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Hotchalk Global

news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

A Dramatic Difference

Teachers work hard to keep classroom drama to minimum. But what if adding some drama to your class actually helped you to develop a greater connection with your students and aided in classroom management as well?  What can we borrow from theatre arts, actors, directors and technicians that will work to our favor in a classroom to assist in engaging students, enhance our classroom presence and increase our credibility?

In 1984 Hollywood released the movie “Teachers” starring Nick Nolte and Jobeth Williams.  The movie took place in a troubled, urban school replete with problems.  In one subplot, a gentleman accepts a long term sub assignment and engages the students through role playing, dramatic interaction, and creative presentation. Unbeknownst to everyone, the sub is actually an escaped mental patient with a pathology for multiple personalities who gets escorted back to the state mental hospital by the end of the movie- but not before he has made a memorable impact on students and staff. His character is contrasted by another teacher who is so boring that he dies in the middle of one of his classes and no one even notices. Art aside, the point made by the film is that to engage kids, you need to care, connect and perhaps employ a little theatre.

Theatre techniques provide teachers with strategies that support classroom management, help students develop essential listening skills, address multiple intelligences, enhance teacher presence and allow for experiential learning. Utilizing theatre strategies in class can be as simple as setting up “stations of learning” where students move from one station to another to read, recite, share or utilize learning material. Aside from PE and electives, students rarely get an opportunity for classroom mobility. Allowing movement not only reduces fidgety behavior, but helps reinforce concepts for many kids. Acting techniques like breathing exercises or rhythmic movement help strengthen students ‘ skills in focusing and mindfulness. Speech and voice intonation are key in dramatic delivery and when used skillfully in a classroom, can keep students focused and listening to direct instruction.  Adding the element of humor can capture a classful of attention as well as offering a human side of ourselves to students that they may not ordinarily see.  Staging is not just for plays and musicals.  Moving desks, re-arranging the classroom, dimming the lights, creating an “environment” all adds to the learning experience. One highly creative teacher that I know turned the inside of his third grade classroom into the interior of a space ship using Styrofoam throw-aways, butcher paper and imagination.  Everything was themed to a space journey that year, with concepts and material linked to fake control panels, robots, galactical charts, and other futuristic creations. Students are acutely attuned to their surroundings and utilizing staging techniques to modify behavior or enhance learning is an indispensable tool.

Teacher training programs focus on addressing standards, narrowing the achievement gap and standardized assessment strategies. More time is spent on educational theory than on classroom methods.  There is no preparation for educators that addresses the issues of classroom presence and how to gain control of the classroom environment-  skills that are absolutely essential to running a well ordered and effective class.  Drama should be a mandated part of every teachers undergrad training. Ariel Group. a leadership organization based out of Massachusetts, has been providing leadership training to corporate America for twenty years. They offer experiential programs and workshops run by facilitators who have extensive experience in theatre and performing arts.  Their focus is on developing business leaders who “inspire, motivate and engage clients”- exactly what teachers need to do in a classroom.  Ariel is currently looking at offering workshops to educators so that teachers and administrators can use this skill set to improve their classroom presence and enhance their ability to connect with others.  

We need a new way to look at ourselves professionally and move away from being the sole deliverer of instruction to becoming an integral part of the learning experience. Perhaps we need to dispense with the word teacher altogether and replace it with facilitator.  Directors are facilitators, so are coaches.  They assist in drawing out the best that their performers have to offer.  Teaching is exactly the same.  Our job is t o guide students on their educational journey not prescribe essays, or algebra to alleviate ignorance.  Once we begin to see ourselves in the role of director/facilitator, we become a part of the learning process instead of apart from it.     

Tere Barbella is an arts educator in the East Side Union High School District of San Jose, California. Visit her blog at


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