Being a teacher and being an improviser have a lot in common. You have to entertain. You have to be quick on your feet. And maybe, most of all, your ability to say “Yes, And” to situations that arise can be the difference between a successful day and a huge headache.
Since I was young, I knew that I wanted to do two things: be a teacher and make people laugh. I have been lucky to have the opportunity to teach special education for ten years, five years in a pull-out resource room and five years in a push-in model. I have also been blessed to perform and teach improv for the past ten years.
About five years into teaching I realized that the skills I was learning in improv: saying “yes and”, supporting each other, accepting what others bring you, and having fun are all things that we need to strive for each day in the classroom as well. I started an Improv Club at my school where fourth and fifth graders met each week to learn improv games as well as team building and public speaking skills, creative thinking, and projecting confidence. The past two years we had to split the group into two because we had over 30 students sign up — our school has around 50 students per grade level, so about a third of the students in the grades that can participate usually do.
I have had kids with learning disabilities, kids with autism, kids who would never feel confident standing in front of the class. By the second day, they are wandering around the room pretending the floor is lava, up in front of the class ranting about how puppies are horrible, and answering questions purposefully as wrong as humanly possible.
In 2018, I received my Master’s in Differentiated Instruction from Concordia University Chicago.
During that time, my classes reinforced what I always knew: all students can learn, we just need to find the right door to open. Through my classes and online discussions with my peers and professors, I realized that teachers have to constantly think outside of the box and meet children where they are at through emphasizing their strengths. I stopped and thought, “when are my students most themselves?” This usually was when they were playing and laughing with each other. There is no better time to teach than when children feel safe and are having fun.
We learned about the main three ways to differentiate: changing the process, changing the product, and changing the content. I decided that I could differentiate the process, or the activities, that I used to emphasize student strengths and capture their attention.
I also realized that not only can this work be used for a fun after-school program for kids, but also it could be integrated into daily lessons. The kids in my third grade co-taught class have told group stories together while I acted as the conductor. After, we talked about plot, characters, and how to write a good summary. My fourth graders have practiced restating questions by working together and giving answers one word at a time. Improv was a perfect vehicle for these learning opportunities.
Now with remote teaching on the horizon, we as teachers need to have every tool in our toolbox ready to engage our students both academically and socially. There are many games and strategies that can be used to keep a student’s attention, reinforce lessons, or make students feel connected and laugh together during virtual morning meetings; and implementing these principles and strategies in remote teaching is achievable by all educators. You don’t have to be an actor. You don’t have to be a comedian. The only thing you really need to do to engage your students is say…yes, and!