Developing Skills of the Future for Students Through Impro

by Lottie Dowling on 1 December, 2020 in schools, theatresports, Workshops


We constantly hear that schools need to prepare students for a future that is increasingly unknown and evolving faster than anyone can imagine. Research has shown us that when our students graduate, they will work in jobs that don’t yet exist or, will be completely different iterations of current jobs. Digital disruption, the technological revolution and the age of globalization are all contributing to an economic acceleration ten times faster than the industrial revolution. If this is our present, imagine what the future might hold. We see data and discussion every day around the increased need for ‘future skills’. Between 2016 and 2030, social and emotional skills use are predicted to increase 24% in workplaces and a global survey from PwC Research finds that 91 percent of CEOs agree soft skills development is just as important as technical skill development in their employees. Yet we keep hearing that it seems schools are failing to impart some of the most important life skills.
Future Skills are defined in a number of different ways by different people and they may be referred to as another term you are familiar with or using; soft skills, transferable skills, future-focused skills, 21st Century Skills or something else.  However, whichever term, definition or model you use, the one thing consistently agreed upon is that students’ future success depends on the development of a wide range of skills.  Knowledge, while still important, is no longer king, with every teenager able to access information in seconds on the supercomputer in their pocket, known as the smartphone.
“The majority of jobs that will be important in the future, explicitly require some of those social and emotional skills.”
Barbara Holzapfel – General Manager of Microsoft Education
Future Skills definitions usually include a combination of the following:
  • The Four C’s, Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity;
  • Character qualities: curiosity, initiative, persistence and grit, adaptability, leadership, social and cultural awareness.
Impro not only explicitly develops all of these, it does so in interesting, engaging and fun contexts. Yes Impro is fun and you play games, but its philosophy has been developed with core underlying principles that require the active use and development of a range of skills. 
In Tony Wagner’s book, The Global Achievement Gap, he outlines seven key future skills he believes are important. Five of them are specifically relevant to Impro:  
  • Collaboration: Teamwork is at the core of what makes scenes work. Knowing whose story it is, when you are needed and what that role is (as a character or creating the background soundscape that supports the story), learning to ‘yield’ your own ideas and adopt those of others supports the team approach and contributes to collaborative thinking;
  • Agility and adaptability: Thinking on your toes, moment to moment, is the definition of Impro. You must be ready to pivot at any point and ‘let go of your idea’, to adapt to what has immediately happened in front of you and be truthful to that, you have to be agile with these pivots and accept immediately what is there for scenes to work;
  • Initiative: Being ready to ‘jump in’ and help when needed is key in a good improviser, as is being able to call for different types of scenes or games or genres because you know that helps with the flow or ‘shape of the show’. Confident improvisers have both the initiative and courage to step on stage when a scene needs help;
  • Effective oral (and written) Communication:  Impro is about telling stories, requiring a range of strong communication skills. It also relies on active listening so that players are ready to respond immediately and really listen to what is being said in stories and scenes;
  • Curiosity and imagination: Boom! You can’t have an Impro scene without being an active and curious participant, you must rely on your own and others imagination to tell the stories that appear and that the audience (whether peers in class, or people attending a show) are hanging on the edge of their seat to hear.
So how does Impro actually develop these skills? Well, like everything else, it relies on a lot of practice. And to get that practice, the opportunities need to be present and accessible. While students are having fun and ‘playing (Impro) games’, they are actually developing core life skills.  And, because we know that metacognition is key in helping students understand how they learn, skills are clearly named, presented, broken down and then discussed and evaluated after scenes or games. Students get to evaluate how they used a range of skills, such as their imagination in a scene or their agility to incorporate ideas being provided by another player while they simultaneously tell a story. 
“In today’s highly competitive “knowledge economy” all students need new skills for college, careers, and citizenship. The failure to give all students these new skills leaves today’s youth – and our country – at an alarming competitive disadvantage.“ -
The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner
What we all must also acknowledge is that Future Skills are also the skills of now.  The world today requires young people to use a wide range of skills for them to be active, informed and successful participants. Impro can assist our students be happy, healthy and successful both now and in the future. 
Impro Melbourne offers a wide range of youth workshops as well as the Theatresports™ Schools Challenge, an annual event organised by Impro Melbourne that brings students together from all over Victoria to create fun and daring theatre, in the spirit of creativity, teamwork, and support.
Lottie Dowling is a company member at Impro Melbourne. She is a Manager of Professional Learning at Meg, has worked in schools and educational institutes for over twenty years and specialises is Global Education, cross cultural competencies, and Languages Education.
She talks about all things Education on Twitter: @LottieDowlingNZ