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Jen Oleniczak is the founder of The Engaging Educator, a NYC-based organization that specializes in theatre, improv and movement workshops and professional developments for educators. She is also a trained actor, improviser and museum educator. She’s worked as an educator with the Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection and Noguchi Museum, and performs improv with National Comedy Theatre. Find out more at www.theengagingeducator.com
Improvisation is now being taught to MBA Students. Why? For the same reasons educators should be trained in it: the root in communication.
A basic improv principle is the idea of ‘yes, and.’ This is a concept not far removed from inquiry-based education. Collecting and affirming many answers is only half of the battle in both disciplines. The other half is the ‘anding,’ the scaffolding of additional information. The more you ‘yes, and,’ the deeper the conversation – and the path is still determined by the student.
Aside from ‘yes, and,’ improv enhances three major skills essential for educators: listening, responding, and confidence.
Listening & Responding
One cannot exist without the other. Essential to education and improv, listening is not as easy as it sounds. Educators need to be both aware of what is going on around them and what the students are saying.
Improv is a group process – and many improv exercises train and sharpen listening skills. There is not a script in improv – improvisers make statements and the scene is pushed forward by active listening. While educators create a lesson plan, we can never guess perfectly what students will say. By really listening to what they say, we can increase our and their understanding and deepen any conversation.
Right along with listening is responding. If we are not hearing what students are saying, we cannot respond in a manner that helps the conversation. Those same exercises that are essential to listening in improv enforce the idea of processing the information and responding.
Listening and responding are things we do every day – but through improv, your brain is trained much like your body at the gym. A sharpening of skills occurs and the speed at which you listen, process and respond hastens. Ever see a show and swear they are making it up because they respond so quickly? It’s all about practice.
There is nothing that builds confidence in public speaking more than getting over that fear of looking ridiculous. Do it in a supportive environment where everyone is trying to learn how to overcome that fear (like an improv class!). Plus, thinking on your feet is a coveted skill. When you master it, quick responses will automatically instill confidence in what information you are conveying. Being comfortable in spontaneity breaks down creative blocks and allows your inner self to shine when you are teaching.
…and we all know students can smell fear…
Joking aside, escaping perfection and starting in a playful state increases confidence in all aspects of life. When you are confident in the lesson you are teaching – the information you are sharing – your teaching style is effortless. Students learn, you enjoy it, and the communication is successful.
Improv is not something that can be done once and immediately your teaching style is flexible. Much like getting a degree, it takes time, patience and dedication. We spend so much time thinking about what we say in a lesson – it’s about time we think about how we say it.