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From Shakespeare to Improv - We are asking too much from educators.

An appropriate metaphor for the shift from a traditional classroom to an innovative learning environment is one of theatre. Imagine a contemporary Shakespearean actor, classically trained who is suddenly thrown onto an improv stage. Both performances are technically acting but the requirements and expectations are vastly different. An improv stage does not have an exact script but instead operates on the shared understanding of a few key rules/norms. Props are often provided but their use is not explicitly designated; it is up to the actors to utilize them when needed throughout the performance. The stage is flexible, meant to support the story as it unfolds. This differs immensely from the structured stage, props, and script of a Shakespearean play and it would be expected that even the most talented of classical actors would struggle in the improv scenario.

The same applies to educators. An innovative learning environment is set on a completely different stage, with different props, and a loose script. It is up to the school leader, or the director – in keeping with the theatrical metaphor – to ensure that appropriate direction is provided for success without limiting the magic and serendipity that is the improv stage. The most successful directors are those who establish trust with their cast and co-create shared norms in which the actors have autonomy in their execution.

I saw this at work in each of the three schools I worked with for my PhD, as school leaders set clear expectations and developed a shared understanding of how the space should function to scaffold the educators’ own innovations and personalization of the teaching and learning experience. Educators provided a similar baseline structure for learners, providing basic shared norms to facilitate the desired behaviors and use of space, all with flexibility for interpretation and personalization. Co-creation is key. Trust is required.

What has been your experience with these spaces and this transition? Do you identify more with the Shakespeare or the improv?


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