Monday, 12 September 2016

Inclusion, Challenge and Success


An article written by Jacqueline Tordoir, the parent of a previous ISB student, and published in Dutch in the blog of education Think Tank- NIVOZ. You can check it out on this link:

ISB Middle School's recent production of The Jungle Book

My daughter Daniela went to the International School of Brussels. The mission of the school is: everyone included, challenged and successful.  Of the three mission components, “challenge” is the one Daniela has been covering since she was 3, when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Although her one-year intensive hospital treatment is now a distant memory, Daniela’s learning difficulties are a daily challenge.

My daughter was enrolled as a pupil in the ISB’s ‘Special Education’ programme, where she spent most of her school hours in a small class of six children. For Dutch and Drama class, she participated in lessons in the mainstream Middle School. While relishing her periods in the mainstream, she found it hard to have the label ‘special ed. kid’ attached to her and despite the wonderful guidance of her special ed. teachers, she often wondered why she couldn’t be like her peers and fully participate in the mainstream programme. The gap between the education levels at both sections is large. My daughter hovered between the two, intellectually, emotionally and socially. It was tough. Together with her teachers, we were on a continuous quest for the other two mission components: ‘inclusion’ and ‘success’.

Eventually we saw it happening: inclusion, challenge and success seamlessly rolled into one when she performed her part of ‘Wolf 3’ in the school’s The Jungle Book production. I spoke to her drama teacher to find out more about his pedagogical approach. He involved around 40 pupils in his production of The Jungle Book, 26 were stage performers. Others were involved in costumes, backstage, masks, makeup and stage design. It took 48 hours of rehearsals over four months to prepare the play, with three performances at the end. In total, the students presented their work to nearly 500 audience members.

When rehearsals started I had noticed that it took my daughter a while to get into it. She showed no particular enthusiasm for going to rehearsals. Her drama teacher confirmed that she was withdrawn and frightened to make her voice heard. She would cower in a corner rather than step forward, whisper rather than speak up or shout out. He recognised her challenge: She was the only special education student in the group and together with another child, the only one from the lowest grade, grade 7; all the others being from grade 8 up to High School grade 12.

So how did we end up with a smiling Wolf 3, beaming on stage, exclaiming that this was the best time in her life, hugging and kissing her fellow thespians while gracefully receiving compliments on the delivery of her lines and her true-to-life wolf performance throughout? Better call her drama teacher.

His key message was trust. He considered that his first task in starting off any theatre production was to work on building trust for creating what he called the “ensemble”, the group coherence and collaboration. He worked on trust by means of various exercises. His aim was to make everyone feel part of the whole, to get everyone to feel that they too have something unique to contribute to the group and that difference is not just OK, but something to be cherished. He reckoned very few children will feel entirely confident at the beginning of rehearsing for a play and likewise in this group, my daughter was not the only one to feel fear and inhibition. The group also included children who had only recently learned to speak English for instance. Through trust-building exercises, children eventually ended up trusting themselves and each other

My daughter’s drama teacher’s next step was to create a safe environment in which children were encouraged to take risks and to reflect openly on each other’s endeavours through giving critical, non-judgmental feedback. Children thrived by sensing that none of the feedback given was personal, that each comment served the purpose of increasing their skills and the quality of the group effort as a whole. Risk-taking was cultivated by giving children exercises to stretch their imagination, asking them to perform the impossible. Everyone took part no matter how hesitant they felt about taking risks. The secret was in the approach. How can you not take a risk when you are asked to work out a way to turn yourself inside out, or to find a way of seeing the back of your own head?

Another key to this teacher’s success was creating an environment for active participation. For his productions, he saw his role as a facilitator rather than a director. He used the creative input he got from the children to build the play. There was a script, but it was flexible. ‘Children have excellent ideas, I would be mad not to take them on. The process is more important than the end-result’, he said. All children in The Jungle Book were active agents in building it, they were treated as competent partners in shaping the process and the end-product.

So where was my daughter in all this? When her teacher noticed that his trust-building exercises did not have an immediate effect, or at least not as much as was required to make her an active participant in the process, he intervened. A small push did the trick. He took her aside and told her that she needed to be brave. That without her taking action herself there would be no reaction. That she should give the others the opportunity to learn from her, from her energy, from her physicality and that they in turn could help her with their feedback and with remembering her lines and “prompt” whenever it was needed. They were messages for trust and risk-taking with a safety net supplied. It worked. The next rehearsal my daughter acted out an angry wolf. Buoyed up by the feedback she received she continued to develop her role from strength to strength. No prompting was needed at any stage….

If it’s true that “all the world’s a stage”, Carl found a way of bringing the stage into Daniela’s world and answered our quest for inclusion, challenge and success.

Jacqueline Tordoir


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