TEACH LIKE… a river

Published by ShawnKinley on

water stream near trees


water stream near trees

Rivers adapt to their environment.  They look consistent from one angle but they can’t be pinned down to a single picture if you look closely.

Improvisation teachers and their lessons appear to be one thing – a human teaching a topic to a class. But every moment there are bubbles and ripples of alteration in response to the needs of 20 students. At least, there should be.

You might have that solid lesson plan but to force it on your students regardless of their needs is like pushing them under the water when you need to be flowing around them. You respond to the look of uncertainty when you say something new to them. You bend your lesson when you see they need something more important than the plan you had set. Looking close, a great teacher has variation in their stability.

The bed that the river flows through calls for specific behaviour. It hits a rock and bends around and above it. The water flows and follows the banks of the river bed to where it is needed. It erodes the edges and changes its environment until it eventually runs straight.

You and your lesson are always moving forward. You want to get to that perfect clear line of straight understanding but it will take time. There’s a lot to erode in the resistance of the student’s fear, ego, resistance and uncertainty.  

Yesterday I had a class in Iglu’s studio in Ljubljana, Slovenia. It was for the main teachers of the group to help them develop their skills.

The class was set up to respond to their questions about their development and the development of their students. My hidden agenda was to also look at tendencies I was seeing in their students.

I brought a plan but did almost none of it. The plan was technically good but it was moved aside as the class flowed forward, embracing what was needed in the moment. The lesson plan was adapted and the aim was still achieved.

Each question they asked was a bend in the river of my plan that took me around the corner and over rocks that I hadn’t expected. 

In the end, we discovered things that neither the teacher nor the students had expected when the class started but was exactly where the class needed to flow.

But how do we achieve this?

people rafting in the riverIf you approach a class with a raft and nothing else, you will move down the river but without other tools you will eventually smash into the rocks.

You need a variety of tools to respond to the needs of the situation. You can’t expect to go into the water with a stick and hope to navigate the currents, eddies and waves. You need oars, motors and maps.

Developing the tools you take on your adventure is extremely important. If you think you are done learning because you are a teacher, you are always going to be drowning or making the waters dangerous for your students.

  • The first step is to recognize the weakness in your journey when it’s happening.
  • The next step is being honest when it’s appropriate so that your students can help build the tools and navigate the journey together.  Of course, you can’t tell a drowning person you don’t know what to do. But you can tell decent swimmers that you struggle with the topic and get them to help develop exercises and approaches to become better.
  • Take classes on a regular basis to develop your skills and resources. BUT DON’T JUST WRITE DOWN OTHER PEOPLE’S EXERCISES AND USE THEM BLINDLY! Understand how a good teacher is responding to the needs of students to create the appropriate amount of safety, healthy stress and information to help the student make it down the river.
  • Lead with the strength of wisdom and be flexible to the uncertainty of each unique student.

Your strength inspires confidence in a student. But your strength must be flexible.  

Enjoy the journey. You will get to the end but the ride will be most enjoyable when you adapt to each encounter along the way.


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