Susie Gross taught me the art of whispering. She did it often to help kids who were disruptive. This is my take on “the whisper” when working with actors during story asking or a parallel story:
When I need an actress/actor to “up” the emotion, acting, etc., I get really close to her, whisper in their ear, and say something like:
“I notice that you’re doing exactly what I’ve said to do which means you are really focusing on understanding my Spanish. I’m impressed. AND NOW (not BUT), I need you to use your hands more, increase the volume of your voice, make your face livelier (or whatever instruction you want to give her). Do you think you will be able do that or should I choose someone else? I really believe you are the right actor to have up here. What do you think? Can you do it?”
100% of the kids, to whom I have asked the last question, say yes, and then proceed to improve immediately.
If I get an actor up in front, who just wants kids to laugh at them, is distracting, speaking English, making obnoxious sounds for attention, being vulgar, or doing things that I haven’t said to do, I have a similar whispered conversation:
“I notice that you are “fill in the blank”. (I am neutral and blunt with them about what it is I see.) I need you to “fill in the blank” or I will replace you. That would be terrible because I really want you to stay up here. Maybe you forgot our class rules for acting up here. This is the last reminder. Do you think you can do what I have asked?”
—all delivered in my kindest, most understanding, compassionate whisper. I have never had a kid say, “No, I can’t.” When I see improvement, I lean over and tell them I noticed how they are helping the class acquire Spanish. VERY rarely has it not worked. If I have to “fire” someone, it is with a silent, neutral look in their direction and a thank you for their participation.
The conversations are super-private. Of course, everyone wants to know what we’re talking about, but I don’t say anything in front of the class. There is something about the intrigue of super-quiet whispering and no loss of face for the perpetrator which seems to keep the disgruntle factor low. I still get what I need–a more focused and compliant actor.
My biggest challenge is “staying neutral”, watching my facial expressions and voice tone. I have the power, as their teacher, to model compassion and set proper limits in the classroom. I also have the power to humiliate. I am working everyday to be more compassionate with others and, in the end, with myself.
Susie’s a genius–as we know.