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.
To 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.
Before 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 comes 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.