Teaching – Sailing & Navigating Through Change

This year I began teaching at a new school. I have just finished my first term. This is the first time in my career as a teacher that I have moved on from a school. I wanted to use this blog post as an opportunity to reflect on this “transition” as I have called it.

Preparing to Set Sail

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I feel I have been living this transition for some months now. It was late last year that I had to make the decision to accept an offer of moving to a new school.

I was ready to move on. In terms of the goals I had set for myself, of which most were Drama orientated, I felt I had achieved all that I could. I’d started a Drama Club, put on several Drama productions, produced the first musical at the school in many years, entered the kids into Drama festivals, competitions, sent them off to camps and auditions and just generally improved the profile of Drama within the school to something that now resembled respect. There was a solid foundation that someone new could come in and do something with.

Admittedly I was also a little burnt out and really wanted to focus on my classroom practice. Yes, I had survived the tumultuous first three years of being a new teacher but so much of those first few years had seen me focus on things outside the classroom that I felt as though the quality of my teaching had suffered at times.

My school was an absolute culture shock with its challenging students and constant loneliness due to my being the only Drama teacher in the school. I chose to swim rather than sink however, searching for every possible positive opportunity I could. I joined committees, became the Peer Mediation Co-ordinator and Year Adviser which, aside from every Drama thing I have achieved, is probably my biggest achievement and the most rewarding thing I have done as a teacher to date. I learnt about PLN’s and the power of Twitter and blogging and from there my teaching world opened and it was time to look for a new experience. I wasn’t an island any more. I had built a small raft and I wanted to try it out.

I had grown personally as well, outgrowing some things and growing into others. I became much more confident and comfortable in myself and who I was, no longer anxious, stressed and flighty.

Life however, takes you on its own path. Most things are beyond your control so I wasn’t sure when or what my next opportunity was going to be. I put a tentative plan into place and was happily working towards that. Of course, that is when life throws you its curve balls and forces you to make difficult decisions.

It was the most difficult decision I had had to make in some time due to, what seemed at the time, as really crummy timing.

To a degree there is still a part of me that feels enormous guilt at leaving some of my students behind, particularly my year group. I’m an emotional person. I became incredibly attached to them. Honestly, I felt somewhat mother-like and I had never experienced such appreciation from people whom I had shown genuine care for who weren’t my family or friends. It was overwhelming. My final term was bittersweet and very emotional for everyone, staff and students. Some of my most treasured memories that I will hold dear will certainly be from that time. I went from hating this school to struggling to leave. I never would have expected that in a million years when I started.

Sailing the High Seas

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I was familiar with my new school, having gotten to know some of the staff from the faculty through TeachMeet’s. One is now a very dear friend. Having a person to support me through this time made it a lot easier but also I was just much more confident in general because I now had experience under my belt. I knew what questions to ask, I knew that it would take time to get settled so I was patient with myself. Starting at the beginning of the year was also a massive plus! It’s amazing how much more structured school orientation programs for new staff have become.

I was most nervous about my senior classes. Having been in the school system a long time, they knew how to push buttons and also to let you know, very honestly I might add, as to what they expected from you. They wouldn’t let up until they thought I had earnt it either!

It was difficult not to make comparisons early on, something I was very conscious of, and still am because I didn’t want it to seem that my previous school was any better or worse than where I was now.

Treading Water

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I still feel as though I am settling. The transition is ongoing and will be for a while yet. I am in a bit of a lull on my raft. It doesn’t quite know which direction to go in because the wind hasn’t picked up yet. This does frustrate me because I am quite “gung-ho” when it comes to my work. I like to get in there and get my teeth stuck into things. I’d say my job forms a significant part of my identity and that without it I am lost.

In saying that too though, it has been good to reflect and to take time to think about where I want to go with things in terms of my teaching.

To be honest, I really don’t know. To a degree I don’t miss all the extra responsibilities and absolutely love being able to focus solely on my classroom practice. In the same breath, I do get bored easily.¬† It also seems, although most teachers won’t say it openly, it is expected that you take on something additional to that of your classroom responsibilities which I don’t mind doing, I just don’t know what to do. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already done because I’ve done it. If you catch my drift.

The vastness of the ocean in front of me with no markers, no islands in sight, makes me uneasy. What do I look out for? Or do I just wait for the wind to carry me where ever? Part of the latter intrigues me but my controlling nature makes me want to have a larger degree of influence on my raft’s direction.

Yet, that’s life isn’t it? I don’t know where I am going with this whole teaching thing but I’m on my way to a new island and the unknown adventure is a little exciting but mostly completely nerve-racking. Everyone wants a little certainty right? At this stage I feel certain of nothing but I’m learning to sit quietly on my raft with that uncertainty by my side, getting better acquainted and trying to navigate this vast ocean together.

Photo Credit: Fiji 2014 by karlao

HSC Drama: Writing a Workshop Reflection

I mentioned yesterday that I would post the scaffold I use to get students writing after an experiential workshop.

I learnt this structure from @loucopoulos at his professional learning day on writing the essay for the HSC Drama exam so I take absolutely no credit for this. I’ve been trying it out this year with my seniors and it seems to be working. It’s a simple enough structure that is getting the kids writing about what they have done experientially in class and is connecting it with the themes and issues in a much more effective way.

Start by giving your students a question to respond to. For example, I mentioned in my post yesterday about activities you could use to introduce Ruby Moon. These are specifically getting the students to look at the themes and issues in the play of Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. Your question could be something like:

What are your initial impressions of Ruby Moon and how do these contribute to your understanding of the issues and concerns in the play?

1. Answer the question in a sentence or two.

2. Elaborate on that answer by explaining it.

3. Use a workshop example in a quick recount.

4. What insights does that example provide?

To reiterate, the idea behind the structure is to help students better incorporate their experiential learning and make better connections to the issues and themes as well as the elements of drama.

This is how I would respond to the question using the scaffold, indicating in brackets at the end of the sentence when I have addressed each part of the scaffold (remembering also that you can say “I”):

The initial impression I get of Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron is one of darkness and mystery (1).

This is because the plot mirrors the familiar fairytale/fable of Little Red Riding Hood and looks at the consequences of a missing child on a couple as well as their neighbourhood. This fairytale, both traditionally and over time has been manipulated and at the core contains a dark, moral message. The idea of a missing child creates a feeling of unease and when delving further into the make-up of a neighbourhood it becomes clear that many people do not really know their neighbours (2).

In a series of activities as part of a class workshop, my class looked at two different versions of Little Red Riding Hood and the aspects that had been “fractured” or manipulated in each version and what impression was left for the audience of the characters, story and moral message. We discussed how this links in to the themes and issues in the play that we had read about: Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. We researched a number of different missing Australian children and discussed the circumstances behind their disappearance focusing in particular on the parent’s role and who the abductors usually were. Finally, this lead to a discussion about our own neighbourhoods, what they look like, sound like and feel like (3).

Through these exercises I was able to get a better sense of the issues and concerns that we had read about in preparation for reading the play Ruby Moon. That there is more to Australia than simply white, sandy beaches and at the core of many Australian neighbourhoods and families there is a sense of unease and mystery about our neighbours because of incidences like missing children. That families become “fractured” because of it. That we cannot fully trust people because we don’t really know who they are or what they are thinking and this is a common feeling amongst much of Australian society (4).

I hope my paragraph above makes sense. It’s hard to critique your own writing because I mainly find my faults rather than looking for what I’ve done right. As many of our students do also I’m sure. Feedback is always welcome so please share your thoughts in the comments.

If you get an opportunity, I would highly recommend attending Costa’s course. I found it really helpful. You can find more information about the HSC Essays and Dramatic Practice course here.

Simple Ways to Integrate ICT and the Drama Logbook

The use of technology in Drama is a tricky one in my opinion. When you think of technology in Drama most people think, “oh, using a video camera.”

Drama is all about the making and performing of a work and especially in class, you become so caught up in the “doing” that you miss the “reflecting” part. Or the “documenting of the process” part. My kids are reluctant to write anything at the best of times and it has still been challenging getting them to write using their laptops but it is because of them that they are a little less reluctant to write ūüôā

The NSW syllabus like many others, has three key areas: making, performing, appreciating. The logbook has been an essential part of the “appreciating” section of the syllabus for years. It is vital during the HSC in which student’s must show their process in creating their group performance work and their individual project.

Now, I’m really going to put my opinions out there and say that I am certain that in a few years, the logbook will become digital. Just like the written exam. Not just in Drama. I’m sure in many other subjects as well.

I think this opens up enormous possibilities for the Drama logbook and how dynamic and interesting it could be in showing the theatre making process.

As such, as teachers it is not only our responsibility to be integrating technology in our lessons but making it meaningful and a tool for preparing them for the HSC and the effective documentation of process in a logbook.

So, here are a couple of suggestions to get you started in turning the logbook digital:

1.Type in Microsoft Word: It’s basic and it’s boring but it’s also familiar. I’ll probably be crucified for suggesting this but if you’re apprehensive about getting your student’s to create a digital logbook start with something that most of us these days actually knows how to use. It’s tried and tested and it’s a good way to get student’s into the habit of writing their thoughts on screen rather than paper. Trust me, they’ll be just as apprehensive. They’ve been taught for years to write everything with a pen and paper. This will be weird for them.

2. Use OneNote: This is another really simple start to creating a digital logbook with a few cool features. Most of the DER laptops have OneNote. It is like a paper ring binder sans the paper. It has tabs to organise your work, an endless page and an automatic saving function. You can copy and paste images into notebook and it copies the source link with it. You can also freely move things around your page. Here’s a really brief intro to it:

3. Start a Blog: This is my latest favourite.The great thing about a blog is that it is like a personalised web page. Student’s can customise them, connect with student’s from around the world, embed video, links, sound clips, photographs (all of which are technology in themselves). They’re dynamic and they broaden the scope of their work. They are public pages so it is a great way to teach student’s about digital citizenship, the appropriate use of language, editing and spelling. Here is an example of one from one of my student’s. I provide student’s with a very structured template with which to base each of their entries on. Starting off with a class blog first might also be a great way to take a dip into technology.

4. Create a Digital Portfolio: This is a great idea for mini-assignments as well but you could get student’s to create an interactive Powerpoint that includes links, video, sound clips and photos for each week of their project. Have them create a slide that looks at the problems they faced in their group and how they solved each problem. Make sure student’s submit everything (video etc.) to you in one folder. Missing parts means the portfolio’s interactive bits won’t work.

Finally, it’s important to remember that these are just some simple ways to move away from the traditional book and pen scenario. Some people can be really turned off by technology because they think it is all bells and whistles and the truth is it is. Another thing I’ll probably be crucified for.

I think some teacher’s feel they are becoming redundant because the teaching is being done by technology. This is when I would say that is, absolutely, 100% not true. Student’s will not know how to write well and skillfully without your guidance. They way student’s create their blogs, portfolios or whatever is dependent on what you show them is the best way to do it. You are still the most important tool in creating critically reflective, appreciative writing in Drama. Don’t forget that ūüėČ

Have you tried anything that is working well in your class? Please share them in the comments.

Image Credits:Moleskine Retro PDA Part1 / Stephen Ticehurst / CC BY-NC 2.0

When Did You “Get” Teaching?

A couple of weeks back I went on another of my school’s weekend conferences. I’ve talked about this initiative that my principal has introduced into our school in a previous post.

Essentially, whoever is interested comes away to a hotel and we spend two days looking at leadership and learning. We are treated like serious professionals (I mean, how many of you go to teaching conferences where your room and food is paid for once a term? It’s unheard of except for business people, doctors etc.) They are deliberately scheduled for about Week 6 of a 10 week term. The time when you’re starting to get tired and wishing the holidays would just hurry up. The idea being that hopefully, whilst you are still tired, mentally you are in a positive frame of mind.

I really enjoy these conferences because a) it’s a chance to get away and b) it’s a chance to reflect on your knowledge and learning and to learn something new. I’m a big believer in not thinking that I know everything and being open to learning and doing something new.

This recent conference was used as a way to prepare for the rewriting of our next three year School Plan. For those unacquainted with the School Plan it’s essentially a document outlining the goals to be achieved by the school in the next three years.

Early on in the conference we were looking at the question: “How did we get to where we are?”

In the exercise we were given some time to identify five defining moments in our lives that got us to where we are now as teachers. It was a private, reflective time because many people would have had some very private moments that they wouldn’t want to share with anyone else.

I’m going to share mine with you and would ask you to share yours in the comments. Before I do however, I wanted to preface by saying that this exercise really cemented a feeling I’ve had for most of this year. That of actually “getting” teaching. Of realising, it’s not so hard, it’s not rocket science anymore and most importantly, the belief that I can teach and that I can be an even better teacher. As a beginning teacher (not so much anymore) teaching can feel overwhelming and incredibly difficult. Well, that’s how I felt. It is certainly a relief to feel a little more in control and a little more confident in my abilities.

  1. Changing High Schools – In Year 8 I moved from a public high school to a private one. Now, I believe in both education systems. I like both and I think they both have their pro’s and their con’s. I teach in the public system and I love it. Unfortunately, at the time, this particular public high school let me down. In my learning and in the provision of opportunities. When I went to my new school I was given endless opportunities. It was here that I discovered Drama which my other school didn’t offer. It was here that I built confidence and considered all possibilities.
  2. Year 12 Drama – By now I’d been involved with Drama for five years. I desperately wanted to be an actor. In my final year we learnt about a practitioner called Augusto Boal. I learnt that drama and theatre could be used for change and to help others. I felt inspired. I wanted to be an actor even more. Looking back now I could see the complexity of drama as a way to connect with feelings and thoughts. I think I felt that then but I couldn’t articulate it.
  3. University – This was a time when reality was setting in. I’d received entry into a course that I was aboslutely fixated on getting into. It was my first time living away from home and it was a time when I was meeting a whole range of new and different people. The course and the realities of the theatre industry were not sitting well with me. I was hating what I was studying and I didn’t see the point of any of it. However, I don’t quit. Well, for some reason I didn’t want to quit this. Perhaps because I could still focus on what I was working towards. Similarly when I went to do my teaching Diploma I was frustrated to no end when I found out it would take me two years instead of one to complete my degree. I felt like I was treading water but I was determined to swim to the shore.
  4. My First Teaching Job – My first (and current) school was a huge culture shock for me. Here I was, an idealistic graduate hoping to change the world and inspire everyone to love Drama. Ha! How wrong I was. My beliefs were challenged, my motivation and confidence were seriously challenged. Yet, I was determined and incredibly resilient knowing that I needed to stand proud with integrity knowing I could be the best teacher I could be for my kids. I don’t do anything by halves. I strive to be the best within myself.
  5. Leaving a Relationship – Here it gets quite personal but I am prepared to share. Unfortunately, and with incredibly deep sadness my long term relationship ended last year. Your focus shifts at these times and I have since had a little more time to focus on my career, rediscover my confidence and to fully believe in the goals I’ve always had for myself, deep inside, for a long time. I finally let myself believe in myself and in doignt that I finally “get” teaching.

What moments in your teaching life have defined you as the teacher you are now?

Image Credits: Driving into the Andes, Stuck in Customs, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Experiential Learning in the Drama Classroom

Whichever system you work in, it’s a good idea in Drama to get student’s to be reflective about the practical exercises they are participating in in class.

As teachers, not only do we want to create great performers and play makers, we also want our student’s to be articulate, appreciative arts lovers. It’s important that student’s learn this skill as in its essence that is what Drama and Theatre is trying to do – connect you to your greater understanding of the world and your place in it and to then talk and share your thoughts.

At the conclusion of every practical activity we do in class, I try to allocate about 15-20 minutes or so for reflective writing in a logbook. You may prefer to set this as homework and use class time for additional practical tasks. You choose what works best for you. I have also just recently experimented in trying to turn the logbook digital. However that is for another time.

The logbook is a place for student’s to be reflective about the process of making, performing and appreciating Drama. It should include:

  • Resources: photocopies, pictures, articles, class notes, research material;
  • Assignments: insert them into your logbook after they’ve been marked;
  • Assessments: these provide you with vital information on what you need to do and your progress;
  • Workshop Descriptions: a lesson-by-lesson account of what you do in Drama;
  • Observations: records of reactions, observations and opinions about your work and others;
  • Experiences: a note of anything that happens outside of class. Shows you see, films you watch etc.

The key point I’d like to focus on, is that of the Workshop Descriptions. I’ve actually created a scaffolded workbook template that I get my student’s to fill out at the conclusion of every lesson. Here it is:

  • What was the purpose of the exercise? (What were you hoping to achieve? What skill or element was to be explored?)
  • Explain/Describe what happened during the exercise (number the steps if that helps).
  • What observations did you make about yourself and others? (give examples of specific scenes enacted, shapes created etc.)
  • Make a personal judgement on how successful you or your group were and what you learned.
  • How does this exercise link or relate to your purpose?

Student’s can then submit their logbook at the conclusion of a performance as part of their assessment as a way of demonstrating the process that they went through to create their performance work. I also get the student’s to fill out a self-evaluation of their own performance and that of others and include that in their logbook. Many of the descriptions and reflections can then be put into a Drama essay. I will discuss this in a future post.

Mardi Gras Readers (FRONT PAGE #1) / Graham Blackall / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Reflecting on the Edublogs Teacher Challenge

This week many beginner bloggers, including myself, finished up our 30 day challenge to set up a blog, connect with others and to keep it going.

I wanted to use this final challenge as an opportunity to reflect on all that I have learnt over the last 30 days and look forward to my next challenge.

This challenge was everything that I needed. In my first post as part of the challenge I commented on how I set up this blog over a year ago and it just sat here never being used. I know now why that was.

I needed someone to show me how best to set up the blog and get it working for me in a way that could potentially gain me contacts and readership.

I needed a teacher. Oh, the irony of it all.

This challenge has made me aware that I¬†didn’t realise how limitless the Internet is in being able to provide support¬†and how I¬†did in fact have a network of¬†educators¬†and help right there in front of me but I didn’t know where to look¬†or how to harness what I found¬†in order to get what I needed.

For years, I have been struggling as a teacher, feeling quite alone and often needing help but too afraid to ask for it for fear of being looked at as incompetent. I now feel a sense of encouragement and I feel a sense of relief that I think I have finally found¬†a voice within myself as well as a¬†growing network of educators to support me.¬†¬†I also feel quite silly because I never thought to look out in the universe in the way we have as part of this challenge. Especially considering I’m a Generation-Y-er. Isn’t that a given for us? Go to the¬†computer first for answers?

I’m also reminded how my students must feel sometimes. I really did feel like I was walking in their shoes for the first time in many years.

Much of what I have learnt I am glad I can now share with my colleagues at school and also with my students. Some of these things that I have found invaluable include: how to effectively set up a blog, how to write good, engaging posts, reading posts through Google Reader, the importance of comments and commenting, the difference between pages and posts, digital identity, different types of web browsers (like Firefox not just IE8!) creating an RSS feed and using Feedburner, image use and creative commons as well as embedding other media, categories and tags and building readership through Twitter.

Most important of all has been and will continue to be the sharing of ideas, thoughts, opinions, successes and failures and the learning that we have gained from it. Also, that those opinions are valued and appreciated by the blog author and their community.

One of the reasons I like being a teacher is because I think teachers as people are very giving, positive, supportive people. I’ve met many teachers who, even if they absolutely hate their job, they will still offer you some advice, resources, an ear to listen to your woes etc.

For me now, the challenge is to continue posting. At least twice a week. That’s the plan anyway. My fear when I originally started the blog was that I didn’t have confidence to express my opinion. I didn’t feel like I deserved to have a voice because what did I know? I was only a beginning teacher. Now, I feel just a little more confident. Confident in the knowledge that it is OK for beginning teachers to have a voice. The blog has a focus, a purpose.¬†My opinions, thoughts and ideas may not be something that everyone agrees with but I’m glad people respect this space and want to help me gain a better understanding of the things I don’t know.

Thanks to Sue Waters and her team at Edublogs for sharing their knowledge with me, us. To those new and experienced¬†bloggers¬†from the Challenge who have visited my blog over the past month, thank you and please, come again ūüėČ

What has your Teacher Challenge experience been like? If you didn’t participate, what do you think of being offered free online professional development for teachers? Leave a comment below.

Image Credits:

15-06-10 Lets Go I Want To Go All The Way To The Horizon ~ Explored Front Page :), by Bethan, Attribution – NonCommercial-No Derivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)