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Laughing Matters Teaches Serious Lessons

Teachers and administrators get to try out roles and strategies through workshops offered by Laughing Matters, an Atlanta (Georgia) improvisation troupe. Nancy L. Meyer, a former teacher, who handles education outreach for Laughing Matters, tells Education World she tailors presentations to the needs of the staff. Included: Descriptions of Laughing Matters workshop activities for teachers and administrators.

Motivating students and staff is nothing to sneeze at, but for an improvisational group in Atlanta, Georgia, it is a laughing matter.

The troupe, called Laughing Matters Improvisation, travels to schools, businesses, and other venues to involve people in improvisational theater.

One member, Nancy L. Meyer, who taught for 20 years, is the troupe's education outreach member. She does many of the school presentations on her own but some with fellow troupe member Joshua Ruben.

"We do a lot of team-building activities," says Meyer, the former head of the Greenwich (Connecticut) High School theater department. "We come up with group solutions, explore new ideas, as well as laugh."


Meyer said she develops her programs based on staff interest. "We usually work on classroom management," Meyer tells Education World. That could include having teachers portray actual situations and getting feedback from other teachers or Meyer and her partner or another teacher acting out scenarios.

In one activity, Meyer plays a teacher in the staff room who says nothing but negative things about her students and the school. Another teacher tries to steer her to comments that are more positive.

As part of conflict management techniques, guidance counselors role-play an actual incident, only Meyer tells them to give it a "fairy-tale" ending. Then she says to resolve the situation more realistically but with a positive outcome. "We get into what is possible, impossible, and what can happen," says Meyer.

Dean Rusk Middle School in Canton, Georgia, invited Meyer and her partner to do a half-day workshop before school opened in the fall. Meyer set up skits involving student-student conflicts and student-teacher conflicts and had teachers brainstorm solutions, says Kay Dodd, Dean Rusk's assistant principal.

"She helps teachers feel at ease, and they are able to act things out," Dodd tells Education World. "Teachers respond to her because she knows what she's doing. It was very beneficial to our staff."

Meyer also read the school's behavior policy so she could work that into her skits, says Dodd.

In one real-life situation staff members role-played, teachers discussed a student who tried to get attention from teachers and peers by wearing "inappropriate" clothes and spiking and coloring his hair, says Dodd. This year, teachers have tapped into the student's art talent, giving him projects to do. Now that he is getting recognition for his artwork, he has toned down his appearance. "He's getting more positive attention," adds Dodd.


Middle school staff at another school, Epstein Jewish Day School in Atlanta, called on Meyer to present a workshop on improving communication with students.

Activities included a story the teachers told by having each person add a word and positioning Meyer and her partner to help tell the story.

"We have a lot of kids who get a lot of attention, and we're trying to level out the playing field," says Debbie Ames, Epstein's cultural events coordinator for the middle school. "We wanted to find a way to reach the kids who are a little more shy."

Meyer also does presentations for students, which are well received, says Dodd. "Teachers were familiar with her style and how she relates to middle school students. They were confident she could put [the presentation] in a format for teachers."

The interaction during the workshops is important for teachers as well, Meyer said. "They really have great ideas; they just can never get together and discuss them."

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World