer circle thinks of a new song in relation to the song that’s currently being sung, they tap the center person, take their place and start the new song. Up to this point – that’s how Hot Spot is traditionally played. It’s a pretty standard improv game. You don’t want someone to ‘die’ in the center; you always want everyone to look out for each other.

I make everyone go.

The kids take the stage!

The kids take the stage!

Yep, everyone has to sing. And you can’t get out of it – because as I tell students, kids and adults, I will wait. Before people start thinking that I’m some kind of crazy horrible person that makes people sing in public spaces in front of strangers for fun, here’s the thing: chances are, singing in public in front of strangers with no backup music to hide in will most likely be the scariest thing most people do that week. Sometimes even that month. I’ve heard people say it was the scariest thing they do all year. People fear public speaking more than death – singing? Forget it.

But think about it – you do this and the world DOESN’T end. You don’t die. You get nervous, people have your back because they are also scared shitless and you all win. And the kids behaved JUST like adults do – fear, trepidation, nerves. Kids saying, “Not doing it.” Me saying, “Too bad, do it.” And as usual, they nailed it, went home and I collapsed, exhausted but believing in this crazy idea that improv really does magic.

Fast-forward to the next day when the kids asked to do more improv than art, and ASKED to play Hot Spot again. I asked the girl – the same one who had the most trepidation around the game – why she wanted to play it today. And she said, “I was scared yesterday, but I did it and it was fun and worth being scared. I learned a lot.” (Kid, please remember this in life and tell it to all of our clients and potential clients.)

Indoor Art-making Fun

Indoor Art-making Fun

Fast-forward to the third day of camp when they asked to do improv first, before art. Improv at 9 am is not for the faint of heart, but this crew nailed a group scene with 9 people onstage at once, all sharing the focus and on the same page, with a scene that gave me goose bumps because it was so fluid, so focused and so good – this after practicing sharing focus in relation to composition within art.

Fast-forward to the fourth day, where they decided they wanted their parents to play improv games in the final culmination. Also, we were working on wrapping up some art projects in the afternoon, and Gordon’s wife Nancy came by to see camp. Since we were doing art, I asked a few students if they wanted to do a quick improv game to show Nancy what they’ve been working on. Three girls jumped up, killed it and walked off like no big deal. Shyness around random adults? Gone.

Fast-forward to the last day when they led their parents through the galleries, showed them their favorite art, taught them printmaking, and performed a 30 minute improv show better than 75% of my ex-improv team performances, complete with a parent segment. Afterwards, the parents that were onstage said they had a new respect for thinking on the fly (YES AND) and to what their kids did so seamlessly (YES AND). Oh and the first day awkward visit from SECCA’s Director? Gordon came back on the last day, and the kids were completely comfortable around him, grabbing snacks and walking around like they owned the place. Casually saying hi like it was nothing at all. Same shy, silent, scared kids + 5 days of improv.

That progression from a group of nervous kids to an ensemble who exhibited more comfort and confidence in a contemporary art museum than I’ve seen in a lot of adults – that’s why I do what I do. EE came out of me noticing that museum professionals, specifically educators, didn’t follow the visitor enough. Agendas surpassed interest – whether those agendas were museum orientated or personal or both – and I’ve seen too many programs that were curator-lite, focused more on academics and content regardless of the audience. And that’s lazy museum education behavior.

Non-stop glamourBut this program – we planned, but were ready to be flexible. Maybe it was because I co-taught with my husband, who has seen the incredible power of improv and focusing on your audience instead of going through the motions, but we were open, ready and able to follow the group. They wanted to do improv first, great, done. They wanted to take the structural elements of sculpture and architecture we taught them and make a sword out of paper, awesome. They’ve always wanted to paint a tornado in a field? Great, here’s a canvas and you’re still using color theory, which you didn’t know before, so paint whatever you’d like. That openness by US allowed them to be completely free.

As long as this post is at this point, the entire week can be summed up by one conversation with a boy named Oliver. He was pretty quiet, strong instincts onstage, and liked art. One of the first things he said on the first day during art making was “You mean we can make whatever we want?” and when Alex and I said, “Yes, of course!” (Initiative! Choice! Improv LIFE principles in disguise!) he replied with the widest eyes and literally rushed back to his seat to create TONS, and I mean TONS of prints. He played with ghost prints, multiples, layers of ink – all of the techniques we had talked about. There wasn’t a wrong, or a failure – he just got to explore. He went on to say it was nice to not just recreate someone else’s work – and while I’m sure my NYC friends/readers are commenting “Oh it’s because his art class isn’t like [insert snark here about NYC].” Guess what? He goes to literally THE most progressive and advanced school I’ve ever set foot in. It’s an incredible school and he STILL felt like he didn’t have the freedom to create something that was truly his. So there’s that.

Oliver – you’re doing EXACTLY what I’m doing here in Winston. I’m creating something that is truly mine. I’m doing fantastic collaborations – real creations of new projects, not just partnering or pushing my own agenda. I’m taking the community around me and teaming up with some awesome and incredible people and MAKING THINGS HAPPEN. Remember this article I wrote almost a year ago?

I’m doing something.

Peace out and Yes, And loves-
Jen

The Power of Repetition & The Principle Behind Continuing Education

By Engager (and recent graduate of NYU with a Masters in Educational Leadership! Congrats!) Lawrese Brown

For many of us, repeating anything is a form of low-level torture. We spend our lives both personally and professionally convinced that we should “get it right the first time.” We think that if we just move slowly enough, plan meticulously enough, and forecast appropriately then we can nail it and never have to worry about it again. Sometimes that works, but sometimes the only surefire way to learn anything, and even more so to learn how to do anything well, is by doing it again.

Here’s what I mean: It is only in the continuous doing of anything that we really grow in our competence of it. It is in our repetition that we transform what we do well into what we do best.

As the fable goes, a pottery professor divided his class in half. To the left side, he said, “you will be graded on the quantity of work you produce” and to the right side he announced, “you will be graded on the quality of the work you produce.” Fast forward to final projects eight weeks later and the students with the highest quality pots were those whose grades were dependent upon the quantity of pots produced.

Even if this story isn’t true, it is important. In its outcome, it speaks to repetition as a means of learning, and also as the root of excellence. It also begs the question: why do we so commonly position quality and quantity as counterparts instead of complementary pieces?
When I started taking improv, my fellow improvers and I would look to Jen as the guru. We just knew that no matter what scene she was in or what word she was thrown, she was always going to ace it. In our minds, she knew everything. But when Jen overheard us all aspiring to be an improv master like she was, she said, “You guys know there’s no such thing as an improv master, right?” In that moment and in that question, she wasn’t negating the fact that she had decades of improv experience. She was highlighting the fact that while continuing improv would undoubtedly strengthen our skills, there would never be a point where we were so perfect that we never had anything left to learn. Even as we became more confident and quick thinking, there would always be a reason to keep going because there is always room for improvement.

Both taking and teaching improv have been powerful tools for my personal and professional growth. I no longer think of learning in terms of completion but as a process along a continuum – I know that every time I take an improv course or teach a class, my desire for improvement (strengthening old skills and learning new ones) is what will push me toward a level of quality and excellence. As Bruce Lee famously said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” It is in the practice, the repetition, and the continuous doing that quantity and quality converge.