Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Impact- in an hour.


Being an artist or teacher that drops in with a group for a short session, an hour or two infrequently or as a one-off, comes with some great privileges.

Last week I had the pleasure of working with The International Schools Theatre Association (ISTA), as an artist ensemble leader as part of an in-house theatre festival for 6th grade students at The Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS). In terms of my role here at ISB, this was a fantastic opportunity for me to develop my practice as both a teacher and an artist, alongside a team of innovative artists and educators. It was especially useful for helping me to develop the Expressive Arts Program which I began last year in the ECC and ES.

The festival was designed around the theme of 'Superheroes' with students being mixed up into groups and spend the three days working with an ensemble leader. The time spent working with a group of students in this way, is incredible and amazing in it's own right. The students were completely engaged and gave huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm to the process. Even students who were resistant to the idea on the first day, eventually came around and were loving it by the end.

As the leader of an ensemble I felt the power I had as a new face for these kids. I knew that my strategies and approaches were different to their every day activities and that over the course of the festival I could capture their interest and imagination, and that together we could get some really good learning achieved.

But it is actually with a student who was not in my ensemble and with whom I only actually worked with for one hour, that I feel I had the most impact on. During one afternoon of the festival, the students were able to elect to take part in a skills workshop, based on a specific style or aspect of performance. I ran a session on autobiographical storytelling, through voice and body, and it was during this session that I had a student who had a particularly important experience.

My workshop was quite simple. In a nutshell-
Imagine a time in your life when you felt a strong emotion. This could be happy, sad, scared, angry, excited, proud, love, jealousy....
Go back to that memory in your imagination, then slowly we will build up a picture of it.
When did this memory take place. Let's start big and work down through the details. If you're not sure then give us your best guess, or a rough idea. 

What year was it?
What time of year/month?
What time of week?
What time of day?
Write as much information down about time as you can.

Which part of the world did it take place in?
Which country?
Which city or part of the country?
Which part of that place?
What do you remember about your surroundings?
Write as much information down about place as you can.

Who was with you?
What happened to make you feel that way?
Can you describe that feeling in an interesting way?
Write it down.

-Choose your most important sentence. Underline it.
-In partners, share your important sentence and create a movement for both of the sentences.
-next, underline your most important 'Time' sentence. and underline your most important 'Place' sentence.

-In groups of four, share your 3 underlined sentences and your movement with each other.
-work together to organise the 16 ingredients into an order for a presentation of them.  

As was to be expected, students used this opportunity to share a variety of things. Some shared memories of being angry with another student at school, or being excited at Christmas, or being proud of winning a race, etc, etc. But the student who I feel was particularly impacted by the workshop, shared something very personal and difficult for him.

This student, let's call him 'Joe', did not particularly stand out during the first part of the workshop. As I talked the students through remembering, he worked quietly on his own just like everyone else. It was when I asked the students to work together in fours to combine their sentences and movements, that Joe came over to ask me a question. "Can somebody else read my sentences for me? Because my story is quite personal, see?!" he said, handing his piece of paper to me nervously.
I scanned down through the time and place phrases, then saw his underlined sentence. It read something like: I felt so sad and heavy like a big stone was inside me, because my mother had just died. I looked back at the time sentences. It read: It was last year.
"Sure," I answered gently "someone can read it for you, or if you prefer to say how you were feeling but not why, then you can just stop after the words inside me.
"Yeah, I'll do that," he decided.

When it came to his group's sharing, I watched him very shakily head up on to the stage. He was the last person to speak in his group and I watched him taking deep breaths to try to steady himself. Knowing the content of his story I could tell that he was clearly struggling with his emotions, but there was a sense of determination in his face when he read the Time phrase, then the Place, then after a big pause and a look across to me for reassurance, his important sentence. Presenting the movement may have been too much for him to handle though as his final thing to do was to collapse on the shoulder of the boy next to him, in an exaggerated way, perhaps to disarm the tension he expected to be there. But of course, the other students didn't know what his story was about, he had only described how he had been feeling, so there wasn't any unusual reaction from the audience for his group. They applauded with warmth and support, the kind they had been building throughout the festival, and I watched Joe realise he had done it. He had shared how he was feeling and he had not been laughed of the stage, or made to feel bad for it. The other children were applauding him and his group for doing well in their presentation and for sharing. He nodded his head to me when I said 'well done' as he was leaving. He still had that look of determination on his face.

I later found out that he had been talking about the death of his mother to his teacher every day since it happened. It was at the fore-front of his mind at all times, but it was not something he had shared with others yet. So this for him was an important step, being able to address his feelings in front of others, but also to feel safe and supported in doing so. It was therefore of course much more than just a presentation of a memory yet, because it was a presentation, it showed Joe that he could also use theatre or art to start exploring and understanding how he had been feeling.

It is through moments like this that I love the role I have as a teacher. Being given the opportunities, support and time to work with students in this way allows me to have a part, even if a small one, in their development. Of course, I can have impact in my normal classes, but it's in a different way, more subtle and on-going, but when it's an hour here or there, it can be so visible.

I must give thanks to ISTA though, to CDNIS and to the event itself. It was because of this that the student felt safe among his peers and was in the right mind-set for reflection and sharing. Although I was able to facilitate this experience, it was due to all of the support from them which enabled the him to experience it.


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