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