Time to Come Together

"Classroom Community"
It's one of those terms that we throw around every once in a while...assuming we have it and all is well.  So often, we're feeling busy and pulled in a multitude of directions with teaching.
Class play - district meeting - parent conference - shared literature - writing project - book fair - science test - and on and on and on...
Yes, all of those things are incredibly important.  However, without class meetings, without meaningful connections and conversation, it's all in vain.  Because I have not dedicated my life to teaching curriculum.  I have dedicated myself to these children--to supporting them in becoming giving, pro-social, whole people.  And that must be my top priority.

It had been a while since we'd had a class meeting.  This afternoon, I asked my students to write down issues that they feel we need to address as a class community.  Their anonymous responses broke my heart.  Their concerns about cliques, about bullying, about "popularity" and hurtful behavior instantly brought me back to my days as an insecure, fragile seventh-grader.  Hey--they brought me back to my insecure afternoon last week!

We all spend time feeling hurt and disregarded, powerless and frustrated.  However, in an improv rehearsal--and in a classroom--we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves.  We can examine the power dynamics that exist, and we can shake it up.  We can find connections we didn't know existed, and we can develop new ones.  We can be better people.

And...how do we do this?  To start, we have class meetings and TALK about what's going on.  We make sure that each person's voice and perspective is heard and valued.
And we play.

I believe it's not enough to just talk ABOUT making new connections and redefining roles.  We need to mix up the social soup by randomly assigning partners and groups.  We need to share our stories and play silly games to help us laugh together.  We need to really listen to one another, accept those offers, and co-construct scenes.

I'm developing a sort-of game plan right now.  We're about 1/3 of the way through the year, in the middle of a major play with another class of 6th-8th-graders, and we've got the holidays breathing down our necks here.  We're coming off of the Halloween and World Series highs--and I've got more seventh-grade break-ups going on than one could imagine.  We all need a collective deep breath.

Whenever I can fit it in, we'll be playing games together.  From "poison peepers", to "category die", to "cosai", I'll bring in some of my class's favorite games.  I'll MAKE time to debrief and process these games with the kids--because that is where the power of improv lies.

As soon as we get back from Thanksgiving and can build in the concentrated time for workshops.
In our workshops, we'll focus on "Yes, and..." as well as "Make Your Partner Look Good".  We'll do some gibberish scenes, and explore how communication works.  We'll begin to really examine relationships between characters, and we'll start to delve into the scary and important world of "status".  We'll spend time getting to know each other and our stories (including playing more Portkey: http://www.improv-education.com/2010/09/improv-game-as-class-meeting.html), and we'll try to develop groupmind ("Counting to 10").  We'll focus on eye contact and mirroring--and shake our booties with some Diamond Dancing.

We have our work cut out for us this year.  It promises to be a great ride!

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