Teaching as Improvising

NOTE: This is written by Kathleen X. Phelan, a Grade 5, Progressive Teacher at River Valley School and is cross posted from the Inspired Learning community.


This morning I watched Rebecca Northan’s TEDx YYC talk on improvisation and it made me think about what a classroom, nay a school, would look like if we as teachers practiced and taught our students the basic rules of improvisation?  What would happen to the fear of failure? What would happen to our stress levels? How differently could we inspire our students?

Be positive – Pernille Rip recently had a great post on how she gave up punishment. If I was able to control my reactions and talk to students instead of lecture them, what difference would that have on the lesson I want them to learn? Last year was my first year of teaching and I constantly felt like I wasn’t in control of anything. I found that when a kid gets put down, I feel like I put my self down too – no one is happy and what has really been learned? This year, it’s like I’m on a different planet! I find I breathe more, listen more, and want to find the root of the problem.

Say yes – Teachable moments come out of saying yes. Collaboration comes from saying yes. Learning from others comes from saying yes. 🙂

Fear of Failure – such a big thing as both a teacher and student! I fear that I will fail my students. Students fear that they will be wrong and suffer the consequences. When I hear this or start to feel like this, one thing that helps me is remembering that whenever you do something for the first time, you aren’t excepted to do it perfectly. First time trying long division? No way should you be an expert right off the bat. First year in a classroom? Celebrate your failures and try again tomorrow. Failure makes us better. Also, 10 000 hours rule.

Inspire your Partner – It really hit me because a few days ago, I presented my grade 5 class with a Language Arts challenge in connection with our study of the Hero’s Journey. Stage 5 is “The Meeting of the People”. (At each stage of the journey, students are presented with a new writing challenge as a way to practice different forms of paragraph writing). For this stage, students were asked to go onto their iPads to find images of characters for their hero (past assignment) to meet, name them, write a brief background story about who they are, and then explain how they will either help or hinder the character. I had NO idea how inspired students would be by this but they just want to do LA all the time now. I even had a student get up and give me a hug! I have never had this kind of response to an assignment. By looking to inspire them, they have inspired me to keep thinking outside the box and look for innovative ways for them to express their writing and thoughts…just like improvisers connecting on stage.

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