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Mindset & Motivation, Truth for Teachers Collective   |   Jul 25, 2021

When your school’s plan keeps changing, use Tina Fey’s 4 rules of improv

By Caitlin Hilzer

Music/Theater Educator

When your school’s plan keeps changing, use Tina Fey’s 4 rules of improv

By Caitlin Hilzer

If there’s one thing I know about teachers, it’s that we’re exceptional planners. We’re also exceptionally skilled at panicking if we don’t know what to plan or how to plan.

So, how can we set ourselves up for success when the rules keep changing?


Theatre teachers and actors everywhere have been studying improv since they stepped on a stage for the first time. Improv is a direct path to unleashing creativity and connecting with other actors on stage.  It’s a way to tell a story when there is no script.

Improv might seem random and chaotic — how on earth can those actors keep going when there’s no script? Improv actors are constantly guided by a set of rules that keep them on track, present, and ready for any curveballs thrown their way.

Famed improviser Tina Fey wrote four rules for improv in her book Bossypants. Let’s take a look at how these four rules can help you be ready for anything in this coming school year.

Rule #1: Agree and Say “Yes”

You’ve likely seen a variety of “plans” from your administration or district this year regarding managing online learning, working with students in-person, or navigating a hybrid model. Your gut instinct may be to pick apart the pieces of these plans and look for what doesn’t work.

You might not agree with everything your administration has put together. You may feel that each new “plan” has holes and unrealistic demands. Yet, in improv, it’s important that you acknowledge and respect what your scene partner has offered. Take the information you are given and begin to imagine the ideal classroom with the new structures that are in place rather than dwelling on visions of your classroom in previous years, months, or even weeks.

Rule #2: Say “Yes, And”

Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted the information your admin has given you, it’s your responsibility to contribute and add something to the discussion. Contributing can take a variety of forms. Reach out to other teachers and begin to brainstorm. Look for other teachers who are asking questions you know the answer to — and don’t be afraid to give them that answer. Seek out other teachers who have shared lesson plans that are adaptable to your scenario and figure out how to make it work in your classroom. If you have strategies or lessons that other teachers could benefit from, put them out into the world!

There will never be a perfect teaching scenario, and you cannot let a lack of information prevent you from taking action. Use your expertise to determine what your students need to know, and let that knowledge guide you as the rules and expectations change.

Rule #3: Make Statements

You can ask questions until you’re blue in the face. As much as your admin wants to support you, they don’t have all of the answers right now. No one does. And, while a lack of answers is frustrating, scary, panic-inducing, etc., at some point, you have to do something. Deciding to be adaptable is making a statement. Deciding to choose learning objectives while leaving the specific delivery of your lesson open-ended is making a statement. You have more control over your classroom than you think (and if you find yourself saying “But what about…” or “What if…” right now, go back to Rule #2 and replace those questions with “Yes, and…”).

Rule #4: There Are No Mistakes

Teachers, put down the red pen. No one has done what teachers are being asked to do right now at any time in history. There is not a single person in education who has the correct answer at this point in time. I know you’re worried about your instructional time, and standards, and objectives, and testing, and classroom environment, and technology, and so forth. Trust your abilities as an educator, trust that you know what your students need, and acknowledge that everything you are doing in your current teaching situation, whether it’s in-person, remote, or something else, is the best that you can do. You will not ruin your students — the fact that you continue to show up in whatever way you can is all they need from you right now.

So, what’s the next step?

In all likelihood, the “rules” for this school year will change until the last day, and you may be asked, once again, to overhaul your instruction overnight. Yet, those kind of curveballs don’t have to derail your teaching. Each time you find yourself faced with new expectations, remember to think like an improviser — a simple “Yes, and…” can help you move forward and continue to create meaningful experiences for your students.

Caitlin Hilzer

Music/Theater Educator

Caitlin has taught music and theatre to K-12 students in both traditional and Montessori classroom settings. Caitlin is also an active oboist, actress, and music director in the Denver area. An alternate approach, where teachers co-construct community and rules with...
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  1. This is amazing! I couldn’t help think how helpful it could also be for students. Especially as older students approach adulthood, but still have so much of their lives dictated, this list would help them to roll with their own ups, downs, and changes.

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