The SAIL Teaching Framework

This is a condensed version of the complete chart, but it's a good place to start. Click for a larger view (and to download).

July 26, 2012

Why Stagecraft?

Teaching in a classroom is a kind of performance. All teachers know this, but some are uncomfortable with the word "performance." For me to invoke stagecraft as a pillar of my framework thus requires some explaining.

The anxiety around the word "performance" stems from a misunderstanding; performance means entertainment, and entertaining is the opposite of boring. Students hate boredom and like entertainment, so if you're not entertaining enough as a teacher, the students will hate you. But if you are nothing but entertaining, you are not doing your job. You can't win.

So first, performance does not mean entertainment. Performance means taking physical charge of a roomful of people in a way that is planned, practiced, aware, and proactive. To perform well is to do it gracefully, with poise and presence, humor and seriousness, using both training and improvisation. The performer is acutely aware of the audience, and knows how to read and work with their emotional energy.

Second, all teachers perform in the classroom - it's just a matter of whether the performance is deliberate or haphazard, the teacher conscious or unconscious. Wouldn't you prefer to understand and develop the physical impact you have on your class, and put that impact to work in your teaching?

Read this statement from the Circus Center in San Fransisco, where one can get training in physical performance. As you read, substitute the word "teacher" for "clown", and "classroom" for "stage." Then ponder your own level of teacherly stagecraft.
The clown teacher knows no limits, recognizes no rules or boundaries. Not because the clown teacher is rebellious or anarchic, but because they are infinitely curious about the world. They have a powerful desire to relate on all levels – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Clown comedy teaching is born out of this unbridled curiosity, this desire to play with learn everything. This is not the play of the child but of the adult, who enters into the game with a greater level of experience, awareness and a deeper range of emotion.
Read Notes from the Director on Clown.

July 23, 2012

Engaging and Effective

The goal of classroom management is the harnessing and managing of the students' attention in order to have that attention focused on the instruction.  To do this effectively, the teacher must consciously develop the instincts of a performer.  To have integrity, these instincts must arise sincerely from the teacher's own personality.  Training, practice, and the freedom to experiment and improvise are all indispensable to the development of these instincts.

The teacher who is both engaging and effective can couple this performance instinct with well-designed instruction.  What this looks like in the classroom will differ from teacher to teacher, but it will result in a student who is learning, and learning how to learn.

(read the complete essay here.)

July 14, 2012


Teaching isn't simply the inverse of learning.  A theory of teaching is not the same as a theory of learning, though there's an obvious relationship.  The young student learns; this is a process largely under the student's unconscious control.  The teacher sets up the environment that allows the student to learn effectively.  The student cannot see what the teacher is really doing in this regard, that is why the student needs a teacher.  Ultimately, the student should become able to teach himself by learning, consciously and deliberately, from others.

There is such a thing as teaching.  Teaching is not training, though training can be a part of teaching.  Teaching is not coaching, though it can include coaching.  Teaching is not supervising, it is not facilitation, not managing learning resources, not providing services, not delivering curriculum, not just the inverse of learning.  It is its own activity, its own expertise, an expertise that happens to have student learning as an end goal.

(read the complete introduction here.)

A Statement on Teaching

Potential employers sometimes ask for a statement of educational philosophy.  What is being asked for usually is a general statement about the importance of schooling, and the extent of one's enthusiasm for it.  I decided instead to write how I felt about teaching, since that is what I do.  Interestingly, my statement has been seen by some of my comrades as quirky, or even subversive.  Maybe I'm just not following the rules.

Nonetheless, here is my statement:

I am, first of all, a teacher.  My educational philosophy is a philosophy of teaching.  Teaching is not restricted to the classroom, but in the classroom I am a science teacher, a physics teacher.  Physics is a particular way of thinking, of seeing the world, of interacting with nature, and that is what I try to teach: how to think in the particular way that is physics.

For the student, this means that he must be prepared to think differently and to see differently.  This is what it means to learn.  He must also learn how to work with the tools of physics: the language and vocabulary of physics, the equations of physics, the ideas and concepts, the solving of particular kinds of problems in a particular way.

This is not easy work, thinking differently, and I must use the tools of teaching to bring the student to the point of change and learning.  The student must trust both me and herself, and she must be convinced that the journey is possible.  It is up to me to make physics engaging, intelligible, and achievable for the student.  I must help her experience it from every conceivable angle until she can see its many facets on her own.

In the end, the approach and goal of teaching is the same whether I am teaching physics, chemistry, philosophy, or music.  The young student’s vision and abilities are limited, but the capability is there.  A journey is embarked upon by both teacher and student.  Enlarging his vision, expanding his ability, tapping into his capability, employing what he already knows and can do – this is what the student must do for himself, but with guidance from a teacher who can see who the student is and what he can accomplish, and who knows the appropriate route and all its vicissitudes.

The SAIL Teaching Framework

This is a condensed version of the complete chart, but it's a good place to start.  Click for a larger view.