What Supports You? | Hooray for Monday

December 27, 2021

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 

This fall Jenna and I had the great pleasure of taking online improv classes with the incomparable Aretha Sills. Aretha is the granddaughter of Viola Spolin, the creator of improvisational theater, whose groundbreaking work not only revolutionized the training of actors, but also serves educators (as Viola states in this video) “as a learning system which can reach the intuitive power of the individual and release genius.” Improvisation is at the core of the Inspired Teaching approach: as teachers we welcome surprise – in the form of student questions, problems, and ideas – and we incorporate it into our lessons while remaining laser-focused on our objectives.

The class with Aretha connected us with kindred spirits across the country. Even in an online format, she kept us, literally, on our toes as she carried forward her family’s legacy of respectful, play-based learning.

During one activity, Aretha guided us on a random walk through our living rooms, basements, kitchens, wherever we were online. She sidecoached us, encouraging us to let our feet, then our spines, then our breath support us.

Her next prompt, a phrase she learned verbatim from Viola Spolin, posed a challenge that shifted something in me. She offered “Let the space support you.

At first, I wondered how to incorporate her input. How could space provide support? I pondered this as both a question of physics and of mindset. Gravity, air pressure, and other forces surely keep my feet (mostly) on the ground and my body upright. But can I really count on those things – which are external and which I can’t control – to support me?

As I accepted Aretha’s challenge, I began to refocus my attention and notice the things that support me, including the ones I’d taken for granted. I was curious to note how these supports met the ABCDE’s – those psychological needs that must be fulfilled in order to learn. This noticing led to gratitude. Among my supports are…

  • My family (Belonging)
  • The wisdom I’ve gained from my mistakes over the years (Competence)
  • My colleagues (Belonging)
  • My daughter Isabel’s hilarious and incisive Twitter feed, including this recent tweet that went viral (Engagement)
  • The work of changemakers who knew how to create a legacy, including bel hooks and Stephen Sondheim (Engagement)
  • Kind words from teachers and students about what they’ve learned from me (Competence)
  • TV shows that are fun to watch, and brilliantly written (Engagement)
  • The times I get to be a student, including in Aretha’s classes and in my dance classes (Developmental Appropriateness)
  • Being able to get a really good night’s sleep (Autonomy)

Jenna was recently invited to testify in front of the Washington, DC State Board of Education on teacher wellbeing. As Jenna’s testimony explains, teachers must meet their students’ ABCDE needs in order to help them thrive. And in order for teachers to support students, we must first support ourselves.

As you come up for air this week, I invite you to make your own list of the things that support you.

Rest well, and let us know how Inspired Teaching can continue to support you in 2022. We look forward to it.

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