As we welcome John Saunders to the company as Education Manager, we took the opportunity to chat with him about our dynamic School Drama program, originally devised by his predecessor Helen Hristofski and Sydney University Professor Robyn Ewing.
“The School Drama program started in 2009, but it began with conversations in 2008 with Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton who are our former Co-Artistic Directors, along with my predecessor Helen Hristofski, and Professor Robyn Ewing at Sydney University,” John said.
Cate and Andrew had a keen interest in creativity in primary schools and Robyn’s field of research was a perfect complement to their interest.
“Robyn had been a Primary School Teacher for a long time and her research had been working alongside teachers using drama-based pedagogy as a teaching tool in English classrooms to help them improve student literacy and student engagement.”
After meeting at the Australia 2020 Summit, Cate and Robyn discussed and developed the School Drama Program. Taught over seven weekly sessions, STC employs a ‘Teaching Artist’ to enter a classroom to work alongside the teacher in a co-mentoring relationship to deliver the program to students.
STC’s pool of ‘Teaching Artists’ include Alison Evans, an applied theatre worker in Albury Wodonga, while classically trained actor Georgia Adamson has been with the program since its beginning, along with Sydney University lecturer Victoria Campbell, to name a few.
“We have Teaching Artists from a range of backgrounds. They might be actors, teachers, or applied theatre practitioners, and every year we hold a week-long training session for new Artists,” John said.
“The diverse backgrounds are a strength, but School Drama is also a very specific program. There's a lot of structure around it and we're trying to achieve particular outcomes – so that training week is really about sharing with the artist a specific way of working.”
John says the importance of nurturing the co-mentoring relationship between the classroom teacher and the Teaching Artist is the key to School Drama’s success.
“School Drama is different to traditional ‘artist-in-residence’ programs, which often leave the teacher unable to carry on the program after the artist leaves. The idea of this program is that we invest in the teacher, share with them the skills, knowledge and expertise in using drama and then they continue using that after we leave the school,” John said.
School teachers who have been involved with the program since its inception reported a myriad of changes within their students including; a significant, deeper understanding of literary texts, improved comprehension and general shift in confidence.