In the modern Australian mainstream schooling system that still puts so much weight and focus on standardised assessments and tests, Drama as a subject often rates as a poor cousin to subjects like Science and Maths. Drama is seen as being too subjective and unwieldy, and regularly ‘weird’. After all, how do we standardise and assess creative exploration and the experience of growing into a character?
In the modern Australian mainstream schooling system that still prizes the minority of students who can (and will) sit still for extended amounts of time and learn well from information presented purely in text form, students with different styles of learning often suffer. In fact, many students do so poorly when tested by the highly constrictive standardised metrics that they are labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’.
However, across many revolutionary teaching institutions and educators worldwide, it is becoming widely acknowledged that, much of the time, it’s not ‘learning difficulties’ hindering a student’s progress and development, so much as it is ‘teaching difficulties’. The common theme among progressive educators is this – if a child is not learning well, the teaching strategies must change, not the child.
We live in an age of unprecedented access to information – high quality, in-depth videos at the touch of a button, professional standard research papers available free to view to anyone with an internet connection, services such as ‘Google’ and ‘Siri’ offering more information in an instant than our grandparents had access to in a lifetime. (And virtual reality is about to shake-up the whole game even more!) Schools and teaching organisations are no longer the only, or even primary, place to access information. So, if we don’t particularly need teachers for the information anymore, what do we need them for?
We need teachers for the experience – the creative experience.
A good teacher, a creative teacher, can lead their students on a grand adventure. Whether the subject is officially maths, science, or english, the use of drama and principles of performance and audience engagement is what real life, in-person teachers can offer that technology cannot. The ability to draw the group together in an emotionally bonded experience, to demonstrate abstract and inventive thinking, emotional responsiveness, and creative curiosity is something that only another human can do.
Christopher Emdin, university educator of teachers brings the issues and possibilities to the fore in his 7 minute TED talk Teach teachers how to create magic. He talks about dramatic examples of excellent teaching from places as wide and varied as ‘black churches’, rap concerts, and barbershops. He points out that leaders and teachers in these arenas have mastered the art of engagement, of dramatic storytelling. And he concludes that our school teachers need to be learning these things to bring the magic to education.
‘They listen to his metaphors and analogies, and they start learning these little things that if they practice enough becomes the key to magic. They learn that if you just stare at a student and raise your eyebrow about a quarter of an inch, you don’t have to say a word because they know that that means that you want more. And if we could transform teacher education to focus on teaching teachers how to create that magic then poof! we could make dead classes come alive, we could reignite imaginations, and we can change education.’ – Christopher Emdin
What is drama but the ability to tell a story well, to convey information, in a way that engages and stays with the audience? This could very well be the definition of good teaching too! Tone of voice, subtle movements, the ability to develop an engaging story arch – they may not have been focused on in teaching school, but they’re essential elements to creating magic (and excellent results) in the classroom.
If you’re a teacher struggling with deep, creative student engagement, maybe Perform Australia can help. We offer classes not just for children, but for adults too, and we would love to work with you in bringing out your more creative side. We can also come to your school and run a workshop. No matter what subject you teach, the foundational principles of drama and audience engagement can be fundamental to leading your students to the next level. So get in touch if you're keen to connect.
These blog posts are written by Perform Australia staff.