2020 was a challenging year for everyone, however one of the groups most challenged by the shift to online was our educators. In an ever changing landscape where schools didn’t know if they were coming or going, teachers have needed to be adaptive to deal with all the challenges thrown their way.
We talked to school teacher Teresa Senyah about how improv has helped her remain calm in spite of challenging circumstances, how to focus on the things that you can control and why improv might be beneficial to children.
Getting out of your head is one of the best things about improv. This is especially useful for someone like me as I’m a big planner. I like to have a contingency plan and know where things are. However, if you have a plan and it doesn’t go according to the script, what do you do? I think there’s a general fear in many people, that if you go slightly off script, an entire plan will come crashing down.
The great thing about improv is that it gives you the ability to be flexible. If something in your plan goes wrong, improv gives you the confidence to be able to pivot and adapt. In life and work, you’re going to constantly be met by unexpected circumstances and unplannable reactions from other people. Improvisation gives you the peace of mind to know that things are going to come out okay and that you’ll be able to adapt on the fly.
All you can control is how you react to things
This feels especially relevant right now in my job as a school teacher. It can feel like I’m constantly in a state of pivoting around and around. A plan gets made then scrapped, and you just have to keep adapting to every change as it comes. There’s so many external factors you can’t control. Improv is great in that it helps you to be okay with not being able to control those external factors.
One of the big things I say to my students is that you can’t control the things you can’t control, all you can do is control how you react to things. If you want to have a more solid approach by having a plan in place, that’s something you can control. On the flip side, you can’t control how someone else decides to act in a situation. That’s out of your hands. There’s no point in getting your head wrapped around it or worrying what someone else might do, as they’re going to do it whether you prepare or not! I tell them to just focus on being adaptive, being flexible with your approach and around the things you can’t control.
I think students would find a lot of value in improv training. Especially at the moment. Student anxiety and stress are at an all time high. We have always had cases of students having anxiety but it feels off the scale at the moment and there’s not enough counsellors for all the students.
A lot of students don’t know how to handle the stress of examinations and that has reared its ugly head all the more during Covid-19. The pandemic has created a large rise in remote learning and not always having all the support they need. It’s creating a cauldron of negative emotion towards studying and examination.
Work with what you’ve got
So where does improv come in? I think school students could benefit from doing improvisation training so that they could learn to let go and understand how to relax their mind. It would be good for them to learn how to distinguish between work time and when you’re relaxing, doing something different from scrolling on their phone or gossiping. It would help them to let go.
I believe improv would give my students the skill to be flexible when you can’t control things and instead, to go with the flow. Currently, students are trying to control a situation that they can’t control.
For example, we were talking to some of our A Level students and we told them what we’d be testing them on. They’ve since come back to us and said they didn’t want to be tested on that. But that’s not in the student’s control. It’s just about them understanding that they need to accept the decision that’s been made and adapt to it.
I think there’s a lot to be said for taking a moment, taking a deep breath and taking a moment to relax. Someone said to me the other day that I have quite a calming effect. I said to them “You have no idea what’s going on in my head, but thank you very much!”
Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath. it’s not worth complaining, you just need to work with what you’ve got. That’s what I get from improv.
A massive thank you to Teresa for taking the time to talk to us! For more about adapting to the pandemic life, check out our resource here: https://www.hooplabusiness.com/resources/2020/6/4/on-the-grief-we-are-feeling-now-and-the-will-to-change
For a selection of exercises and games you can try out for yourself, see our beginners improv exercise guide: https://www.hooplaimpro.com/improv-exercises-games-formats.html
For more information on looking at ways of countering failure check out this resource: https://www.hooplabusiness.com/resources/2020/6/4/the-dark-side-of-resilience-why-we-need-to-stop-obsessing-about-failure-so-much