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 Critical Way Improv Improves Communication (It’s Not What You Think)

By Engager Lawrese Brown.

Many people come to improv classes to improve their communication skills. Communicating is one of those elusive skills we work on the entirety of our careers and ultimately our lives. Whether our motivation is wanting to become image5better public speakers, quicker on our feet, more creative in our responses, and more direct in our intention – we all want to express ourselves better. Yet, in focusing so heavily on what we say, we easily overlook the power in how we say it.

In 1967, Dr. Mehrabian did a study on how the mind configures meaning and found that the formula for interpreting a message is seven percent verbal, thirty eight percent vocal and fifty five percent visual. Yes, that means most of how we communicate is not with our words. The fact that we convey so much meaning with our bodies is easily overlooked. Yet, when having a conversation with someone who stares at us blankly, asks questions monotonously, and never makes a gesture, we’re quickly reminded that true connection and true conveyance of our message is improv. jpgin the body. Improv is king when it comes to communication courses because it’s grounded in movement, meaning that improv exercises not only strengthen what we say, but actively increase our awareness of what we are doing when we say it.

Whether we’re playing “What Are You Doing?,” Translator or simply scene building, improv challenges us to bring words to life – and with no props, no scripts, no scenery and no judgment — we do that in the most organic way possible – with our selves. So next time you are talking to someone or preparing for a speech don’t just practice your talking points, but take a moment to look at how you move.

Consider the following:
(Tone) How are you saying it?
– Are you irritated? Excited? Uncertain? Anxious?
HUM 6(Facial Expressions) How we look when we say it:
– How’s your eye contact? Is your mouth open? Are your eyebrows furrowed?
(Gestures) How’s your body?
– What are your hands doing?
– Are you leaning? Swaying? Standing completely still?
– Is your head tilted? Is your chin down? Are your toes curled?

As Amy Cuddy proclaimed in her famous TED Talk, our body language not only shapes others perception of us, but it also shapes how we see ourselves. And that fits in perfectly with the second most important rule of improv (after YES AND of course) – no matter what happens, just keep moving.

The Engaging Educator Foundation

I am thrilled to announce that The Engaging Educator has a little sibling, The Engaging Educator Foundation! Born March 17, 2016 in Winston-Salem, NC, and ready to Yes, And a whole new world.

When I started The Engaging Educator, it was meant to be a nod to my solo-career and the improv and presentation skills workshops I was planning to lead for museums. That (very) quickly expanded, and I found myself needing a we, and we found ourselves getting high-profile clients as well as museums and schools.

Because I follow the YES, AND mentality in life, I kept looking for ways to keep our workshops affordable for our original clients. Finally, the option to create a hybrid organization presented itself in my move to Winston-Salem. Under the Foundation, we’re working with our original intended client base, while still providing high-end consulting and customized workshops to our corporate clients through The Engaging Educator. We’re still US, just with more open doors for grants, collaboration and possibilities.

If you are a museum, school, organization or individual that would like more information about these workshops, donations, or information on the Foundation, please email us. Keep an eye on our FOUNDATION PAGE for updates!

Thank you all so much for your support, and we’re oh so excited for this next adventure in Yes, And!

-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.

Acclaimed Autism Art Exhibit Moves to Steele Group

The exhibit Layers: An Exhibit of Artwork from Artists on the Spectrum, will move to The Steele Group Architects beginning May 6th, as part of First Fridays Gallery Hop. The exhibition will be on view through the month of June. Throughout the month of April, the exhibit of artwork by children from ABC of NC, a Winston-Salem based provider of autism services, was on display at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts (SECCA) in celebration of Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month.

The exhibit features mixed-media artwork created by children (ages two to 21) with autism, under the guidance of artist-in residence, K. Wood. The exhibition also features work created by ABC of NC students as part of a partnership with SECCA and The Engaging Educator. The project was made possible, in part, through a Community Enrichment Mini-Grant from The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

“The process we used to craft the artwork for the exhibit incorporated multiple techniques and a variety of layers to create pieces that had depth and interest,” remarked artist in residence K. Wood. “Many individuals with autism can be over-stimulated by sensory input, so it was important that the process be sensitive to these challenges. So we encouraged the kids to use their fingers or take advantage of a variety of gadgets and tools, from cotton swabs and saran wrap to paint brushes and rollers.”

When speaking about the collaboration, The Engaging Educator Founder and Artistic Director Jen Brown reflected on what she considers to be the biggest success of the program, “Many museums have a ‘be quiet and admire the art’ reverence which can create anxiousness even among typically developing children. It was important to all of us working on the project that our friends with autism feel at ease and be able to make connections between the art they see in the museum and their everyday lives.”

Brown, alongside SECCA program coordinator Alex Brown, helped prepare the children for their visit to the museum with a social story and pre-visits, and once they were on-site, SECCA offered an assortment of touch-friendly objects for exploration, coordinated museum walks, and incorporated multi-model engagement strategies– moving like butterflies, posing like sea creatures, imagining textures–to view the art.

“For many families of children with autism, the world can feel pretty small. Most wouldn’t consider a modern art museum an option for a family outing,” said Casey Raymer,

director of development for ABC of NC. “Making the broader community more accessible
for the children and families we serve has long been a goal of ABC of NC and we’ve
been thrilled to find so many community partners willing to help us in this endeavor.”

“Through this collaboration we created opportunities for artistic expression, cultivated experiences that helped our friends with autism understand how to interact with art in a museum environment, and established SECCA as a place where they can feel comfortable being themselves,” said Connie Schroeder, director of development for SECCA. “And really, isn’t that the experience we want everyone to have in a museum environment?”

ABC of NC and Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts (SECCA) hosted a reception commemorating on Thursday, April 28 from 5:30-8pm at SECCA.

About ABC of NC — ABC of NC Child Development Center is a not-for-profit center dedicated to providing high-quality, evidence-based diagnostic, therapeutic, and educational services to people with autism spectrum disorder; ensuring service accessibility to individuals from any economic background; offering support and hope to families; and advocating for inclusion and acceptance. The vision of ABC of NC is that all people living with autism spectrum disorder reach their full potential in a world where they are valued, accepted, and included.

About Autism — Autism spectrum disorder (ASD/autism) is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development. Autism is characterized in varying degrees, including difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication deficits, and repetitive behaviors. According to the CDC, one in 68 children born today will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and prevalence rates are even higher in North Carolina with an estimated one in 58 children, and one in 35 boys, receiving the diagnosis.

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.”

Former student crowned Miss Amazing NY 2016!

MISS AMAZING NY QUEEN 2016 PRE-TEEN CROWNED
Titleholder on Autism Spectrum will advocate for all differently-abled children

10193327_1459051027.0806NEW YORK, NY – Former The Engaging Educator student Kristina Paravalos has been crowned Queen of the Miss Amazing NY 2016 Pageant in the Pre-Teen category. Kristina was first diagnosed with Speech & Language Disorder, which months later expanded into PDD-NOS “borderline Asperger” on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (now called Social Pragmatic Language Disorder). The mission of Miss Amazing is “to provide opportunities for girls and women with disabilities to build confidence and self-esteem in a supportive environment.” Participants

“I was looking for something to help Kristina’s self esteem, public speaking, and confidence,” says Jessica Paravalos, Kristina’s mother. “Miss Amazing came to mind to nurture Kristina. They provide an atmosphere of support and encouragement, as well as a buddy system to help the girls to socialize.”

The Paravalos family was introduced to The Engaging Educator’s work at Queens Museum during a team building improv exercise for Empower Parents, and Kristina participated in an improv pilot class for children on the autism spectrum. Over the course of two weeks, six students on the spectrum and their families took a one-hour improv class centered on the Neustadt Collection at Queens Museum. Find out more about The Engaging Educator’s programming in support of the social and communication goals of children on the spectrum here: http://theengagingeducator.com/access/

Her first public appearance was at Christ Tabernacle’s Easter Eggstravaganza, an event for children with special needs. To schedule an appearance with Kristina, please send an email. A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist the Paravalos family in sending Kristina to the Miss Amazing Nationals in Chicago. To find out more about the Miss Amazing Pageant, visit www.missamazing2016.com.

GO KRISTINA!!!

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