Category Archives: Reflection

Embrace the Red Face

The first article from our newest Engager, Olive Persimmon!

I’m standing in front of an audience of fifty people and I can feel that it’s happening. My face is starting to get hot. In a few minutes, my entire face and neck will be covered in blotchy hives. A few minutes after that, the hives will turn tomato red. Clown face red. Strawberry Shortcake red.

And I’m not even halfway through my speech.

Before I address my red face, let me start out by saying that I love public speaking. In fact, love is an understatement. I passionately, obsessively think of words as my gift. I’ve given 100’s of speeches to varying sizes of audiences. Despite all of this, I still occasionally turn red when I speak. Not always. Not often. But it happens. Enough that I decided to write about it.

When I started working professionally as a communication coach, I would occasionally find myself in front of the classroom starting to get blotchy. I was young and new in the field and frequently in front of professionals twice my age. So here I am, a younger professional teaching presentation/speaking skills with cheeks flushed rosy red. I was worried it would diminish my credibility. I was terrified that people would see my face turn red and think, “What can she possibly teach me about speaking? Her redness is a sign of insecurity.”

I became obsessed.

I scoured the internet for remedies for my red face. I downloaded videos and bought vitamins.  I changed my diet in case I had some sort of food allergy.  I practiced intense breathing methods and developed thorough routines. While some of these things helped, they also reinforced the internal agreement I had made with myself that this was a serious problem.

The more I obsessed about it, the worse it became. It was the only thing I could think about. For the first-time in my life, I started having full-on panic attacks while speaking or teaching.  My entire attention would focus on my face turning red and my body would enter “fight or flight” mode. Blood rushing to my ears. Heart racing. Numb fingers. This is what happens when our brains start to freak out and our bodies have a real and intense reaction to our perceived danger.

I had to do something.

This was stealing the joy from something I loved.  Something I had been doing for years. Giving up speaking was not an option. (It should never be an option. You have important ideas, your fear of speaking should NEVER prevent you from sharing them).

The turning point came after I watched this Youtube video with a man named Dr. Barry.

It turned out, the secret to ending panic attacks, was to do nothing. To elaborate, fight or flight mode occurs when our bodies think we are in danger. The more you feed the anxiety, the more it grows. The more I obsessed about my red face, the more symptoms I started having.

According to Dr. Barry, “Symptoms of anxiety are uncomfortable but not dangerous… Once you learn to accept that this is uncomfortable but not dangerous you will think… why am I letting something that is just uncomfortable take over my life…you begin to normalize the symptoms of anxiety. The second you normalize the symptoms, you’ve won the battle…and panic attacks will disappear from your life.”

I watched this video three times before putting it in action.

I was in front of a 14 professionals when I felt my face start turning red. Breathe. “This is uncomfortable but it isn’t dangerous,” I repeated to myself mentally. “I am not going to feed this fire.” After about five minutes, my face returned to normal.

I did this two more times after that initial occasion. I haven’t had a panic attack since then. It sounds simple. Truthfully, it was THAT simple. Definitely simpler than obsessing, fretting, and worrying.

Does my face still turn red while speaking? Yes. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it goes away. Sometimes it remains. But I don’t obsess about it. I talk through it. I voice my opinions clearly in meetings or with friends. I use my words to motivate, inspire, and make people laugh. Most importantly, I keep speaking. I keep looking for opportunities to speak even though I know it might happen. I have something to say and I refuse to let my fear steal that from me.

So, if you’re afraid to speak because you think you might have a physical reaction. Sweatiness. Or shallow breathing. Or Red face or dry mouth or whatever. Speak anyway. It’s as simple as that. Open your mouth and speak. Learn to breathe. Hydrate yourself. But start by opening your mouth and saying something.

Your body may react. It may not. And if it does, remind yourself that you are not in danger despite uncomfortable symptoms. That you have important things to say.

Embrace the red face.

– Olive Persimmon

Social Story: Our trip to SECCA!

Social stories were created in 1991 by Carol Gray to help teach social skills to people with autism. They are short, concise and specific descriptions of events and activities that include information about what to expect in a given situation.

Through a Pre Visit Pilot Program, SECCA and The Engaging Educator visited ABC to familiarize the students with what they would see and do on the museum visit. Through photos of the building and art, modeling a ‘museum walk’ and touch objects that would be present at the museum, students learned about expectations for the visit. ABC then printed copies of the social story for teachers to continue to go over in class, as well as hand held versions for the trip itself.

Reflections from Jen: “I think the biggest success is the level of comfort achieved in the students in a contemporary art museum. While SECCA is a welcoming space, many museums have a “be quiet and admire the art” reverence. Through our previsits as well as the visits, Alex and I have seen a marked change in the students, both with their comfort with us as well as the museum. From initial outward anxiety in the kids to several of them finding connections in their every day lives, their comfort around art and in the museum was fast and marked. Through showing objects that were touch friendly to practicing a “Museum Walk” and doing multi-model engagement strategies to view the art (ex: moving like butterflies, posing like sea creatures, imagining textures) the students successfully had visits that helped them understand how to interact with art in the museum in a safe way, and established SECCA as a place they could be comfortable (and be themselves) in. Examples: Harry connecting with an Untitled work by Sterling Allen containing a slide projector, likening it to Veggie Tales, Andrew asking to go back into the galleries and walk around after lunch, Connor showing Jen the changes of weather on the iPads, Cleo showing Jen and Alex her book in the Overlook Gallery.”

Listening, Responding, Specificity, Commitment

April is Autism Awareness & Acceptance Month. We are thrilled to bring you this special reflection from Engager Jill Frutkin.

When I teach Improv, I say these four words over and over: Listening, Responding, Specificity, Commitment.

I tell my students not to worry about being funny, or being a great performer- as long as you are listening, responding, and being specific and committed in your communication, you’re doing it right.

Improvisation is by definition unscripted. No one knows what is going to happen next. In order to communicate, we need to listen. Full listening happens not only with our ears, but with our eyes, our hearts, and our entire bodies. When we are really listening, we’re taking in more than just words. We are listening to how someone feels. We look at their eyes, we read their body language, and we listen to their facial expressions.

As we listen, we respond. If we have honestly listened, we can respond honestly. In Improv, sometimes response makes us laugh. This laughter doesn’t come from a clever or calculated place, it comes instead from honesty. The best laughs I’ve had in an Improv class are from responses that in theory should not have been funny, but because they came from honest listening, they were joyfully hilarious in their humanity.

Sometimes a response doesn’t make us laugh: it makes us think. An honest response says a lot about a person and the way they think and feel about the world. When two people are honestly listening and responding, a productive conversation is happening.

In EE Improv classes for Professionals, we look at communication through the lens of how it can help us in our adult lives. How can honest listening and responding make a meeting more productive? How can it further a collaboration? How does full body listening improve the way you pitch to a client? We’re adults who have been communicating for years, but we all have ways we can improve.

For the past four years, I worked as a Special Education teacher. I taught 6:1:1 self- contained classrooms for young students diagnosed with autism. In addition to ABCs and 123s, I worked with students on improving crucial communication skills and emotional literacy.

The saying goes: You’ve met one person with autism means you’ve met one person with autism. My students were diverse learners: I had non verbal students who could read above grade level, verbal students with sensory processing needs, students who never spoke but would sing when music was played.

My students taught me a lot about communication.

You can let someone know what you’re feeling without saying a word.
You can listen without using your ears.

I learned to listen to my students’ body language. I listened to their words, and the individual ways they used their words. I listened to the sounds they used to communicate, and to their facial expressions. I listened to them as individual people communicating and responding in individual ways. The more I listened, the more I knew them. The more I knew them, the better I could design learning activities they could access and be successful in.

The more I teach students of all ages and learning styles, the more I realize that the truths of listening and responding are the same for all. As teachers and learners and people, we can all improve the ways we listen and respond, and in doing so we further communication and increase in productivity towards our goals.

– Jill Frutkin

Improv Empowers Teamwork By Tackling Realism – Lawrese Brown

Improv is truly a team sport. If you’ve been lucky enough to witness the magic of two or more people affirming, contributing and creating a story together, then you know what I mean. In those moments it’s clear to me that the sum of all parts (or people) is more powerful than a singular person – and that is the purpose of teamwork. Or is it?

Often when we work in teams, our goal is simply to finish an assignment. Whether a presentation or new project, we approach teamwork as a tool to complete a task faster, not to take the task further. This is why, in groups, many of us quietly mumble a quiet prayer about having the option of working alone. With our hectic schedules, deadlines and endless to-do-lists we’ve forgotten that the purpose of teamwork isn’t an exercise for completion, but collaboration… and that means achieving something bigger, better, and more valuable than what we would have been able to create by ourselves. (Don’t believe me, see inspirational quotes below.)

“Unity is strength…. When there is teamwork and collaboration wonderful things can be achieved.” – Mattie J.P Stepanek

“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go farther, go together?” – African Proverb

“Teamwork, simply stated is less me and more we.” – Anonymous

Because in improv we seldom know exactly where the scene is going, as players we focus more on what is possible than what is practical. If we agree that the purpose of working on a team is not just completing or creating, but creating bigger and completing more than what we can do alone, then we have to push past one of our favorite adult habits: realism.

While being realistic works when talking about the economy and predicting outcomes, practicing realism as an adult easily becomes an intuitive mechanism for limitation. We become so enveloped in sharing what we should do to complete the project that we forget to consider what we could do as well. As William Shakespeare said, “We know what we are, but we know not what we may be.”

There’s a reason why your favorite and funniest stories have unexpected endings. One of the reasons we speak of “yes AND” so frequently in improv is because in affirming every idea we dwell in possibility. When we say “no” or “I should” we narrow and eliminate alternative ideas all together. So next time you’re working on a team, don’t just focus on getting to the end: Find freedom in the fact that together (contributing to each other’s strengths) you can achieve a much bigger, better and more brilliant ending.

– Lawrese Brown, Engager

Museum Mashup Reflections


Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.19.20 AMA note from Jen:
The first Mashup was born in a car on the way to Whole Foods. And not a NYC car ride – this was a 10 minute conversation en route to picking up snacks for a reception at SECCA. Debbie Randolph was pushing, more than I was, to embody the spirit of improv in our next round of experimenting in museums at the 2015 NAEA conference. I remember having the conversation, getting excited about a great idea, then emailing the others to refining the car plan.

I’ve always had a level of tentativeness with truly incorporating improv into what I’m doing – blame it on years of hearing “improvisers are losers” from a theatre director who RAN an improv theatre. While others may have seen me as risky, I knew I was holding back some of the ‘crazier’ ideas. But over the last three and a half years, I’ve gotten bolder in taking the lead in improv integration within museum pedagogy Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.18.46 AMAND owning my experience and opinions. The Mashup doesn’t belong to that little group of renegades from NAEA. It’s not mine – it doesn’t belong to any one person. We don’t have to be there to train people how to do it or to run it. The idea of experimentation within museums is present within the museum field already. But this celebration of failure/positive risk-taking/off-the-cuff/Yes, And mentality? This is improv. This is what, through The Engaging Educator, we are teaching and embodying – and have been for three and a half years, and will for many, many more. And here’s my experiment, embracing it all and running with those ‘crazy’ ideas that don’t seem so crazy once they get rolling.

So, moving forward we’re stewarding #MuseumMashup. This page is a place where we’ll promote, help organize, host resources, reflections, photos and information – it’s also where you can find organizers near you, and get involved in our next adventure this late summer/early fall – the Worldwide #MuseumMashup. That being said, welcome and do Yes, And the fun!

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.23.34 AMA note from Shaelyn: On the first Nationwide Museum Mashup Day, events were organized at 6 museums across the country. Museum educators, enthusiasts, and the public were invited to visit a site near them or follow along online with the hashtag #MuseumMashup. Between 10 am and 8 pm EST, there was only one half hour period when no group of museum enthusiasts was holding a Museum Mashup!

The hashtag generated nearly 800 tweets, with 300 original tweets and 400 retweets. Messages sent on twitter about the event appeared in timelines 800,000 times for as many as 3 million views. The hashtag reached #1 among trending hashtags in the United States in the evening. Whether participating online or in person, the first Nationwide Museum Mashup Day provided a wonderful opportunity for people to share the experience of looking at museums in new ways.

Visit our Storify summary of the day to see a recap of how it unfolded according to the tweets participants shared: https://storify.com/MuseumMashup/nationwide-museum-mashup-day

Reflections on Teaching from Jill Frutkin

I like to think of teaching as translation.
Yes, it’s also about sharing skills, and the giving of perhaps new information.
But the most important part of teaching to me is the translation: how can I take what I know, and translate it into a language you can understand?

To be successful at this, you have to be a good listener. Not just an ears listener, but an observer of the entirety of a person. What is this person responding to? What does their body language tell me? What kinds of words are they choosing to explain themself? What makes their eyes light up?

In my work with young students with autism, the translation element to teaching was highlighted in bold. I learned to intuitively understand how many words a student could process at a time. I changed the way I spoke and explained ideas so that knowledge was accessible. I was mindful of cadence and emotion attached to words, precise gesticulation and clear body language, and the changing of energies and activities within the classroom to keep all students engaged in learning.

Through teaching Improv, Presentation Skills and Storytelling with EE over the past 6 (!) months I’ve learned: it’s exactly the same with neuro-typical adults.

We all need a translation. Each group I’ve taught has been different, and I’ve tried my best to access and fulfill their needs. I love asking and listening to students explain why they signed up for the class, and what they expect to get out of it. It helps me tailor both the content of our time together, and the tone.

It’s been incredible to get to know and improv(e) with so many people through EE. One of my favorites moments in any class is the huge smile on everyone’s face as we pass the clap in a circle – adults! Clapping hands in a circle! The simplest thing you could think of, but beautifully difficult to make eye contact, establish non- verbal communication, and leave one’s self receptive to change at any moment. I love looking around the circle and seeing the playful grins and hands ready with anticipation. I try to offer pointers to make the exercise the most worthwhile based upon my translation of the group’s interpretation. Sometimes they need to speed up, and stop trying to be perfect and too nice; sometimes they need to slow down, loosen their bodies and enjoy the failures.

When we talk about “Yes, And”, I like to open up the discussion to the many translations of the phrase. Sure, we can take it literally, but what other words can we use to better understand the concept? What does it look like? What does it sound like? How can it benefit us? I offer up my ideas of the way the concept makes the most sense to me, but encourage students to find their own personal translation. In addition to practice, I recommend reading articles, discussion, and taking classes with more than one instructor to take in the material and re-appropriate it in the way that best suits your own self.

Translation can often be verbal, but effective teaching is done through modeling; the embodiment of the idea. Instead of simply explaining, the best teachers are.
In EE classes, this means making myself open to failure and publically embracing it, pointing out my own habits, and sharing examples of how I’ve reflected on the practices in my own life. In doing this I hope both to serve as an example of how to move through the class but also how to apply the practice to everyday life and share with others.

Translation is the space between: the communication connection of people sharing experiences and learning from them. Improv helps us to be active listeners and honest responders, and improves both teaching and learning.

– Jill Frutkin

Improv And The New Year

I’ve written previously about how improv helped me professionally, but I thought my upcoming two-year improv anniversary was a great chance to share how improv has helped me personally as well.

I will never forget lying in bed the day after New Year’s of 2014 thinking about all my big dreams, and how scared I was to actually pursue them. I, like every other person with a pulse, wanted to be Oprah and I wanted to be wealthy (still working on both) and most importantly, I wanted to not be afraid to make mistakes. I was just shy of four full years post-college, and I was still playing tug-of-war with the idea of a perfect career (you know that one that you believe is possible before you realize that nothing is perfect?)

High-off of my resolutions for the new year and armed with a desire to get messy, I enrolled in my first improv class at Engaging Educator. I chose improv because I needed something that would push me clear out of my comfort zone into the ugly territory of uncertainty and hopefully failure. (Sounds dramatic I know. But isn’t everyone dramatic around New Years?)

That one small step into my first class at Shetler Studios would prove transformative. About 6 months after I started improv, I was let go from my job and in an instant I had to start over.

Suddenly, the same principles that I celebrated for aiding in my professional growth – being quick on my feet, committing to my choices, and always saying “YES AND” – were now my professional mantras and life principles as well.

As with any emergent improv scene, the beginning is messy and the best is always yet to come. In uncertainty there is possibility, but there is also confusion and overwhelming fear. (Just ask anyone trying an improv game for the first time.) I had always known what I wanted, now I had to make the choice to take the chance to pursue it – and slowly but surely I did.  I applied to a graduate program in Educational Leadership at NYU, started a business that allowed me to continue working with high school and college students in the area of college and career readiness, and attended every conference, event, and panel on entrepreneurship I could find.

That was a year and a half ago.

Today, I am a semester shy of my receiving my Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership, Politics in Advocacy from NYU, through my business I’ve collaborated with thirteen non-profits and educational institutions to serve over 1000 students in NY and NJ, I’ve served as a keynote and conference speaker, and now I have the privilege of exposing others to the YES AND side of life as an improv instructor for the same company that first exposed me to YES AND.

I’m personally grateful for improv because it was a continuous reminder that with imagination, assertion and courage we can create –  and that our lives are our greatest creation.  I believe that when we let go, actively listen, and keep affirming our choices and each other than we can actively build new worlds and while building these worlds we see that the craziest, most surprising characters in life – are our true selves. When we YES AND life, we write scenes that we had no idea were even available for us to enter. A lot of my dreams have changed since I started taking improv, but thanks to improv and even more of my dreams have come true.

Cheers to another year of YES AND, Aooooogah’s and awesomeness for you!

Lawrese Brown

Talk the Talk

We’ve invited our wonderful Engagers to contribute reflections, articles, musings, etc., to our blog on a monthly basis! First up, Engager Minna Taylor. Read on, and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog via Bloglovin. – Erin

I was down in South Carolina with my parents over Thanksgiving. They are solidly in the baby-boomer generation and I am grateful for that. Anyone under 35 can appreciate our parents’ endearing curiosity about the latest gadgets that so far exceed their formative expectation of what technology could offer, that their engagement with said devices is what you expect from a child of my generation’s fascination with dial-up internet – the wonder it beholds! However, regardless of the technological acquisition (my mother is an avid Amazon shopper), they maintain a high level of analog nostalgia. They read the printed paper every morning, including completion of the crossword. They clip articles and mail them to me. They write letters. They have a landline telephone. Despite my awe at my mother’s crossword prowess, it was the telephone that spawned my consideration.

Much of my investigation into modern methods of communication has been on the loss of interpersonal comfortability and freedom in vocal expressiveness. There are a myriad of variables contributing to this social atrophy – fear, advertising, expectation of immediate gratification, privacy invasion – but I propose that it all began with the daily integration of our cellular devices. As advancements were made in our digital connectivity, so began the degradation of human connectivity. It has reached such an alarming degree that I assert many of us can go days – if not weeks – without engaging in truly meaningful conversation. That level of intimate sharing and presence is becoming an experience relegated to fairytales and John Hughes movies. We are losing the ability to say hello with an openness and allowance that was once standard engagement.

As I watched my parents pick up phone call after phone call, I began to consider the frequency with which I actually spoke to others in my life. My parents were expressing sincere interest and investment in the the conversations they were having. There is no way to compensate for that energetic sharing over text or email. No emoticon can represent the sparkle in my mother’s laugh or the warmth in my father’s tone. That is communication beyond the words and the level of communication that has now become reserved for the big things – birth, death, and marriage. It feels intimate to use our voices. To call?! To pick up the phone?! To consider taking some one’s time, anxiously waiting to say hello, all while secretly wishing that the savior of voice mail will prevent the firm, unquestioning attempt at contact with that person?! You commit to the following in a phone call: I want to talk to you. I am demanding your participation in a dialogue. You matter to me. I want to matter to you …

Let’s not, as we enter a new year, lose sight of the importance to exercise actions that make us human. We must reinvest in play, curiosity, patience, and community. The emotional and psychological effort required to make contact is a reflection of a constitution that is unexercised – atrophied. Slowly begin to integrate deliberate points of human contact and that fear you feel, that anxiety of engaging other people, will melt away. We will rediscover that we are all human and possibly empower ourselves to connect, embrace, and evolve toward a reintroduction of our basic right to use our voice and express ourselves freely. Go forth and engage.

Minna Taylor

EE Turns 3! What’s next?

Three years ago, I started EE thinking it would be a nice nod to my solo career – and that’s it. Nothing more than a name that would be a way to sum up the scope of my freelance work. I remember my first public workshop – it sold out, but I didn’t charge people until they got there and half of them didn’t show up. I had a pieced together website that I made myself (shudder) and I was asking friends and coworkers to be in photos so I had some appearance of stability. Literally anything to look bigger than the imposter-syndrome ridden ex-actor that was trying to figure out how she fit in to museums and education.

EE-Nasher-PurpleThe three years following were great, good, ok, tearful, rough, rewarding and stressful. Up until this past June, I was also working as a museum educator, building EE on the side. I jumped on every travel engagement and job, worked for free and for photos and reviews. When I had more jobs than hours in the day, I started to hire my friends. Fired some of them. Learned a lot and got taken advantage of a lot, but didn’t sleep a lot – I was answering emails past midnight and trying to figure out how to do a business. Some people thought what I was doing was ridiculous – I distinctly remember overhearing a conversation at a museum I was working at as an educator, and two managers were making fun of EE and me. I’ve lost friends, business relationships, and personal relationships. The business side of business is hard enough – I actually think the personal side is much harder. Few people understand that you ALWAYS have to be working to some degree. I completely get why 75% of businesses close in the first three years, and it isn’t all financial. This is not and has not been easy, and won’t ever be easy. I was just telling my partner last night that I sometimes envy his working for someone else. Being a boss is hard, being an effective and good boss is harder and being your own boss on top of that is insanity.

Teen-Facilitator-WebThat being said, it HAS been so very worth it. I’ve built this amazing company, and I’m finally getting over my imposter syndrome and owning the fact that EE is pretty badass. We help a lot of people in a lot of ways, and we’ve done some cool stuff – and I just keep thinking about what next. I don’t like to dwell in successes – I see them much like I did when I was an actor. Get job, tell everyone I got job, leverage job for next job. Same thing with EE – get a job, speaking arrangement, press – take it, share it and use it to get something bigger. Build a program and then think, what next.
My favorite part in the last three years? I not only get to find and collaborate with like-minded folks, I also get to surround myself with people who are incredible at things I struggle with. I really think this is where people make mistakes in business – you should always surround yourself with people that do things better than you. It not only makes you better, but it allows you to focus on your skills – and they can focus on the skills they’ve mastered. And then next thing you know, you have a community of people that are invested and have ownership in your baby. And it’s not just a nod to a solo career – it’s a mission.

NC-Nasher-MuseumIt’s been a heck of a ride, and I and we would NOT be here without some very key people. Starting from a seed of an idea from a friend to lead a presentation skills workshop at the Brooklyn Museum – thanks Adelia Gregory – to people believing in me, EE and the good of improv above all things – thanks Sharon Vatsky, Hannah Jack, and Michelle Lopez. It’s all about a team incredibly skilled educators who I trust with the mission, that see it out and take ownership – thanks David Armstrong, Andrea Kamins, Don Waisanen, Jill Frutkin, Lawrese Brown, Kayla Rivera, Minna Taylor. It’s the newest of the new in the “stuff I don’t do well and need help with” – thanks Shaelyn Amaio – and the lady behind all of the organizational aspects of EE – thank you SO MUCH Erin Badenhop Moncada.

It’s all about the unwavering support from my absolutely incredible group of friends and family – so THANK YOU, David Armstrong, Angelina Salgado, Nick Pavlik, Shoshana Torn, Rachel Ropeik, and Mike Murawski for constantly saying “HEY YOU CAN DO THIS.” And it’s very much about the strength I’ve recently found to do this as my career, and the support and love from my partner Alex Brown.

And it’s all about every last one of our students, corporate clients, museums, schools, and organizations. Thank you so much for all of your support and business in the last three years.

So stay tuned, because we are far from done here. To all the Yes, And, all the AaahhhOOOgah and all of the What Next.

Xo
Jen