One of my most enduring lessons about teaching occurred during a speech therapy techniques class Towson University. One of my classmates asked a questions that seems to haunt all new practitioners when they are searching for that one way to do things, that one way that will work. The question? “What’s the best way to help kids learn the speech skills they need?”
The answer? “Do whatever works.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that one piece of advice—to do whatever worked for the students I had in front of me—was the master key to successful teaching. Because my professors were well-versed in the stages of child-development and knew the importance of play, they stressed the value of playing games to teach challenging language concepts and problematic speech sounds. After all, if kids learn about the world through play, then they will learn language and articulation skills through play as well. It was my job to figure out what engaged my students and then to provide a variety of activities that would allow them to practice the skills that they needed.
And what fun we had! I made puppets and we put on puppet shows where one of the goals was to give directions and then follow them correctly. We played “Fish” to practice social skills and learn about taking turns, as well as to reinforce various speech skills. Because it was often difficult for small children to leave their classrooms and work with me for half an hour in the speech room, I had to make that half an hour as much fun as possible. I had to find what worked. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was improving my way through the daily challenges every teacher faces.
That same piece of advice—do whatever works—would be my most helpful parenting strategy as well. Snow day when I had planned to work on a new project? Pull out the boots and mittens and head outside for sledding. Rainy day at the beach? Paint the seashells the kids found just the day before. Prom dinner falls through at the last minute? Whip up a salad and serve the homemade stuffed shells your kids love so much.
I didn’t know I was modeling good problem-solving skills for my kids. I was just doing what worked in the moment. I didn’t know I was showing them how to handle disappointment. I only knew that I was faced with a challenge and had to resolve it quickly.
Gauging the needs of my students and my children and adjusting my plans based on their needs in that moment were also skills from improv. So whenever I feel like my routine is getting stale or I need to switch things up to get better results, I go back to some basic rules I learned in my improv classes, like the one I took with Larry Bukovey during the Florida Creativity Conference in March, 2015. Here are three gems from his class that can help you in teaching, mothering, and life—places where moods and needs are as fluid and unpredictable as the helicoptering seedlings swirling around my patio.
Rule#1: Say “Yes” and.
Larry taught us that if we want to move the scene forward, we need to say “yes” to whatever our scene partner offers. That way you keep the energy and action fresh. You are also forced to stay in the moment and respond to any challenge that your partner presents. This rule holds up just as well in the classroom as it does in the home. Faced with the unexpected, just say yes and see what unfolds.
Rule #2: Focus on the here and now.
That’s all you have when you improve a scene—the present moment. We played lots of games to help develop our skills of paying close attention to the now. By tuning in to the needs of those around you., you are free to drop any fixed-agenda and move with the energy of the moment.
And from improv artist David Alger, this rule:
Rule #3: Change, change, change.
Life is all about change. The more easily we can adopt to changes, the more fun we can have moment by moment. And the more fun we’re having, the more likely it is that our kids and our students will be smiling as well.
Are you ready for improv? Let me know which of these three rules you like best.