Get to Know Mr. Harnett of Murphy School

Marketing and Development Associate, Kelsey, sat down with  Mr. Jose Harnett, an 8th grade teacher at the Richard J. Murphy School in Dorchester and an Urban Improv partner educator. He shared about his experience with Urban Improv, teaching during a pandemic, and what he has learned from the Urban Improv curriculum. The following is a conversational excerpt from that interview. 

Kelsey: How long have you been an educator? How long have you worked with Urban Improv?

Mr. Harnett: I have been an educator for 29 years and have been working with Urban Improv for about 5 years now. 

Kelsey: So you certainly have seen a ton of young people navigate growing up over the past 30 years. What impact do you think the arts and specifically performing arts have on young people in our modern world?

Mr. Harnett: I think the performing arts equip students with knowledge of real life issues they may encounter and it offers and educates them about potential scenarios, solutions and strategies on how to deal with them.

Kelsey: How would you describe the impact that Urban Improv in your classroom?

Mr. Harnett: Students get a greater awareness of what they are going through in life and are better able to articulate their feelings and understand how to address issues they may be faced with. Some students go from being “bystanders to upstanders” as I have observed in school. They are better able to articulate and understand their feelings which can lead to better communication between themselves and their peers, in school, at home and in their community.

I have also observed that, because the teaching artists are coming into our space and our room, my students are less likely to attack or bully one another over time. They are more understanding and supportive of one another, and that carries into the rest of the day because the learning that occurred with Urban Improv happened in the space we all share. 

Kelsey: Is there anything that you have learned from the Urban Improv curriculum or from our teaching artists that you have been able to apply to your own teaching?

Mr. Harnett: Yes, Urban Improv has given me a better understanding of what the students’ experiences are like and how they approach different situations in their lives. I gain a greater insight of who they are. For example, I like the fact that they have the opportunity to “role play” and “complete scenes” once acting is paused. This gives them an opportunity to actively participate and show one another potential solutions to real life problems they may face at home, school and in their communities. It provides me with a “window” to see how they would approach different situations; it gives me a better understanding of who they are above and beyond an academic setting. I also enjoy observing some of the techniques teaching artists use to engage the students—I make note of them to maybe incorporate some of their techniques in the classroom. I recently have been using the “the wind blows if…” (See the rules and description of this improv ice breaker game here) and the “say your name and make a sound to go with it” (This is a simple name game in which each person says their name and chooses a sound and gesture to go with it, then the whole group repeats the combination back to each person to aid in learning everyone’s name) techniques to get my students’ attention. The musical element is a great “hook” to lure them in. I have also had students inquire about continuing the program over the summer and on into high school–being paid to participate in Youth Unscripted was a great motivator for them as well!

Kelsey: Thank you so much for being an amazing teacher to you students and an amazing partner for Urban Improv

Mr. Harnett: You’re welcome. I enjoy and appreciate the program and think it is a great asset and life skill lesson for our youth.