ARM Teachers – YES – With Applied Improv Training!

It is a disturbing reality that our nation is struggling with gun laws, active shooting preparations, and immeasurable tragedies around violence. We have a new term for kids in this era, “Generation Lockdown” and this 8 y.o. girl knows more about preparing for an “active shooter” than any child should have to.

Picture of 8 y.o. girl who gave staff meeting training on what to do in the event of an "active shooter".

Watch this brief video of an All-Staff meeting in National City, CA for your own safety. Kayleigh has the necessary expertise. She, along with 95% of public school children in the USA practice lockdown drills at school.

Rather than arm teachers with guns, I propose an idea that will help them promote healthy social interactions. Because healthy social interactions are the opposite of bullying, isolation, and disengagement. Behaviors that contribute to internalizing or externalizing violence.

And there is a surprising tool that can help – applied improv. Integrating simple improv activities into your lesson plans monthly or even once in a while can contribute to healthier individuals, more positive relationships, and safer classrooms. It won’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of time and since improv by nature is interactive, the potential for social and emotional learning is huge.

Improv and Children

Viola Spolin and Neva Boyd are considered to be pioneers in the work of bridging social and emotional learning with theater education in the last century. Their work evolved into the well-known improv phenomenon, 2nd City in Chicago through Spolin’s son, Paul Sills and currently via her granddaughter, Aretha Sills.

I developed a model using theater games to teach emotional intelligence to children as my practicum in graduate school. The idea arose from the combination of learning my own relationship patterns in psychotherapy, growing new skills with improv classes, observing my son’s positive theater experiences, and teaching communication-related skills to healthcare professionals.

After graduating, I used this model in summer camps in Maine and New Hampshire and for a service learning grant with 3rd and 5th graders in York, ME. Consistently, the feedback from parents, teachers, and children included improvements in:

  • Ability to listen
  • Confidence
  • Patience
  • Relationships
  • Communication

If you are a teacher of any subject grades 3 and up, have facilitation skills, want to act now, this article will give you what you need to get started including this link to instructions for a simple warm-up activity called “Radical Acceptance“. (Originally written for business leaders with an addendum of facilitation tips for teachers.)

If you are intrigued by the idea and want more help facilitating activities, discuss this article with your school’s principal, drama teacher, and guidance counselor, take an improv class, or check out this pilot class for teachers and leaders. The best way to learn to teach is to play.

Why Expert Facilitation Skills are Essential

Many kids and adults are anxious about participating in interactive activities. While some of us are naturally introverted, we can see how social skills are being eroded on a grand scale right in front of our eyes. We are becoming social animals without skills to socialize. Learning these essential skills can feel scary. Teachers need to create a safe environment, minimize emotional risk, and ensure everyone’s success.

There is a delicate line between nudging someone outside their comfort zone for healthy social growth and ensuring emotional safety. You need to be able to sense group power dynamics, individual skill levels and readiness for risk, tweak activities in ways that support learning needs and inclusion, and be fully present, fair, and trustworthy. These skills are intuitive and can be developed with practice and a genuine desire to keep everyone safe.

What are the benefits?

Inclusion & Dignity

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. Simple improv activities, like “Radical Acceptance”, involve everyone and are non-competitive. You don’t have to be perfect, or funny, or dramatic. You do have to be collaborative, appropriate, and respectful. There are no winners or losers. Some students will be more engaged, expressive, and comfortable than others for sure and that’s ok. With a little guidance you can make sure that everyone is included while learning to appreciate each other’s differences. This, in and of itself is worth dedicating a few minutes every month to playing some improv with your class and developing your skills as a facilitator.

Helps Students at Risk

Are there students in your classroom who seem introverted, shy, alone a lot, or quiet? As you know, these kids may be at risk for bullying, disengagement or isolation and a variety of mental or physical health issues as a result. Facilitated improv activities can be ideal for fostering engagement between these kids and others. This is important because improv, like life, involves relationships and interactions. While scary for some, in your classroom you can nurture, monitor, and model participation. This may still feel emotionally risky, yet what is going on on the playground, in the locker room, on the way to school, or even at home may be much more dangerous.

Build Emotional Intelligence and Communication Skills

Some of the most magical outcomes of applied improv are when people develop self-confidence, trust in themselves and others, and become better communicators. Soft skills that are critical in all areas of life and are constantly being developed and practiced in applied improv!

In the same activity and same moment one person is learning to speak up while another is learning to listen. You facilitate the learning and participants actually teach each other! For instance, one child who is more confident and assertive will help another develop these skills by listening to a quieter child. This means being quiet until s/he gets ready to share an idea and supportive when s/he does. Meanwhile the quieter child, while working at self-expression, helps her ‘friend’ to become more patient and a better listener.

Practice Sharing Power

Communication is a dance that involves a complex exchange of leading and following in the course of developing trust and navigating relationships. One way to think about it is that listening requires us to give up power and speaking up requires taking on power. For listening, we have to be able to let other people in for decision-making and honor other perspectives that may be quite different from our own. This means we have to let go or at least suspend our own ideas and ways of thinking. For speaking up, we need to be willing to share ideas and concerns and demonstrate accountability, in short to put ourselves out there. Both letting go of power and taking it on can feel unfamiliar and emotionally risky. Yet, being able to share power is integral to forming healthy relationships, managing conflict, and embracing diversity. Processes that our world is in dire need of.

If you are curious about the deeper work involved in communication, I explore them in these two 30 min webinars for nurse leaders with F.A. Davis Publishing.

Activities are Fun

Play enhances learning and provides incentive even if you are teaching math or history. And if this kind of activity is outside your comfort zone, please don’t let that stop you. Have a drama teacher help, or a student who is active in drama, or dive in knowing that your discomfort will probably be very powerful modeling for others who feel similarly. And you might find that you grow. I am still having fun and learning as I teach improv and will frequently start out with an activity I learned from Jude Treder-Wolff in a workshop on managing change.

“Radical Acceptance”

Radical Acceptance” is such a simple activity you may be shocked at how quickly and easily the benefits can be felt. One young man told me once that he loved it so much he taught his friends at a bachelor party and they loved it! Keep that in mind as you read about it and resist the urge to dismiss it because it seems silly! The above link describes the activity for business leaders with an addendum at the end with tips for teachers! If you have questions or feedback, please reach out

PILL as Playful Learning around Portsmouth – PILL as Playful Teaching around the World!

Over 2 years ago a few people joined me to launch the Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab aka PILL!  Many, such as Joanne Hardin,  have been pleasantly surprised with their experience of improv  without a performance focus.

  • I had forgotten how to play and had so much fun!
  • I met such nice people!
  • I was nervous at first, but the instructors made it safe!
  • I learned how to be a better communicator!

BTW, We have a new beginners’ class starting Saturday afternoons 11/17/18 and would love to have you join us. (If the fee is a barrier, please email beth:

AND a lot has happened since then!

In addition to many joyful moments in classes, potlucks, fundraisers, and holiday parties there are three pretty awesome things evolving from PILL that have local and global implications.

First, about 15 PILL students have participated in a filming project.  It is a project designed to get video footage that will help others see how fun, easy, and safe activities are.  And how they can be used to teach communication-related skills. These are held at PPMTV and are a blast. Pizza, T-shirts, and fun times are the rewards for participants and I get powerful video footage that I can use  as a nurse consultant.  I teach communication and emotional intelligence in healthcare and am very passionate about it b/c the skills help us provide better care and enjoy our work.  (We make way too many mistakes for our patients and suffer way too much burnout.)

Just last month an online article I wrote about Medical Improv included PILL videos and has gone over the world wide web.  Check it out here and please share with any healthcare professionals you know!

Second, one PILL student knew of and thought that we could be helpful to Friends Forever International, (FFI) a Durham, NH based organization that helps young adults from other countries learn skills and build relationships that will help them become leaders and promote peace!

Michael, Beth, Myan, Liz, & Clinton

Co-teacher, Liz Korabek-Emerson and I reached out, met with their programming director, and then had a second meeting with 3 of their Alums from Northern Ireland and Israel. In this second meeting, Liz and I learned about the improv workshop they were designing and offered some ideas to help them meet their objectives.  (There is an art to designing and facilitating safe, fun, and meaningful improv workshops and I don’t mind claiming, we are really good at it.)

We left that meeting feeling quite jazzed that our input would help them bridge relationships with 10 young adults, ( 5 Catholic & 5 Protestant)!  More to be revealed w/ FFI!


Third, Liz and I  also kicked off a community-building  retreat for Journey Song, an organization that works with Hospice and provides singing to folks who are dying. We designed a “Gods Must Be Crazy” session using our most popular formula of mindfulness and improv!

This is a great new way for businesses to offer fun and effective team-building!

The Gods Must Be Crazy was outstanding. I thought it would be good but it was much more than that. –JS Member

I loved 'The Gods Must Be Crazy'! They added a lot to the day & set the tone for the rest of the retreat. -JS Member Click To Tweet

Want to learn more?  Drop us a line!

Lessons about Perspective-taking and Empathy from a Rogue Rubber Band & Hand-knitted Pair of Socks!


Carolyn Vibbert, an illustrator and Kathy Pearce, a librarian are also PILL students (Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab).


Oh, but that’s not all!

Carolyn was recently interviewed as the most memorable Rogue Rubber Band (RRB) followed by Kathy answering questions as the most endearing Hand-knitted Pair of Socks (H-kPoS) in our own version of the new hit podcast Everything is Alive!

I know, I know,  it sounds weird.  Yet, not only was it extremely fun to have them interview each other while they personified inanimate objects, both conversations were quite heartfelt.

Here are some highlights!

RRB shared stories from being in a war with other rubber bands.  She didn’t like that.  She also explained how some would put her on their wrist and snap her for some sort of behavior change and that kind of jazzed her up.  Then, in answering a question about being useful, she shared a poignant story of how one her friends who had a disability (was broken) and had been wrapped around a pile of papers and secured with a piece of tape.

H-kPoS shared what it was like to go through the washing machine, scary at first, but ultimately fun. (It was her favorite day of the week as I recall, emerging all fresh and clean).  She also described a difficult time in her life when she was separated from her mate having been trapped in a pant leg and put away for the season.  Oh but what a joy it was when they found each other again! And she wasn’t worried about aging and getting worn b/c becoming a puppet or even cleaning rag offered promises of vitality.

After our class that evening I thought about the experience a lot! I realized that it could be a fun and safe way to build empathy and practice perspective-taking.  I mean, if we can let ourselves think and feel what someTHING else’s experience might be, just maybe it could be a fun, safe step in exploring what someONE else might be thinking or feeling.

Perspective-taking and empathy are critical relationship skills that help us listen, learn, and navigate conflict. Click To Tweet

Powerful skills for today’s world, right? Skills that require safe practice b/c they are not easy to develop, especially if we are feeling vulnerable.

Facilitated improv classes are fun, safe, and sometimes, transformative!

Next entry level Discover PILL class starts Saturday afternoon 11/17/18.

“Collaborative Arts” A new series to learn and practice how to work collaboratively to catalyze change!

Drawing from the ARTS to bring the best out in individuals, communities and businesses holds much promise for humanity and the seacoast is rich with resources!

I recently met consultant, Beth Tener through colleague Liz Korabek-Emerson.  Beth participated in our recent mindfulness and improv PILL class and was a delight to work and play with!

She is doing some exciting workshops at the beautiful Seacoast Science Center and I can’t wait to go to the ecosystem one she is offering.  Perfect location, right?  She just completed the first of three sessions and it was a great success, (THE ART OF DESIGNING MEETINGS THAT DO MORE)!

Here is a little about Beth and upcoming workshops!  (You can go to one or both even if you missed the first one!)

Beth is the Principal of New Directions Collaborative, is a facilitator and strategy coach who works with collaborative initiatives that bring together business, government, and the social sector to address complex challenges, such as transitioning to a clean energy economy and revitalizing communities.


Monday, October 29, 2018
1:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT

Given the complex inter-related challenges our communities and organizations face, it is becoming imperative to work across disciplines, organizations, and cultures to develop workable solutions. Learn more and register here.


Thursday, November 29, 2018
1:00PM – 4:00PM EDT

Activating the full potential within an organization, community, or network requires us to see how our work fits into a larger whole and how we can connect what are often fragmented “parts.” Some wisdom, collective strength, and innovative solutions can only be activated when we engage and connect all parts of an organization, community, or system. Learn more and register here.

Thanks for enriching our community, Beth.

Friends Forever International-Did you know about this cool organization in our backyard?

Right off of Rte 4 in Durham! You have to admit this is pretty exciting work.  Hopeful work. 


Friends Forever International empowers youth leaders to connect, strengthen, and serve communities around the globe by combining their passion to make the world a better place with the skills, experiences, and resources required to do so.  Learn more about the awesome work FFI is doing.

Their GOAL

Every young person who desires, regardless of ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, and ability will have the opportunity to build their leadership skills beyond what they imagined possible before participating in the program. These young leaders will transform the way that they see the world and realize that they can change the world for the better. Now.

How did this get on the PILL radar you ask?

Word of mouth always involves relationships and stories. That’s why when PILL student, Joanne Hardin suggested that Liz Korabek-Emerson and I reach out to FFI leadership, we did.  She had just completed our mindfulness and improv class, Stronger Together and in addition to her testimonial, felt our work might be of interest to this organization.  (She knows of FFI from a close friend.)

Front to back Chelsea, Beth, Liz!

Long story short, we reached out and were invited to connect. Liz and I met with Chelsea Fitton, Sr. Program and Community Engagement Manager recently.  As you can see we had an inspiring meeting.  And we hope to go back and talk more with their alumni trainers soon.  Thinking just maybe some mindfulness and improv might be helpful! 🙂

Lots of hopeful stuff going on in the world despite all the chaos!  Thanks, Joanne!

Medical Improv & How I Got into It in WAY FUN Podcast w/ Margot Escott, LCSW!

Hey Friends of PILL, ‘Out of the PILLbox Players’, and friends and colleagues of yours truly! Please put this podcast on your radar to listen to and share. I loved talking with Margot about improv work locally and nationally.  Margot’s questions and listening helped me to articulate my beliefs and wisdoms with a sense of confidence, enthusiasm, and spiritual focus that feels so authentic.

Lot’s of fun topics and mentions (my son and his work, history of me and med improv, using the word improv in teaching pros and cons, AIN conference coming up in NYC, love, listening, empathy, and more….)

Podcast: Beth Boynton & Medical Improv

Hope you enjoy, happy for feedback, and most of all, THANK YOU!

Margot’s podcast series is focused on Improv for Therapists and I’m jazzed to listen to others and follow this series. She is a social worker in Florida and is doing some wonderful work using improv for caregivers and folks who live with Parkinson’s.

Oh and PILL classes coming up soon!


Margot Escott, LCSW & Beth Boynton, RN, MS - inspiring conversation @ Medical Improv on 25 min podcast! Click To Tweet

What Would a Kavanaugh Apology to Ford Look Like? And in What World?

I believe Christine Blassey-Ford’s account of Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her when they were in high school. I am open to learning new information that suggests otherwise.

I also believe a healthier world is possible!

One where all people are of equal value, have the skills to communicate respectfully and share power in relationships.  Mutuality and boundaries will vary, but respect will be constant.

In order to create such a world, we need a vision of what it might look like along with effective ways to develop ‘soft’ skills like self-reflection, ownership, perspective-taking, attentive listening, and empathy. These are hard skills to practice because they require emotional maturity, behavioral change, a culture that supports them, and safe opportunities to practice with others. I’ve learned a lot of these kinds of skills through individual work in therapy and playing with others in improv classes.

For one minute, just one minute, consider a universe where Judge Kavanaugh apologizes to Dr. Ford. Click To Tweet

A parallel planet somewhere where humans are more evolved than we are right now. Here, Brett Kavanaugh has gained insight into his own emotional injuries and alcohol use through psycotherapy and Alcoholics Anonymous. He has come to realize he has hurt many people in his life and wants to make amends. He pieces together memories and admits to himself, his therapist and  his wife that he assaulted Christine Blassey-Ford when they were in High School.

He is learning how to express himself and listen more respectfully in therapy.  He is taking applied improv classes to help him to practice . With support of his therapist and wife he has decided to contact Dr. Ford and to admit his behavior and apologize.   He knows must take this step if he is to be a healthy husband, father, and Judge.

Kavanaugh writes a letter.

Dear Dr. Ford,

I am writing to you today with a heavy heart and a great deal of shame.  I am sure you remember, probably better than I do, that day when I assaulted you in a bedroom at that party in the summer of 1982.  Mark Judge was there and we were both very drunk.  We were laughing when I pinned you on the bed, groping you and trying to take off your clothes with one hand and covering your mouth to keep you from screaming with the other.  I can’t remember how you got away and can only imagine how scared you must have been.  You were younger and smaller than me.  It must have been terrifying for you and I am so so sorry.  I can’t begin to imagine the physical and emotional pain I caused you.

If there is anything I can do to help decrease the pain I must have caused and may still be causing today, I want to try.  I will answer any questions you have and try to help you understand my horrific behavior as I have come to in therapy.   I will listen if there is a way that feels safe to you.  With police, your husband, or any support you need present? Or read anything that you would want to share.  I don’t know if you can ever forgive me. I terrorized you and will understand if you do not want to interact with me in any way. I do know that I will work very hard to earn some kind of forgiveness. I am afraid of a criminal complaint, but if you decided to file one, I won’t fight it.  I have two daughters and as father I cannot fathom how something like what I did to you might impact them.

Words are not enough for the remorse I feel about what I did to you.

Brett Kavanaugh

I don't know what Dr. Ford's response to such a letter would be, but it could be a path towards healing for everyone. Click To Tweet

Sigh….human evolution is a slow process!

And to those of us involved in furthering the efforts of applied improv and  other ways of nurturing humanity, let’s keep going! Fight for truth and justice here and now, take care of ourselves, and contribute to a healthier world whenever we can!

Where can you get True Blue Seaglass Jewelry & Wave Rings? REALLY Real Seaglass?

Seaglass is a real word no matter what spellcheck says! And it is only real if the sea has rolled it around, smoothed it out, and left it on a beach somewhere. And Jori Ami has been collecting it for years on beaches far and near.

Jori is the owner of True Blue Seaglass!  She’ll be at the Marketfest on Saturday 9/22/18 in York, Maine with lots of unique and lovely earrings, bracelets, toe-rings, and more! Collecting seaglass and turning it into beautiful jewelry is a spiritual experience for Jori. She collects and crafts each piece with a vision, artistry, and love!

I’m going so I can say “Hi” AND get more silver wave rings.  To create a ripple effect on my hand.   Sort of like the double decker waves here. Can you envision one on each finger?

Check out all the vendors and activities at Marketfest York!

And please, pray for surf!


Envision a face saying “Ewwwww”: How nonverbal language can build trust, even with folks with dementia!

Among other things like creating opportunities for divine play and meeting nice people, Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab (PILL) offers classes that help participants tune into nonverbal communication. Keeping in mind that 80-90 % of our communication takes place in this realm, increased awareness of and facility with sending and receiving nonverbal messages can help us with all of our relationships.

Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts! --Albert Einstein Click To Tweet

What I communicate nonverbally is important in building trust and safety with students and one way to describe what I mean is to share an example that comes from working as an RN in a long term care facility a few years ago.  Here I was a Charge Nurse for two secure (locked) units where folks with moderate to severe dementia lived.

One of my tasks was giving medication to people who couldn’t swallow pills and so certain medications would be crushed and mixed with something that was easier and hopefully more enjoyable to swallow, like applesauce or for some, even better, ice-cream.  Even so, sometimes, residents would

make a face that told me the experience was gross!

In this moment, I would take a minute to respond to their nonverbal message.  “Oh that didn’t taste very good did it?  I’m sorry!”   I don’t think that my words were understood, but I believe most of my patients sensed the sincerity and compassion conveyed in my facial expression, tone, and other body language.

Please consider joining us for our next PILL class which starts 9/26!  Liz Korabek-Emerson and I will begin our 5th session of our Stronger Together class where we combine mindfulness and improv for a unique and fun experience!

Creating an environment where people feel safe is essential for facilitating positive experiences and learning as recently described by Joanne Hardin in this testimonial.