In my first years of teaching, I was blessed with an abundance of energy that fueled me to work the long hours of the school day and then stay up until the wee hours of the night at the The Second City Improv School taking classes and seeing live comedy theater. Being an improv student helped me learn many skills, such as public speaking, leadership, and flexibility, that I began to apply to my work in the school setting. One of the most powerful tools I learned was something that I believe every educator should embody.
This golden rule of improv is called "Yes, and..." As it was explained to me at The Second City, "Yes, and..." is a tactic improv actors use on stage to help move scenes forward and keep engagement high for both the actors and audience. The idea is that all decisions made on stage are accepted and built on by co-actors. Because actors know their input on stage will be valued and embraced, they feel affirmed and are more likely to take creative risks. Also, since co-actors are expected to support each other and build upon each other, active focus and listening skills are vital. An example of "Yes, and..." in the improv world would be an actor opening a scene with, "Brother, it's been so long!" and the supporting actor adding, "Yes, and I apologize for not calling you after I totaled your car last year!" The idea is that the second actor accepts the idea of his teammate (that it has been a long time since these characters have talked) and then ups the ante of the conversation by moving the storyline forward.
I am sure you are wondering now, "What does this have to do with me as a teacher?" When embodying "Yes, and..." as an educator, you meet your students where they are without judgment and then apply the appropriate scaffolding to heighten your students' learning. This approach builds confidence in students and helps the teacher better understand students' conceptions, allowing the teacher to alter instruction based on student need. Furthermore, it creates trust, leading to a bond where the student and teacher are in sync with the process to move ideas and knowledge forward. "Yes, and..." can be applied to all subject areas, even the most straightforward curriculums such as phonics. As an educator using "Yes, and..." you can listen for misunderstandings and support students to explain their thinking. From there, the teacher can affirm certain points and then move the learning forward by providing concrete rules. For example, when students are exploring spelling, a child might write the word "cat" as "kat." An educator using "Yes, and..." could approach the student with, "Yes, cat does start with the /ck/ sound and there is even a fancy rule we can learn to know if you use the k or a c..."
The possibilities are endless with "Yes, and...", but this tactic is sure to keep students engaged and create a positive learning environment. If using this approach in teaching, it won't be long until you will want to teach your own students how to apply the principles while working with their peers to enrich their own lives as learners and leaders.