Principle four of teaching and learning with drama is learning to share power with students.
Power is constantly at play in educational settings. Usually, it is a given that the teacher has more power than the students and this is the way things remain. However, in using active drama approaches for teaching and learning, it is not enough to simply be active and dramatic; the teacher also must to learn to give over her power to her students. According to Edmiston:
As teachers we may choose to regard young people as subjects with individual lives rather than as statistics or objects to be managed, to treat them with dignity rather than as problems, and to value them as equals rather than as inferiors. More challenging, we have the power to treat youngsters with respect even when they may disrespect us or devalue their peers”(p.1).
Upon reflection on today’s activities in class, I realize that age is not really a valid reason for giving power to one individual over another, even in a classroom setting. Every student has as much to share as his teacher does; just because he may have less knowledge about a topic does not mean he doesn’t have relevant life experiences that can help contribute to the rest of the class’s understanding.
Just as age should not determine who has the power, neither should personality. It is a constant challenge to encourage all students to participate in the dialogue of a class. All teachers have had the experience of trying to draw out and engage the shy, reserved student while downplaying the over-eager contributions of students who often have louder voices and are less inhibited.
I’m ashamed to admit that over time, I am sometimes guilty of going straight to my eager participants to arrive at the correct answer more quickly and move forward with instruction rather than taking the time to encourage equality among all voices in my classroom.
This is problematic in two ways: first, I am overlooking the possibly insightful contributions of my more timid students and second, I’m teaching in a way that doesn’t promote authentic conversations if I am asking questions that have a predetermined answer. This ties back to the first principle of teaching & learning with drama: Have authentic conversations. One characteristic of authentic conversations is that a large majority of the questions that are asked by the teacher are ones that she doesn’t know the answers to. Clearly if I am so rushed to have a student identify the “right answer” and move on, something is missing at a deeper level.
Creating a respectful, emotionally safe community of learners is essential to level the playing field among the students in a class and encourage the active participation of all. When shy students sense that their ideas will be accepted, they are more likely to voice their opinions. This shift in who participates in the classroom can even help teachers to see their students in a new light and change previously-held negative assumptions about their abilities or attitudes towards learning.
Drama is one easy way to facilitate sharing power with students because it can be done naturally when the teacher takes on a role of a character with less authority than the rest of the students, thereby giving them more power in comparison. Edmiston writes:
They [Students] will inevitably relish playing with having more power than a teacher: that increases their feeling of investment and ownership in whatever tasks they may do…that might include discussing, showing, and writing recommendations…”(p. 5).
I am often intimidated of giving over power to my students. On the spectrum of super-controlling to super-not, I unfortunately have traditionally fallen on the super-controlling end of things. I’d like to say that this is because of my age and years of experience; and to some extent this is definitely true. I have started to give over more control to my students and give them more choices than I used to when I first began teaching four years ago. However, I still have a long way to go in creating a classroom community that values equality and equity among all. I am at the point where conceptually I understand and value these ideals but practically am uncomfortable implementing them.