Developing Imitative, Reactive, and Generative Improvisation Skills For School Leaders

June 8, 2021

By Nick Kovalcik

If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that there is no script that we can follow on a daily basis, particularly in leading a school. As a result, the basic need to be able to ‘improvise’ effectively and thoughtfully is crucial. Simulations provide an exceptional tool to develop better improvisation skills for leaders. With three different improvisation skills, imitative, reactive, and generative improvisation, our focus is to build on the generative skill, while providing a simulated, authentic experience, especially if done synchronously or at least debriefed. If the simulations are played synchronously, this allows participants to work through both the Imitative and Reactive, allowing them to experience what happens both from the simulation and in interaction with their peers to build the Generative skill.

  • Imitative Copying or following a model or example.
  • Reactive Showing a response to a stimulus.
  • Generative Relating to or capable of production or reproduction.

Improvisation can seem incompatible with most mature school practices’ well-defined processes. Many professional development training programs concentrate on improving leadership or technical skills rather than helping workers become better improvisers, and hiring teams seldom test for improvisation skills. Improvisation, on the other hand, is important for organizational agility. Principals and teachers who are good at improvising will be able to guide their schools through emergencies and paradigm changes, as well as the other obstacles that challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic brings. Simulations are not only a great tool for development, but also for making hiring decisions based on how candidates handle challenging situations and improvise while playing a simulation.

Collaboration appears to be a better route to Generative Improvisation, which simulations can help with organically, particularly if a district encourages building leaders to use the simulations with their teams. While competition is different in K-12, it is likely still present and can manifest constructively in the team building and experience of playing simulations. Many leaders are focused on increasing student performance, grades, and other factors, so although it is not always perfect, it can be positive.

  • Build Awareness – Whatever the subject, a simulation is designed to put people in situations where they may not be comfortable to ‘improvise’ and are forced to make difficult and uncomfortable decisions so that they can experience the consequences of those decisions and get feedback to reflect on how it applies, in essence, building their Experience Portfolio so that they can better Improvise.
  • Balancing Collaboration/Competition – When teams or peers compete in the simulation scenario, balancing collaboration and competition will happen naturally. Since these simulations are based on real-life scenarios, they have been proven to improve collaboration among administrators. Practitioners’ experience, competence, and communication skills are enhanced as a result of these collaborative conversations.
  • Social Structures – In addition to the obvious benefits of playing a simulation, one of the other advantages of using simulations more often across a group of students or leaders is that the mutual interactions of people who all know the same people and are familiar with the same contexts offers an additional underlying potential for a social structure that facilitates improved communication and teamwork across larger systems.

You’ll be better able to think more creatively and on your feet if you understand improvisation. Simulations can be a lighthearted, yet critical approach to learning, and who couldn’t use a little lightheartedness these days?

Mannucci, Pier Vittorio, et al. “Improvisation Takes Practice.” Harvard Business Review, 11 Mar. 2021,