Yes and… Be the Amy Poehler of the Classroom

Amy Poehler.  Tina Fey.  Rachel Dratch.  Mindy Kaling.  These people are my idols.  Though their lives’ work is called comedy and mine is called teaching, there is one rule that unites our professions.

Yes, and… is a rule of thumb in improvisational comedy which states that one comedian should accept what another comedian has said and then expand on that line of thinking.  It is the opposite of “No, but…”

If you’ve ever watched Saturday Night Live, you’ve seen improvisation comedy in action.  You know the kind–the jokes they make up as they go.  They’re always the funniest.  But the entire show is not improv.  They’ve practiced very hard to get where they are at.  They prepare laboriously for the week leading up to the show.  It’s all of the hard work and practice put in before airtime that allows the actors to be responsive on stage.

In many ways, teaching is like SNL.  We plan lessons late into the night.  We research best practices and find ways to implement them into our classrooms.  But the best teaching happens when we are responsive and flexible–with our colleagues (actors on stage with us) and with our students (our audience).

Domain 3e:  Instruction–Demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness in The Charlotte Danielson Framework is the Yes and… of the teaching world.  It encompasses:  teacher making a major adjustment to a lesson successfully, teacher seizing a teachable moment to enhance learning by building on a spontaneous event, and teacher using an extensive repertoire of strategies and resources to persist in making learning accessible to students who need help.

Yes and…, this idea of flexibility and responsiveness has enriched my teaching practices in ways I could not have done on my own but were only made possible by validating the voices of my students and colleagues.  For example, when a student interrupted my lesson to ask me what kind of eye shadow I was wearing and whether or not it was Sephora’s Naked Palette, we took some time to investigate and calculate the price per eyeshadow color in the Naked Palette, graph our data, and write a linear equation for our graph.  Voila, lesson on linear relationships!  When two of my very competitive students arrive to class with a sheet of paper containing their Yahtzee scores, we used the scoresheet to practice mental math strategies for addition in order to determine a winner and mental math strategies for subtraction in order to determine how large the winner’s margin was.  Yes and… also lead to the renaming of the transformation strategy for subtraction to the “VooDoo Doll strategy.”  I easily could have written off my student’s weirdly dark comparison of the transformation strategy to voodoo, but instead we investigated the history of voodoo dolls (did you know there is really no link between voodoo dolls and the Haitian or Louisiana Voodoo religions?) and practiced the transformation strategy using this comparison. (For example:  43-18 can be transformed into 45-20 by adding 2 to the subtrahend (voodoo doll)  so that it is easier to subtract mentally.  Therefore, the minuend (victim) must also be transformed by the same amount.)

What could Yes and… do for your teaching?

To your co-teachers and colleagues, Yes and… conveys I trust you with our students.  I respect you.  I am willing and excited to work with you.  I will support your teaching decisions.  I will look for ways to collaborate with you even when we disagree.  We are a united front.

To your students, Yes and… conveys Your voice is heard.  Your voice is valued in this classroom.  I’d like to honor our differences.  This learning is yours to own.  Your curiosity will be rewarded.  What is important to you is important to me, too.

Try Yes and… in your classroom.  If it doesn’t work, it’s possible you could still explore a career in improv comedy.

 

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