Saying Yes And

My first year of teaching was at a high school in The Hague. I remember sitting through a presentation on student interactions wherein the presenter talked about the different ways a teacher could respond to a student in class. I’ll translate what I remember her saying the options were:

No but…

No and…

Yes but…

Yes and…

I don’t remember all of what came next. It was in Dutch, and I was struggling to keep up. It was also several years ago. However, I do remember that ‘No’ and ‘but’ were not good words to say. They’re negative. The answer that was best (for the student and for the interaction) was Yes And.

A few years ago, I took an improvisation workshop. I’d always been curious about improvisation. I’d already heard about the cardinal rule of improvisation being that one’s response must always be Yes And.

We’re on the Moon.

– Yes. And it is in fact made of cheese.

Yes. And it’s inhabited by rats.

– Yes. And they speak French poorly.

It could go anywhere from that.

Contrast that with a scene where Yes And is not the rule.

We’re on the Moon.

No we’re not. We’re in my living room.

Scene dead.

Similarly, in a class where you shoot the student down (with a No) or where you contradict them (Yes but), the energy dies a bit.

I will admit that there are many time when I have asked a student a question (on a multiple choice question, for example) and they have answered with A when it should be B. What am I to say?

I say, “No. Anybody know?” Of course tone of voice plays a huge part in the way the No is received. In these cases, I have primed my students with the idea that they are in class in school to learn. Part of the learning process is to be wrong. It’s okay to be wrong. I’m wrong all the time.

Getting the students to think in a Yes And way is about getting them to think expansively:

What do you want to do after you get out of school?

– I don’t know. I know I like social media.

Yes. And what kinds of jobs deal with social media?

My experience of students is that they are so often unsure of themselves and what they are capable of. This stands to reason, as they are standing on the very front edge of adulthood. They have no experience with being a grown up. It’s the rare student who walks in saying, “This is what I want and this is how I plan to get it.” And while my response is always, “Go for it!” I know that any number of things could happen that could stop them from doing that or that could cause them to veer off that path (hopefully) onto another, but I am encouraging. It’s how I’m built.

We should always encourage our students. Try it. Explore it. Do some research. Find out more about it.

Be the teacher in their life who makes them think Yes And.

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