Start Your Term with Awesome

December 2013 020

A colleague of mine got me on to this Ted Talk at the end of last year.

I was looking for something to show my Year 12 cohort. I had been their Year Adviser since Year 7 and made the agonising decision to accept a transfer position at a new school meaning I wouldn’t be with them in their last three terms of Year 12.

If you ever have the opportunity to become a Year Adviser I highly, highly recommend it. It changed my outlook on teaching and aside from my love of Drama teaching, it is the other part of education I am extremely passionate about: student well-being and welfare.

It has been difficult for me to write about this transition phase in my teaching career so I simply haven’t. In the last few years, being a Year Adviser to this group of students became very significant for me personally. Whilst so many factors tell me it is the right time for the change, there is a plethora of other feelings that I still struggle with.

Now on the precipice, preparing to dive into my new school I want to remind myself, but also you, of something I believe very strongly and always share with my students. That they are awesome, that you are awesome and that we should always aim to be awesome.

I think Neil Pasricha sums it up beautifully and I feel so lucky to have been able to share this with my lovely students. If you need a pick me up during the term I highly recommend Neil’s blog 1000 Awesome Things.

Photo Credit: Always Awesome, karlao, December 2013.

Those Magic Changes – Grease 2012: A Retrospective

Something magical happened. Magical because it was beyond anything I had ever anticipated. Magical because it was/is something that, to me, is truly indescribable as I have never experienced anything like it before in my teaching career. I still cannot fathom the enormity of the response to what I and a large team of teachers created. I still cannot fathom what I saw unfold before my eyes in the weeks leading up it. Thus a long time between posts. I needed this time to digest, to reflect and to formulate those reflections into words. To make sense of the risks taken and the lessons learned.

The Musical Beast

This creation somewhat consumed my life. Thus why my blogging of the last few months has been so scarce. Thus why my house resembles a teenager’s bedroom floor (what floor?)

This creation is the beast we drama folk call: the school musical.

Earlier in the year I posted about how one of my goals for this year was to put on a musical at my school. I was at a point where in order to get my class numbers up I was going to have to go out on a limb and really put my subject out there. Up until this point my little drama production and taster lessons weren’t exactly drawing in the crowds so I felt the best way to improve this was by putting on a musical.

I’ve always wanted to put one on. I love them. They’re colourful, catchy and they leave you feeling good. Some true thespians, mock the genre that is musical theatre but I applaud it. If it’s good it rakes in the audiences and anyone who sees live theatre always remembers it because it is something truly unique. It beats your $11 Cheap Tuesday blockbuster anyday.

On a professional level I felt I had reached a level of confidence in my ability not only as a teacher but as a leader. Much of my TPL last year, particularly the Team Leadership Program I was involved in, helped with this. I knew I would need help. I was now finally prepared to ask for it. To delegate and share my vision with others to let them help me create it. I hadn’t done so before now, not because of ego but because of fear. The fear of failure, or humiliation and embarrassment.

Important Choices

The music teachers and I danced between Grease and Footloose at the end of 2011 and made the decision at the beginning of the year to go with Grease. Having not produced a musical before we wanted to choose relatively simple music for the kids to sing and play and something well known for the actors to model their scene work and characters on.

We continued to do the tango with the company who was to give us the rights. Performance rights are expensive and we had little money so we had to cut our run down from three nights to two. This consumed much of Term 1 which left me clamouring in the Easter Holidays to put together a rehearsal schedule and get us started at the beginning of Term 2.

Now just to put this in perspective: most schools would probably take two terms to produce a musical. We did it in 11 weeks.

Challenging the Fear

Initially we struggled to get male cast to fill the roles. Getting up and performing in front of an audience is such an uncool thing at my school. It doesn’t give you street cred. It gives you a verbal bashing. These entrenched values and fears are incredibly hard to break and so it took a lot of convincing to get many of the kids to give the show a go. Most of them didn’t believe the show would be very successful but for some reason they stuck around. Also, the kids I thought I had convinced  to audition didn’t and it broke my heart even more than anything.

Finding The Light From Within

This was my lowest point. I felt completely deflated with no sense of purpose. With the difficulty of filling roles plus the many other hats I was wearing as part of the production as well as my normal classroom duties, I felt completely taken for granted, tired and run down. I wanted to run away I pushed on however, believing I wouldn’t ever put a musical on again. Somehow though I seemed to pull out this perseverence, this light or energy (or perhaps it’s stubborness) when things were getting tough. It is a habit of mine.

Something In the Air

Magically though, things fell into place. We could easily source a car, another school had costumes we could borrow (thanks @MsConstrue1), another group had some set pieces we could use, oh, and YouTube is mighty useful also. The dancers were rehearsing, scenes were coming together but we were all relying on the holidays to pull it all together.

All the while though, there was this feeling around the school. The air had changed. There was a buzz. We were talking the show up. We truly believed in it. We believed it was going to be awesome and people hopped on board. People bought tickets though I dared not look at how many seats we’d sold.

Those Magic Changes

Then the holidays arrived. When I think back on it now much of it is a blur. The cast came in during the first week and their energy had changed. They were excited. Painting the car, feeding them breakfast. Pulling together costumes, organising stage crew, running the show from beginning to end. Watching them find their feet, work together, support each other. A teaching team that brought in new ideas. Kids that came in and were willing to help. Community support. Family support. It just seemed to get bigger and bigger without us realising. By Day 1 of this Term we were ready to show the community what we had created.

Giving Gifts

On the first day back before our evening performance we performed for the primary schools. For many of them, this was their very first experience of live theatre. They didn’t know to clap after each song (even though I’d told them to) and hearing their gasps of excitement as Grease Lightning rolled on stage was exhilirating! It was important to me to let the cast and crew know what an enormouse gift they had given someone today without their even having realised it. This sharing of the Arts with our community it so important to me and the fact that the kids were now passing this on was so moving.

Family Circle

Tuesday evening was the biggest Drama event I’d ever put on in my life. A bigger audience than I’d ever had at anything. It was exciting and it went off with a smash! Family, friends, colleagues and yes, TeachMeeters (@wanstad73, @clarindabrown, @whartonag, @PollyDunning) were all on hand to offer their support. Before the show that night the cast created a “Family Circle” around the Director’s. Each student spoke their thanks to us for being given the opportunity to perform in the musical. How it had deeply affected their lives. I felt so lucky. It was one of those teaching moments. All a teacher could ask for really.

The Power of Facebook

Oh, what a single status can do. If you weren’t part of the conversation the next day you had missed out on something big. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I didn’t hear a bad word. “The best thing the school has ever done,” said one teacher. There was a rush on tickets. Some people came back for seconds and brought more people. Families who’s kids had seen the matinee performance wanted to see it again. We had to put out more seats. I was terrified. There was expectation now. What if we didn’t live up to it? Witnessing a line of audience snake around the building and out onto the footpath was truly a sight to behold. 400 people. What a phenomenon for our school.

The Aftermath

In the days after the final show there was an even bigger response. Emails poured in. Everyone wanted to know what was next. Could they be involved next year? The kids were on an absolute high. Their confidence a real sight to behold.

For me this experience has been a lesson in self-belief not just for me but for my students. It has been about unlocking potential and perseverence. Perseverance in team work, building confidence, vocal skills, community spirit, valuing the arts, providing opportunities for the Arts in Western Sydney. It has been a lesson in taking risks. Of not being afraid, following what you believe in and working hard to make it happen.

I now feel a sense of enormouse responsibility and pressure. To make the next show as good if not better as this year. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. It’s what I do with this now that is important. We don’t get cocky or egotistical. We become humbled and realise that we have an even greater responsibility in our school, in all schools, to provide even more meaningful experiences for children in the Arts.

Something magical happened. True magic. It was a gift to witness it. Take risks. Be bold. Follow what you believe and you and your students will receive a magnificent gift.

Image Credits:

free texture . lubs / f∞lish kamina / CC BY-NC 2.0

“If I could reach up and hold a star for every time you’ve made me smile, the entire evening sky would be in the palm of my hand.” / Jerrycharlotte / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Faster faster / *Nom & Malc / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Grease 2012, Fernando Moreno

Perfect My Practice: The Drama Learning Space

I wanted to share my classroom with you today. It’s my office and it’s where I go to everyday to (hopefully) transform lives.

I’ve been thinking about doing this for awhile for a couple of reasons.

As much as I love my learning space, I also don’t like it very much. It’s a love/hate relationship. I have an ideal of  and how I would like my classroom to function and I often have to put it to the back of my mind but every now and then it resurfaces and reminds me of what I need to do to it. What I wanted to do was get feedback from readers on ways that I could potentially make this room a better space. A performance space as much as a learning space. As much as these photos may look like an OH&S issue waiting to happen, we seem to function quite well in here – and pass OH&S assessments 🙂

My classroom is actually a converted art room. It was painted black to resemble the inside of a darkened theatre. You wouldn’t believe how many kids ask me why it’s painted black. That’s how many of them have never been to a theatre. The windows open and close and the large black rostra I got one of my colleague’s construction classes to make. The seats open and close so we can store costumes, props, lighting equipment etc in them. I’m hoping to get another one built. The fans work but get stuck at a certain speed. It can be stifling in summer and in winter it is finger-numbingly cold. The heater is one of those gas numbers. Not good for our lungs apparently.

The kids created this “lounge” using the portable blocks. Portable blocks are fantastic for the classroom and can be used for everything whether it be creating minimal sets for performances or simply to use in classroom exercises. They are very practical. You can probably see a large, orange rectangle on the floor. That is where this giant cupboard used to be. I got our maintainence man to rip them it out last year and the space it’s created has made such a difference. I got the kids to paint it black for me. I’d ideally like to have mirrors along this entire wall and a curtain that can be pulled across it. I’d also like the curtains to cover the sides of the room and act like “wings” for the performance space. There are two metal bars on each side of the classroom that can be used to put lights on. What do you think?

I have a portable white board that I can move around the room. It’s even become a prop at times. We have been learning how to write expositions in drama. That is the scaffold written on the board. “Drama is a beneficial subject” was my statement for argument 🙂

I added some colour to my classroom by getting the elements of drama printed up on separate pieces of different colour paper, in different fonts and laminated. I then pinned them to one of the two noticeboards in the room.

This is the other noticeboard. The purple poster in the middle displays the different careers you can have if you enjoy “entertainment”. The other purple poster “Nail Every Answer” was a poster designed by our maths department to develop the practice of Newman’s Error Analysis. It is a step by step guide to reading, understanding and answering a question. Other things on display include something we call a “Senior Charter”, linking words when writing in Drama, and a reminder about not taking photos of video of others without their permission.

Now, for my eyesores in the room…

Ugh, a remnant from its former life as an art room. I’m tossing up whether to get rid of it. Should I?

This is part of the art room cupboards I could not get rid of because the previous teacher put in a three phase power supply here. I’m really keen to get something portable so I can get rid of this but from my research they are all very dear and my budget is only $600. Yes, $600. What do you think I can do about this?

Finally, this is my storage space. I share it with the art and photography teachers. I hate it. Many teachers and parents have shown me enormous generosity in the time that I have been a teacher at my school. They have donated props and costumes and anything they think could be a set piece they’ve given it to me. I’ve had to start saying no however because I have nowhere to put anything. I bought some horribly cheap clothes racks and they fell apart so now the clothes are in piles, or crates. I hate that I don’t have a definite space to have student’s come in and choose props and costumes to use and then put them back when they’re finished. Kind of like a library but without books. What can I do?

Do you have any suggestions on how I could improve my classroom? What is your learning space like? Do you love it/hate it? What would you change? Please share them with me in the comments.

Image Credits: The Drama Room, karlao, 2011