Updated: Nov 4, 2018
Let me set the scene for you:
Age Group: 9-12's
Goals: To foster excitement and genuine engagement from all participants.
This class was a first for me in that I was challenged to think about how I could creatively engage a student who seemed to be more interested in a 'behind the scenes' kind of role rather than in acting. I observed that she had begun to socially isolate herself from the class, and asked myself: was this a lack of confidence, or disinterest?
Alana (who assisted the class) and I wanted to understand the source of her reluctance in order to create a classroom environment that she could enjoy and feel confident in.
We could see that she had many artistic ideas for the show and felt we needed to give her a new role while remaining sensitive to the overall group dynamic.
Once we discovered that she loved art, we began brainstorming how to incorporate a more art-centred role into the creation of our show. The brilliant Alana suggested we offer her the role of Art Coordinator or Assistant Director.
She accepted both roles! This simple idea was very effective and immediately unlocked confidence and enthusiasm in the student, which was an absolute joy to watch.
Suddenly she had permission to contribute to the group in a way that worked for her.
Believing in the power of your voice and knowing that your contribution in a group is valued, is a powerful internal shift. In this case it required some nurturing from Alana and I to be achieved - had we not been as observant, I wonder if she would have simply given up on attending class and missed out on making these personal gains? Perhaps.
Building on these lessons and seeing potential moments for growth is a big part of teaching for me. Another example to this point comes from a 6-8’s class that I taught recently. One of my students was clearly struggling: sitting away from the group, not following instructions, refusing to participate and not responding to redirection. I wanted to remain within the positive reinforcement approach employed as a general rule at Purple Carrots, but how?! What was he doing that I could reward him for?
My thoughts in this moment were: How do I help this student feel included while not confusing the other students (who were in fact following my instructions and our class' group agreements)? I don't want to encourage them to follow his lead, but at the same time I don't want him to feel left out or punished.
This is when Silvina stepped in and suggested that this student take on the role of Director. His response was to choose a tall director's chair to sit on, roll up a large piece of black paper to act as his director's microphone, and direct his thoughts to the group! This new role assignment worked for him and the class for a few weeks, until his friend started complaining that he wanted to be the director instead. In response, Silvina lead a conversation between them about navigating this conflict... the solution? Two directors were born!
This was another great lesson for me in responding creatively to what comes up in the room with an open mind and a fluid approach. Having the two students share the director role turned out to be beneficial for them both! They both learnt about creative contribution, compromise, and sharing.
My students have taught me that remaining fluid with my ideas in response to what they bring to class is extremely is important. Every class is unique, and for this reason I know that I will be learning the same valuable lessons from many different angles for years to come.
By Mjaa Danielson.