It Won't Always Be What You Pictured (in fact, it often isn't).

Updated: Nov 4, 2018

My first goal in any class is to meet every participant exactly where they’re at and to make them feel seen and valued for their unique contribution.

As a teacher, I find reaching a balance between the planning I do ahead of time, and allowing for student-led ideas to take over at times (and perhaps even change my own ideas entirely), to be a delicate and ever-changing process. The rigidity of my ideas and preconceptions about how scenes will play out, or how a game should be played, or what the concept for the show is, has a tendency to conflate the importance and relevance of my ideas and take over. In other words, just because I feel attached to my ideas this doesn’t mean that they’re important or even relevant in consideration to the present moment. The nuance and challenge of this process looks different in each class.

Students often naturally want to meet the demands of their teachers and I have found that by being present in each moment I am more able to let my students inform my demands. For example, in one particular class of young boys that I taught recently, a few tweaks to the initial plan were needed in order for the students to feel inspired to participate and excited to create. Some particular adjustments that needed to be made for this class were during free play and warm up:


At the beginning of each class there is time for guided free play. This usually means choosing from a limited amount of possibilities, like playing with plasticine or dancing to music. However, this class made it clear (very quickly) that two options weren't enough of a range of possibilities for free play; their curiosity was strong! In response, we allowed for more activities during that time, with the guideline that they still needed to stay at the table with their friends- a guideline they were not happy with. After some consideration, we thought... maybe we could make a deal? So we asked them: “Can we trust you to use any of the materials in the room respectfully and clean up everything you use at the end of free time?” Being given that trust worked well- they did exactly that- played with anything that drew their attention in the room, and then were able to pack up when asked, week after week. We had compromised around an area of conflict and solved a problem together. That's great team work!

In this modified way, guided free play was able to serve it's purpose: to help them transition into class and be a space for social interactions to occur more organically.

If I had been rigid as to how free play had to be, and engaged in a power struggle of a 'who get's to win this argument' style, I doubt the result would have been as successful.

The true shift occurred when I offered them the gift of being trusted.

Was I accidentally rewarding defiance? I don't think so.

Rather, I was empowering them to make the right choice and offering a learning opportunity around upholding agreements responsibly.


Captain’s Coming is a drama game that involves following directions to act out different actions and characters. Although the class loved it the first time we played it, the second time around they seemed less interested. But this same game had kept other groups of students engaged for weeks! How could this be?!

One of my students was interested in Star Wars, and suggested we rename all of the actions and characters to make the game all about Star Wars instead. Although my initial response was to try to redirect him, to keep everyone on track and to finish the game as it was meant to be, I decided to allow for an “A-ha!” moment. I realized that if I ignored my student’s suggestion I would be doing so just to assert my authority and maintain my own oh so important plan. I decided to make the effort in that moment to be present and incorporate the student's idea instead. This choice proved to be extremely beneficial; every student then wanted a chance to come up with their own actions and characters for the game- so they did. They were all deeply engaged in the process of tailoring the game to their unique interests and it ended up being a moment of truly spontaneous fun- for them and for me! I thank you, dear students, for this lesson.

By Mjaa Danielson.