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  • Writer's pictureLisa

Improvisation and the Brain - Monroe, MI

Updated: Feb 3, 2020

The teaching team at Meadow Montessori had no idea what they were getting into when they began their in-service professional development day. In store for these 40 teachers and staff was a full-day workshop on comedic improvisation. Games, exercises, activities, storytelling, and scene-making were played throughout the day with much hilarity and surprise. How does improv relate to a teacher's professional development? Improvisation is an experiential tool examining how the brain works in building relationships and solving problems. Teachers are in the people business, so when it comes to thought processing and behavior analysis, teachers are on the front line.

When improvising, the brain instinctively goes into survival mode, triggering fight, flight, or freeze reactions. This can happen with any new experience, but especially in a 'high pressure' situation, as improv simulates. We see this when inexperienced improvisers start a scene; there is a tendency for the scene to go into a fight, or an escape, or a player 'blanking'. The players in the scene are experiencing their reptilian brain taking over. In improvisation we train the brain to resist this urge and encourage openness, agreement, and affinity toward the other person on stage. By connecting to a scene partner, and caring for that person, we stimulate the mammalian brain which rules our emotions and empathy. This mammalian brain is the gateway to our neo-cortex, where our highest level of thinking lives. Reason and logic are the specialty of the neo-cortex. Now, instead of a fight on stage, we see two people in agreement, puzzling out the situation and coming up with clever solutions. This is improvisation at its best...magic happening right in front of our eyes!

The integration of brain functioning to override an argumentative or defensive disposition are useful tools in building relationships with students, colleagues, and parents. Recognizing when another person is operating in a reptilian mode gives insight on how to continue the conversation. Also recognizing when our own brain is working on a base level, we can utilize strategies to lift our thought processing to a more productive plane. This comes from connecting with another person, expressing empathy, and then finding the logical steps to a solution.

Thanks to the enthusiastic, daring, and playful education team at Meadow Montessori for a great day of discovery!

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