4 Ways Great Teaching is Like Great Theatre

This post is by contributing blogger, Kerri Twigg. Kerri is an IHE M.Ed. student, parent, humane educator, drama teacher, and blogger, Kerri is the instructor for our online course about humane parenting, Raising a Humane Child (next session runs Sept. 12-Oct. 21).

Two things that always seem magical to me are teaching and theatre. Of course, I have been in classrooms where there was no magic, and I've been bored by plays. What I love about both teaching and theatre is the possibility of magic. It seems that what makes good theatre for youth is the stuff that makes great teaching for youth. The ultimate goal for me in creating learning experiences and writing plays is the same -- to create work that engages my students' minds, bodies and spirits to better understand the human experience and inspires them to think, ask questions, and take action.

While I could write many pages on the relatedness of good theatre and teaching, I'll just touch on four common elements:

1. A strong outline/a good play. In both the classroom and the theatre, an outline is necessary. While there needs to be room for student interactions and explorations, you need to know when and how you will be exploring. I find that having key activities planned gives me more room to explore with my students. A play needs a strong story and script that focuses on characters, action, and heart.

2. Don't tell them what to do or think; lead them to questioning. I have read and seen a lot of "prevention plays." These are plays that were created for the purpose of educating students on a particular issue -- usually related to drug use, sexual behaviors, or bullying -- and they don't work. They fail because they don't provide the opportunity for reflection, often portray stereotypes, and focus only on the subject. Teachers get the same results when they enter the classroom ready to dump information on their students without providing a way to play and make meaning of it.

3. Unpredictability. I love when art and teachers surprise me. It wakes me up and forces me to take notice. The magic is in including the element of surprise to further learning and experience and to inspire curiosity, rather than just for shock value. It is fairly easy to shock students when you're teaching about any of the humane education subjects -- it can be done with one simple photograph. The magic is in surprising them in the way you teach and what they discover about themselves and the world through your methods.

4. Audience. Without an audience the play cannot be seen, and teaching cannot be done; an audience is necessary for the art. Sometimes the audience for a play or a class isn't ready for the work. Sometimes it is exactly what a particular audience needs to hear on that particular day. I think this is the magic part. In designing learning experiences or writing a play, the audience must be kept in mind. The creator needs to try and predict the audience's reaction as best they can; they need to tinker with the pacing, stories and interaction. Sometimes the play doesn't need to be changed, but the work is presented to the wrong audience. It's a two way street, and a beautiful dance when it works.

Image courtesy of City of Albany Oregon via Creative Commons.

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