|workshop design and facilitation|
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT
- Social-emotional skills have a direct impact on a person's capacity to learn and change, navigate relationships and solve problems in collaboration with others;
- Applied Improvisation combines creative engagement with emotional and social connection that cultivates social-emotional skills;
- Emotions play a central role in our decision-making, problem-solving and just everything we have to do to not only survive but to relate to other people and to think on ever-more complex levels.
"I think improv helps people become better humans. It makes people listen better. Improv rules are life rules. And so, if a lot more people are taking improv, a lot more people are being thoughtful in their daily life about how they interact with each other...."We could say that saying “yes” is the foundational thing, but really it's listening and hearing what the other person is saying. Then building off of that rather than waiting for someone to stop talking so you can say your thing. That's the hardest thing to learn as an improviser—it's to listen. And I think that's one of the hardest things to do as a person. Listen, and use what's being said rather than 'oh are you done yet? let me say what I'm going to say.'" Learning To Listen, With The Help of Improv, on Atlantic.com
SOME RESEARCH THAT SUPPORTS EXPERIENTIAL METHODS FOR DEVELOPING SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL SKILLS
|Matthew Lieberman, PhD|
These "dramatic events" are emotional because of meaning derived out of our experiences with other people. Matthew Lieberman, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Biobehavioral Sciences and author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, argues that our need to reach out to and connect with others is a primary driver behind our behavior. He discusses research which shows, for example, that the parts of the brian that are lit up when we are rejected by other people - even if we hardly know them - is the same part of the brain that is activated when we feel physical pain. Empathy, intuition, and other emotionally-driven social cues are integral to to learning and success, according to his findings.
This information should be remaking the way we think about education, health care and any other domain in which the acquisition and application of knowledge or behavior change are the primary objectives. "Our institutions — from schools and sports teams to the military and health care institutions — would perform better if they were structured with an understanding of our social nature," Dr. Lieberman stated in an interview with UCLA News. "Our school system says to turn off that social brain. We typically don't teach history by asking what Napoleon was thinking; we teach about territorial boundaries and make it as non-social as possible. Too often we take away what makes information learnable and memorable and emphasize chronology while leaving out the motivations. Eighth graders' brains want to understand the social world and the minds of other people. We can tap into what middle school students are biologically predisposed to learn, and we can do this to improve instruction in history and English, and even math and science."
Our interactions with other people are constantly creating and reinforcing neural pathways. Through relationships we literally change one another’s brains. In the critical developmental years of adolescence, having skills that promote relationships of reciprocity can form a foundation for shaping one's social/emotional life going forward. In “Grand Challenge: Nature Versus Nurture: How Does the Interplay of Biology and Experience Shape Our Brains and Make Us Who We Are?” a panel of researchers at the Institute of Medicine (US) 2008 Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders. Washington (DC) Researcher Colin Blakemore, Ph.D stated that his and others' studies show that “neurons can change their connectivity. They can change the strength of their connections. They can change the morphology of their connections. They can do it not necessarily just in early stages of life, although that is especially exaggerated, but probably throughout life responding to new environments and experiences.”
The skills developed through engagement in the games and exercise described below include:
- Recognizing how the stress response impacts thinking and physiology;
- Learning how to focus attention in ways that help pilot through the stress response without being derailed by it;
- Connecting to the emotional energy of a group;
- Contributing to a positive emotional tone in a group;
- Responding to the unpredictable with mental agility, adaptability and creativity;
- Getting on the same page with others in a short amount of time;
- Empathy and emotional awareness;
- Recognizing and responding to social cues;
- Collaboration with partners;
I AM A TREE - Social-Emotional Learning edition
Develop a story moment-to-moment;
Replace over-thinking and planning with moment-to-moment responsiveness;
Collaborate with others to create a story without planning or over-thinking;
Focus awareness on emotions;
Player A stands in the center of the circle and says "I am a tree." Next player adds something to the tree, e.g. "I am a bird in the tree." Next player adds something to the bird, e.g. "I am a piece of birdseed in the bird's beak." Next player adds something to the birdseed, e.g. "I am the lady throwing birdseed on the ground." Next player adds something to the lady throwing birdseed, e.g. "I am the bench the lady is sitting on. And so on until everyone is in the story. The story can continue, starting with the last offer that was made: "I am the bench the lady is sitting on," followed by "I am a cell phone that's been left on the bench, " etc.
Then begin a story that involves offers that center on emotions, e.g. First player: "I am the sad umbrella;" Next player: "I am the angry rain coming down on the umbrella." Next player: "I am the frustrated child whose picnic lunch is ruined by the rain." etc. See how far the story can go. Try to make the emotional offers build on one another. Discuss what is challenging about that and how it informs the collaboration.
Practice attentive listening;
Practice bypassing the impulse to edit or expand content and focus on emotional expression;
Discuss content with incongruent, "over the top" emotions that produce the dramatic event that drives social-emotional learning;
Practice listening to a complex communication that combines content and emotion;
Two players sit on chairs side by side. Player A discusses the material about the stress response (or any other content, it could be something that was discussed earlier in the workshop) coming from a strong emotion. Player B listens, saying nothing, mirroring the emotion as closely as possible. When Player A perceives that Player B is in the same emotional space, he/she leaves the park bench and Player C joins Player B. Player B repeats everything he/she said about the topic - without adding any content the person did not include, sticking to what was said - with the strong emotional expression, then shifts to a different emotion, which the next player mirrors. Player B leaves and Player D joins Player C, mirrors the emotion and absorbs the changed emotion when Player B shifts gears.
Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT is a consultant/trainer, writer/performer and President of Lifestage, Inc a company that designs and facilitates creative, experiential training for human service professionals and arts-based growth groups and events. She is host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, a storytelling show that features true stories - with a twist - told by people of all backgrounds, ages and walks of life.