When we think about teaching in role, or putting participants in role it can be easy to assume that must be done in ‘full role’ – where the person in role moves, walks, talks and responds exactly like someone would in real life. However, that’s only one option. Dorothy Heathcote suggested 33 different ways of bringing someone from the imagined world ‘to life’ in the classroom. Here’s her list, in a colour coded version that was a handout at the 2009 Weaving our Stories Conference (thanks to Allana Taylor for this version). For more explanation of the colour coding, check out this post


The resource is a great way to think creatively about how roles can be represented by the teacher or by participants during drama activities.

For example, imagine you want to explore an event from New Zealand history – such as the chopping down of the flagpole in Kororāreka. You might think “I want to use teacher in role for this”. Now, you could go into full role as Hone Heke (convention 1) but to add a bit more frame distance and artistry, and to show some respect to this culturally significant figure, you might choose one of the more abstract conventions, such as slowly creating in front of the children a drawing of Heke beside the damaged flagpole (convention 9) and using the ‘teacher-in-role’ voice to narrate events from his perspective… “Aue – I had my reasons, and they were good ones…” Another option would be to invite children to close their eyes and ‘listen in’ to account of Heke’s deeds reported next day by one of his followers (convention 25). These are still examples of “teaching in role” but in a more abstract form.

Tim Taylor has recently written a blog post with an excellent guide to Heathcote’s role conventions (which he refers to as the conventions of dramatic action). The guide includes lots of illustrated examples of how the conventions can be used to select roles for the teacher AND participants. Find Tim’s guide here.

Here’s a story I only just spotted from the GUARDIAN in 2013. Great advocacy from a teacher in the UK who discovered Mantle of the Expert (which she calls Imaginative Inquiry) and now uses it regularly in her junior classroom. I particularly like how Jenny links Mantle of the Expert to Philosophy for children and dialogic pedagogy. The story was written by Emily Drabble and first published Sun 7 Jul 2013 07.00 BST Click here for link to the original story.

After drifting through her first few years of teaching, Jenny Lewis was put on an inspiring professional development programme that sparked a passion for creative approaches to learning

Jenny Lewis
 Imaginative inquiry: speaking and listening skills have gone through the roof since Jenny Lewis introduced an imaginary world of learning to her pupils. Photograph: Jenny Lewis

Both my parents were teachers and they advised me not to go into teaching. I did a degree in English literature at Goldsmiths University then worked for a few years in shops and offices. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. Then I decided to do a PGCE at Goldsmiths, not because I had any burning ambition – just because I wanted a career. I worked in two inner city schools in London, first South Haringay Infants school then Allen Edwards primary school. I loved the kids and the challenge and of course teaching is always more than a job, but I didn’t have a clear vision about what learning should be about or what I believed teaching was.

I moved to Oxford and got a job in another inner city multicultural school called East Oxford First school. It was here I started finding myself as a teacher. I had a fantastic head and we had challenging children from complex social circumstances. We had to work so closely with families as many of them were refugees and travellers – and we needed to create a really nurturing environment and our biggest drive was to help children be receptive to learning even with such complicated home lives. I became part of the leadership team and I started to get more emotionally involved with teaching.

But it was when I moved to Norwich that everything really started to change for me. I started teaching at Avenue First School which is now part of Recreation Road primary. Our head Serena Dixon is incredible and she’s changed my life in so many ways. She finds and nurtures talent in people and I can’t overstate the massive impact she has had on me as a person and a teacher. It was really at this point that I began to learn a lot more about pedagogy, about how children learn and think, rather than just delivering the curriculum.

At that time Norfolk Education Authority had this incredible programme: Thinking Schools, Thinking Children. Serena Dixon was really keen to get involved and it was the start of a really inspirational few years that Norfolk schools are still benefitting from today.

The real revelations were using philosophy and drama for learning. We got to hear amazing inspirational speakers including Barry Hymer and Sir John Jones – speakers who have had a real impact on education and made me think about what learning is about. So suddenly all this opened up to me.

The best thing about the programme for me was that it was based on action research so we would go back and try things out in our classes, it was a really reflective process.

We found that using philosophy for children (P4C) and creating a dialogic classroom was right for our school. Robin Alexander from Cambridge University taught me so much about using talk in the classroom and creating a real co-constructed learning environment – so instead of a teacher imparting knowledge by asking questions it’s more about being a facilitator in the classroom and getting high-level dialogue and a higher-order of conversation.

Then in 2004 I went to hear a speaker called Luke Abbott talk about imaginative inquiry. I was completely intrigued by what he had to say about the Mantle of the Expert (MoE) pedagogy, a drama-based learning where the children learn in an imaginary world in role. That was the day that my teaching life took an incredible turn.

It seemed such an exciting way for me to move forward as a practitioner so I was thrilled to become part of a project that trained me in the use of MoE. Since then I have worked with a group of colleagues who have become a committed and transforming support group and who are still helping me to refine and improve my practice and understanding of the approach.

I have run a series of long term MoE contexts with my classes, while developing imaginative-inquiry as a pedagogic approach that we use throughout the school.

My current year 2 children are a group of curators creating a museum about a workhouse. We have co-created the story of the Baxter family who entered the workhouse in 1835. As museum creators in 2013 we examine these fictional historical documents to piece together information. We co-create the whole world and the class’ job to go in and turn the classroom into a museum. They partly work in the present and partly in the 19th century in a process (rather than a performance) drama.

We spend around half our time in school fully in role. It’s a very deep way of working. You can cover most of the curriculum within the imaginary world.

The children absolutely love it and speaking and listening skills go through the roof. Because the world is co-created and the pupils lead the story they have a huge ownership of it. They have so many ideas and have a really big say over their learning. Children come in with ideas and as a teacher you weave them into the drama. When you start there’s a lot of learn, it’s a complex pedagogy.

Now we use MoE across the school, as well as the forest school approach and P4C. There is nothing fluffy about it. We are an Ofsted outstanding school. Our data holds up, we have strong academic achievement.

Working like this takes a lot of time, you aren’t dusting down old plans, you’re being constantly creative. But it’s such a lot of fun. I compare it to being in an amazing film. We all become very emotional at this time of year when the film is about to end, it’s really hard to say goodbye to these year long projects.

Thanks to Jenny for sharing these Fictional historical documents which are part of her year 2 class’s MoE co-created story of the Baxter family who entered the workhouse in 1835.

Jenny Lewis teachers at Recreation Road Infant school in Norwich. Jenny is also involved in training and supporting other teachers in Norfolk and beyond.


Here’s the second of three conversations with Hākon Saeberg from Iceland who has been talking about his experiences teaching Mantle of the Expert with year 4 students. If you missed the first part, it can be seen here. When Hākon and I reconnected,  he had just embarked on the Mantle and was three days in. He had gone ahead with the idea, previously discussed, of imagining an island that is suffering through sea level rise. The class had spent the first three days creating the island that would disappear.

Viv: So why did it feel like a good idea to start this way this time?

Hākon: I thought it would be important to try and create an emotional investment for the students towards the island. I was hoping that this would make the news that the island will disappear more dramatic.

Viv: What conventions of drama have you used so far to create the island?

Hākon: We spent time creating the central space of the island, so we could create a shared view of the place, we created stories of the island so we could have a shared vision…This is the first-time that the children have done lots of the groundwork when starting a Mantle.

Viv: Clearly you have spent time building the emotional connection to the imagined world, so when will you bring in the idea that this place is under threat?

Hākon: Today they got the news that the island will disappear. The King (teacher in role) delivered the news. He said he was scared and didn’t know what to do.

Viv: How did the children react?

Hākon: At first, they thought they could do miracle solutions, for example stopping the rising sea levels by recycling. I think this is because in my previous mantles there have been miracle solutions like this, but then I went into role as a top scientist and confirmed there was nothing we could do.

Viv: How did this go down?

Hākon: The children were quite thrown, and you could sense their uncertainty. However, I feel similarly, as I’m finding it a struggle to think of where I go next.

Viv: Perhaps it would help to have some out of role reflection to give them a chance to discuss how this experience is different from past Mantles. A big part of this approach is the chance to step back and articulate how the learning is going – what’s challenging etc.

Hākon: That might be the best way to go. This way I could also try to better understand how the students feel about the story so far. It’s quite different than any other mantle I’ve done. But, I’m also still grappling with the question of what kind of expert team the children should be. Should we work as lots of little teams all tackling different parts of the resettlement process?

Viv: Well, let’s think about who a leader of a country who was in this situation would call on in real life. It would be many different teams, in fact, wouldn’t it? There would be cartographers –  to map out the unexplored land, there would be historians – to advise on the important parts of the existing history and culture of the country that should be preserved, there would be artists to create artworks to express the cultural identity. While you could divide the class into multiple teams to explore all these things (this is something like the ‘rolling role’ approach), it’s an awful lot of work for one teacher to ensure the learning is deep in each area, plus there’s a danger that not every child learns about every aspect. If you want to work with the unified community of learning of a single team, the challenge is to find an expert frame that everyone can be in together and that gives you a perspective on the issue that takes you to the curriculum areas you want to explore. We talked about some other options last time, didn’t we?

Hākon: I think I will make them city planners who are asked to create a map of the new capital city. The map would have to include the structures of government, the culturally significant buildings and the religious centres – these are all the aspects of society I want us to study. And if the commission included a requirement to honour the history of the old island, this could focus things nicely.

Viv: Sounds great. How will you deliver the commission, and who will be your client?

Hākon: I guess the king will be the client. As for the commission, these kids really enjoy receiving an email, but since the people on the island are a bit old-fashioned I might use a letter.

Viv: Let’s talk about some drama possibilities, too. What if you went back in to role as the King, and asked the children to step in to a sort of ‘shadow role’ as ‘wise people of the island’ to offer their advice. That way, the group could explore all sorts of possibilities for the future of the country and the children could get a sense of the magnitude of the decision the king is facing.

Hākon: That’s a great idea. This could also lead to the children creating their own commission in a way, by recommending it to the king.

Viv: It’s also important to add that stepping in to shadow role as the islanders probably won’t confuse the children. They know that their main identity within the mantle is as the expert team – the city planners – carrying out the commission. That’s because you will take time to build belief in the expert team identity and you’ll keep returning to it, unlike shadow role which you just step in and out of. Does that make sense?

Hākon: Definitely. I have used ‘shadow roles’ before to some extent so the children are used to it. I think it will also help, in this case, that the children have not yet gone into role as the city planners, so there shouldn’t be much confusion once we go into that role. Talking of building belief in the company, or responsible team, do you have any suggestions for doing this in a new way? I’m familiar with the idea of designing the office space and stuff. What are some other ideas that you like to use?

Viv: One strategy I use a lot is one I was taught by Brian Edmiston. This involves asking them to draw a favourite part of the office and then talk about how this space represents the values of the company. For example, I remember a recent company where someone drew a sign showing the way to the childcare centre. He spoke about how this signified we were a family-focussed organization with a systematic approach to supporting women in the workplace. So, yes, that can be a nice strategy. You can also design the company’s main door way.

Hākon: Yes, I have tried that before, and I have written letters from previous clients.

Viv: Awards can also be good. I had one Mantle where the team received an award from the government for their previous work. This gives the opportunity to think about what would be on the citation and sets up the idea that we are obviously successful and experienced.

Hākon: OK. I feel like we have a sense of where to go next. The children will take on the role of elders which will hopefully lead us into the commission. Thereafter we will start the expert framing as city planners. Just thinking ahead to possible tensions. What issues or tensions could be appropriate?

Viv: Well, let’s think of some possibilities. When I’m planning for tensions I will often go to Heathcote’s handout ‘working with tension’. Or sometimes I just think, ‘what if…..’ So, let’s try that. If we are setting up a new society, what problems might arise…?

Hākon: What if…. There are differences of opinion about which form of government would be right? When the children were creating the island, they decided that it was governed by a king? What if they would rather want a democracy? Or what if they don’t like democracy? I think it could be fun if they choose anarchy!

Viv: And of course, there’s religion too…. What if there’s a conflict within the new society with a dominant religion that doesn’t want others to be included? What if there are objections to the iconography? That could bring up a whole lot of interesting curriculum.

Hākon: And environmental issues – what if there are problems in the new country related to the use of land. Or getting rid of waste?

Viv: Lots of possibilities. You don’t need to decide what to use just yet, but it’s good to have some of these up your sleeve as the Mantle progresses.

Hākon: Fantastic! I feel these talks are incredibly helpful and I’m learning a lot.

Viv: All the best with the next phase. Just one more thing… How are your teaching colleagues finding it? Are they enjoying it as much as you are?

Hākon: They are a little concerned about how slowly the class is moving at the moment while we build belief in the imagined world. It will be good when we start moving faster!

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us Hākon – we look forward to part three where we hear how the Mantle finished up.

I’ve been having some really enjoyable conversations with Hākon Saeberg who teaches year 4 students in Iceland. Hākon has been using Mantle of the Expert for the last few years and recently completed his Masters on the approach. You are invited to listen in as we nut out the planning for his next adventure which will explore social studies topics from the National Curriculum. Thanks, Hākon for helping me share this record of our dialogue…

If you’d like to read the second instalment of this conversation, it’s available here.

Viv: Hi Hākon, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about the class you are planning for.

Hākon: I am a teacher at one of the largest primary schools in Reykjavik, Iceland. Currently, I teach a year 4 class of 45 students in a team with two other teachers. Mantle of the Expert is not widely used in Iceland, but I try to use as much as I can in my teaching. I have taught this same class for two years now so the students, as well as my colleagues, are familiar with Mantle of the Expert.

Viv: You mentioned that you were keen to plan a Mantle of the Expert where the children would ‘build a society’ What gave you that idea? You also mentioned you’d prefer to set it in contemporary times, rather than make it historical. Can you explain more about that?

Hākon: In the school where I teach, teachers are required to follow a school curriculum where they are required to teach certain things at certain times. At the beginning of the school year I was looking at the agenda for year 4 students which includes, among other things, map-reading/map-making, religion, government and culture.

As I am required to teach these things to my students, I started thinking how they could be incorporated into a Mantle of the Expert. Government, religion and culture all play a vital role in society, so I thought that building a society would give my students interesting opportunities to think about and discuss these terms, what they mean and the roles they play in their own lives.

The reason I would like it to be set in modern times is twofold. The first reason is I think that by placing the Mantle in modern times gives the students better opportunities to connect what they are learning to their personal lives. For example, I would like them to be able to think about their own values and preferences as of today while establishing a culture for their society, as opposed to them trying to imitate the culture of people a long time ago. The second reason is that I have already planned a Mantle around the settlement of Iceland which will take place next spring, and I don’t want to make them too similar.

Viv: In Iceland, unlike NZ, you have a prescribed syllabus of certain ‘content’ you must teach at certain levels, is that right? Do you find that makes it easier or harder to use Mantle of the Expert?

Hākon: Overall, I think it makes it harder. Prescribed content can inspire an idea for how to plan a Mantle, as was the case for the society building, but since Mantle of the Expert is a highly creative approach to teaching and learning I feel like any obligations and/or restrictions mostly work against it.

Viv: And you have standardised tests as well? How does teaching in Mantle of the Expert fit with preparing for these?

Hākon: Not at all to be honest. My year 4 class is at the moment preparing for a big standardised test in the end of september and I wouldn’t think using Mantle of the Expert to prepare them. A lot of the time that is spent preparing the students just goes towards showing them how a standardised test is conducted, which would make for an uninteresting mantle. Then there is the matter of standardised tests and Mantle of the Expert being almost polar opposites. Standardised tests measure if you know the answer to a specific question at a specific time while Mantle of the Expert does not look for specific answers but challenges students to make up creative solutions to open problems. It’s like water and oil, they don’t mix.

Viv: OK, so if we want to create a Mantle of the Expert experience where children are building a new society, the first question we might ask ourselves is ‘who does this kind of thing in the real world?’ …. One idea that springs to mind is space exploration.

Hākon: That was my first idea too! Students would take on the role of colonizers on a distant planet, establishing a new society. However I have some concerns about that idea.

Viv: Space exploration is a logical idea because space is the one place where we are still finding new territory. At the same time, it’s an idea with a strong popular culture association. Real space travel is serious business, but most of us have mostly encountered the idea through movies and science fiction, therefore you’d need to be careful to be clear on whether things that belong in popular culture versions of space travel were allowed in to your imagined world.

Hākon: I agree. My biggest concern about the mantle taking place in space would be that the focus might too easily shift away from society-building to space exploration, since it’s more exciting. Also, I’ve previously done a space mantle with the same class which focused on the solar system and I think they might have a hard time separating the two.

Viv: Another idea might be a society that has to relocate and rebuild in a new place. This reminds me of the real-life example of the island community of Kiribati, which is experiencing the effects of sea rise. The government of Kirabati is planning ‘relocation with dignity’, which includes buying up land in other countries and creating a new home for themselves.

Perhaps your commission could spring from something like that?

Hākon: This sounds interesting. I can’t say I’m familiar with Kiribati’s situation, but it could work. It would make for a dramatic context with a real-world connection.

Viv: I do think it would be important to ensure you fictionalised the context by creating a parallel imaginary setting, perhaps a fictional island community nearer to your home in Iceland… there’s something dodgy about using a real-world issue, or real names for Mantle of the Expert – especially from another cultural context. However respectful our intentions, one is bound to oversimplify and misrepresent. At the same time, it could be very interesting to finish your Mantle with reference to the places in the world where this is happening for real and encourage participants to think about the realities of that… and consider the real-world actions that are needed (which may be very different to the ones you carried out in your mantle!)

Hākon: Yes! If the students were given a chance to immerse themselves in the lives of the people on the fictional island and the changes they have to undertake, then drawing a real-world connection in the end could be really powerful.

Viv: Another question is how you want to frame the participants. Another way of putting this is to ask what their point of view will be. Do you want participants to be ‘puppet master’ type figures, arranging the details of this world, setting up the culture, observing and overseeing and guiding change? This is the sort of stance we might use in a rolling role approach. Or do you want them to be right IN the situation, going through it for themselves? This would be more like drama for learning. Or, do you want to use the ‘expert team’ perspective to create a collective concern – which is what Mantle aims to do… That would mean having a team of people with a particular ‘take’ on the situation. For example, if they were map makers, then their concern would be to accurately plot the layout of the new society. Or If they were city planners, they would be focused on planning for the needs of the citizenry. Or if they were counsellors, then their concern would be to advise the people setting up the new society on how to cope and how to make the new society work at a human level.

I think any of these approaches could work and all could involve understanding the aspects you have talked about (government, social systems, culture etc) but with a different frame of concern, or point of view. And there are loads of other possibilities. You can use Heathcote’s list of possible enterprises to help you choose.Of course, none of these is absolutely fixed… When using Mantle of the Expert you can still employ ‘drama for learning’ to take on the role of people in the situation… but your overarching concern would be whatever your group identity is.

Hākon: I think you are right. I feel like I might go with a mixed approach, where the students take on a role of an expert team or puppet masters tasked with overseeing the actions needed for rebuilding the society, while also using drama for learning to examine the emotions that the island inhabitants are experiencing…I am getting all excited, I really like this idea!

Viv: Fantastic – thanks Hākon. Good luck with the next stage of planning and we’ll talk again soon.


Miguel Garcia is a beginning teacher based in New Plymouth. He’s embarking on his second Mantle of the Expert this term.

Check out this blog where Miguel and Viv discuss planning and teaching as the adventures unfold with this class. Should be of particular interest to beginners – though more experienced practitioners are also invited to view, comment and offer advice.

Only a handful of posts to read so far, but if you subscribe (see top right corner of blog) you can stay in touch with updates over the final few weeks…

Please note, as yet the blog doesn’t include any photos – these will be added once all the parent’s permission slips are in.

Thanks Miguel for being brave enough to share the ups and downs of this journey!



Kia Ora Colleagues

Teacher blogs can be a fantastic resource. For the writer it’s an opportunity to reflect, record and share progress and musings. For the reader, it’s an insight into another classroom and an opportunity to share, comment and connect.

Even when the experience is long over, the blog remains as a fascinating and detailed record.

We have a number of terrific teacher blogs on the Mantle website. Two recent additions are:

Leslee Allen’s blog on her adventures with “Number Agents” – a Maths programme she’s developed for junior primary based on the principles of Mantle. Leslee is also blogging enthusiastically about the success of play-based learning in her Northland school.

Merrin Diack has recently started a blog called “Rolling with Mantle” where she’s sharing her experiences with collaborative, cross-curricula planning and the neat learning that results for students at her Christchurch college.

Two mantles from opposite ends of Aotearoa, and with children of very different ages – both based on the same principles of role-taking, embodiment, imagination and authentic engagement.

Thanks for sharing, Leslee and Merrin!
If others are blogging about their adventures in mantle please let me know – we’d love set up a link from the Mantle of the Expert site.

Ka kite


In 2009 Dorothy Heathcote presented me with a handwritten document entitled “Mantle of the Expert – my current understanding”. This was her keynote for the Weaving our Stories conference held in Hamilton, New Zealand in that year. Her words as she handed me the document were, “I thought you might want to do something with this.”

After some time, I decided the best thing to do was to publish the keynote in a form that would be freely available to everyone. First step was to transcribe it from handwritten to typewritten form. Dianna Elvin generously offered to do this – thanks Dianna – and the full transcript can be found here.

Next, I thought it would be useful to look at the address in ‘bite sized chunks’ and offer commentary and interpretation. I have started this process in an occasional blog series –  you’ll find that here. 

I hope this will be an interesting and useful read whether you are a teacher, a scholars or just an interested passerby. Please join in with any comments, questions and responses…

Ka kite!

Here’s a lovely link to check out. A teacher’s blog about using Mantle of the Expert to explore the history of the Titanic. Teacher Jenny Burrell has included details of her planning, notes on children’s responses and feedback from parents in this blog (from a UK school).  Lots to learn from and enjoy here.

By the way, if any NZ teachers are blogging their work in Mantle this team – do please send the link so we can share yours too!

Click here for linkmantle of ex titanic 005

Check out this brief blog from Debra Kidd (UK) countering some misunderstandings about MOTE. Debra is well worth reading in general … you might like to subscribe for regular updates


Just written my final blog post for this year’s mantle at HNS school. Comments from the children include “”I liked getting talked to and talking like an adult” and “I liked being someone else but not at the same time”. Meanwhile the teacher says,  “You should see some of the writing – talk about powerful. You won’t believe some of it is from 10 year old children…”. Check out the whole six week journey by clicking here

Huge thanks to Andy, the school and the students for what has been a fantastic ride… As always so much learned along the way!