Teaching That Sticks

My friend sent me an article from the Economist under the banner of “Education Reform.” There were so many insights and connections to the improvisational-based pedagogy that we offer at and through The Second City that any single element would be worthy of significant attention. But the area that really spoke to me was how important and valuable the “doing” part of education is.

The article makes the case that great teaching has traditionally been seen as an innate skill, but there is ever increasing evidence to suggest that great teachers are trained in ways that move well beyond a knowledge exchange. Great teachers not only plan well, they plan for the improvisational moments that allow for the students to make guided discoveries that build critical thinking abilities.

A “master teacher” from Singapore by the name of Charles Chew put it well when he said, “I don’t teach physics; I teach my pupils to learn physics.”

I was extremely lucky to be exposed to many great teachers in my school days. One teacher, John McPheron, led our 5th grade class at Joseph Sears Elementary through a social science experiment called “America.” Our class was turned into a country and we were each given positions that come with status – or the lack thereof. We had policeman and factory workers, politicians and judges. Mr. McPherson then gave us the space to play in our country as we saw fit.

Our 5th grade “America” fell apart within a week.

Personal agendas led to unfair incarcerations; lack of discipline led to a monetary crisis; and, in the end, an amazing lesson was taught to us about power, government and human behavior. But the impact was in our experiencing of the teaching – our ability tofeel the lesson and not just think from the teaching.

Viola Spolin, whose teaching methods form the foundation for The Second City said, “Do not teach. Expose students to the theatrical environment through playing, and they will find their own way.”

The Economist piece notes that “In America and Britain, training has been heavy on theory and light on classroom practice.” The importance of learning by doing, I would suggest, becomes even more important later in life as adults are naturally more rigid in their existing presuppositions and cognitive biases.

Think about how we teach at work. Through powerpoint? Through a company handbook? More often than not, we look at the most successful person in the office and say “do it like that.”

But how much more effective would our employees be if they had hands on training – tactical practice – in doing their job?

Looking for ROI? Get your people on their feet; get them listening and responding; provide them the space to try and fail and try again. The results will follow because the teaching will stick.

The article notes that, “In Shanghai, teachers will not be promoted unless they can prove they are collaborative. Their mentors will not be promoted unless they can show that their student-teachers improve.”

We share the responsibility to collaborate: teachers and students, bosses and employees, human beings to other human beings. But we can’t just talk about collaboration – we have to practice and act.


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