Getting the best from your practitioner

As a new year starts I begin a great adventure working with under graduates on a Community Drama course. As I plan and prepare the work I am considering what I might tell them about working in schools and along side teachers to ensure that the work offered is valuable in every sense of the word.

Many schools hire in practitioners but there are so many to choose from and many schools feel that there is a large risk element to bringing in new people. There is always the temptation to stick with the same people and for some schools this suits whilst for others beginning working relationships with outside facilitators there are things that you can do to to ensure you get what it is you are after. This list is a developing one but one that aims to help both school and practitioner in the early stages of their relationship and is based on my own experience as a practitioner over 16 years.

1) Be clear: be clear about what you expect in terms of learning outcomes from the practitioner but also…

2)...leave room to be surprised! You may want a workshop looking at boys writing only to be surprised when the children don’t write at all during the session! Certainly with drama we tend to offer stimulus, ideas, language and importantly a rich experience that allows the children to develop, shape and enrich their writing. This may happen within the workshop however we may consider the work we do a fuel. Be specific about how you will deem a workshop or session a success.

3) Ask for the plans in advance: Asking to see the plans means that you can prepare for extension work and really get the best out of the session. I always ensure that teachers have the plans in advance so that they can continue the work or even see how they may use some of the techniques themselves.

4) Be present: Honestly? My heart sinks when the teacher leaves the room or sits in the corner marking. We would love it if you got involved, participated alongside the children. Teachers often ask to just watch and are always surprised by something that is said or the way a child may tackle a task. Because we don’t know your children we don’t have any expectations. On many occasions I have asked a child to take a role in front of the class who wouldn’t normally do so. In a school last term every time one particular child volunteered the teacher said “No, you can’t be trusted.” I wonder what  would have happened if he had been allowed to fully participate? It’s not often that you get the chance to watch your children explore, learn and interact without being the person facilitating.

5) Let us know of any specific learning needs: on one hand we don’t want to know the personalities of the group in advance (we like to explore, leave room for surprise) however it is always useful to know if there are any specifics. I worked in a school last year that didn’t tell me that one child had Tourettes. And you might be surpised how many children with elected mutism haven’t been flagged up to me before a drama session.

6) Timetables and school halls: the best practitioners will be flexible however we can plan really effectively if we are clear about breaks, assemblies or lunch times in the school hall. with this knowledge we can ensure that the scaffolding and flow of the session works effectively.

7) Respect the space: How can I put this?? let me tell you a story…we are in the middle of some very important work. Dangerous work. We are about to approach a hippopotamus who is injured. I don’t know if you have ever dealt with this but hippo’s get very angry when injured so a quiet, almost still presence is needed. One of our team approaches slowly about to administer the tranquilizer. The rest of us keep our distance but are ready to approach with our nets. The children are still. The tension dynamic and then…Kudunk…kudunk…kudunk…the sound pierces the air as the TA suddenly begins to create her wall display with the loudest wall stapler I have ever heard. A mornings work is nearly lost in this one act. Other examples include people coming in to the space making announcements, staff chatting or a sudden behavior management instruction shouted across the space. I know that the business of school must continue but often we work hard to create a fictional space, endow it with importance, build dramatic tension all of which is gone with a sudden interruption from the real world.

8) Consider numbers carefully: It’s simple really. Yes, I can do a workshop with 60 children. I can facilitate large numbers of them however if there are two classes then whose voice will domaniate? Mine and not the children’s.

9) Give us feedback: The best practitioner will welcome feedback. This dialogue is really important as we will reflect on how the session went and if it worked. Feel free to question us on our techniques, methods or approach. Our work is developed with a rich pedagogy and if you have time we would love to talk you through the method behind it all!

10) Pay us: Please pay us. We work hard and often our invoices are lost in time.

Extra point:

11) Really see: It can be easy for drama practitioners to look as though the session is ‘amazing’. The children all come out raving about how they loved it, had so much fun, that the person is the best person in the world, that they love them etc. Be wary of the practitioner who comes in and plays SPLAT or games for half the day. Is this what you want? Yes, the children have had fun but what have the gained? What have they learnt? What has been challenging for them? Be wary of the practitioner that only asks the children to get in to groups, create a role play and show it back. This fills time, is easy facilitation, isn’t challenging and is not best practice. This is very easy for us to do but is lazy and actually not doing the best by your children for they are capable of much, much more.

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