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Teaching Mantle of the Expert in an Icelandic Primary School – Part 2

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.


Pieces of Dorothy

This video gives a pretty thorough biographical account of Dorothy Heathcote’s life and career, including the development of Mantle of the Expert. Thanks to for making this available.


Cluster meeting in Auckland

If you attended the last Auckland cluster meeting, you’ll already be aware of the next one, coming up on Thursday 15th November from 4.30pm in room N313 at the University of Auckland’s Epsom campus. 

If you didn’t make it last time, but would like to come – please do!

The meeting will be an opportunity to share stories, get some free Professional Development and connect with a great bunch of colleagues – from those who are new to dramatic inquiry to more experienced practitioners.

Please bring stories from your classroom, half formed plans, any questions and, if you can – a friend.

See you there.


Introduction to Mantle of the Expert

This slideshow was created to introduce dramatic inquiry and Mantle of the Expert – it was shown at recent cluster meetings and I promised to share the slides here. The complete pdf can be viewed at this link

While some images won’t make much sense without commentary, others may be useful – and there are links to further information.


Learning and development in Dramatic Inquiry

Here’s something I’ve been working on for some time with input from teachers and colleagues in NZ and beyond. It’s a work in progress that I’m updating and improving as more people contribute their ideas … I’d love to get your thoughts, suggestions and refinements and I can add your name to the long list of acknowledgements…!

The document is an attempt to offer answers to some of the most common questions asked by people who want to understand Mantle of the Expert, especially those wanting to use it across the whole school: “What does it look like in my context?” “How does it relate to other drama in education approaches?” and “What’s the fit with development?”

There’s a diagram on the first page, then a sort of table with definitions and examples. Not perfect, but so far people seem to be finding it pretty useful. Check it out at the link below, and let me know what you think.


Planning for Mantle of the Expert in an Icelandic primary school – part 1

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.



Mantle of the Expert and process drama planning based on NZ historical events

In a previous post, I promised to gather and share Mantle of the Expert plans based on New Zealand historical events. Thanks to those who got in touch with suggestions. I know there are many other examples out there, so please let me know if you can recommend a published resource or if have a plan you are willing to share.

The examples listed below include some that explore broad historical issues, and a few looking at specific historical events. Where possible I have included a link to a copy of the planning, or information about where it can be found.

  • One of my favourite process dramas is Trevor Sharpe’s huia beak brooch originally published on the TKI website. This explores issues of colonial history and touches on conservation too. Suitable for primary and junior drama classrooms, the planning has Mantle of the Expert qualities that could be built on to extend it into a full term’s cross curricula exploration.
  • Jacob’s Secret is another great resource created by Peter O’Connor and a group of students at Waikato University in the 1990s. The booklet explores the colonisation of the Waikato, though it could be adapted to look into the history of other areas too.
  • Playing our Stories – a resource for classroom drama in years 1-6, produced by Learning Media in 2006, includes another very accessible process drama by Peter O’Connor entitled Taonga. Planned as a short unit exploring different attitudes to land and family history, it definitely has the potential to be extended into a full length Mantle of the Expert. I’ve attached a scanned copy of the planning here. I trust someone will let me know if that’s against copyright regulations but I figure it’s OK since this resource was sent out to every primary school in NZ – it was designed to be shared around! Primary teachers may still be able to find hard copies lurking in a resource cupboard somewhere! If so, check out the DVD which shows the lessons being taught.
  • Telling our stories – another resource produced by Learning media, this time for years 7-13, includes a terrific drama by Lyn Shillingford and Frances Reed based on the Tangiwai disaster of 1953.  I’ve taught this one quite a few times and it’s powerful stuff. As in the other examples listed, this drama includes a commission, a client and a responsible team so it would be easy to run it as a full blown ‘mantle’. I’ve only got an old photocopy so the quality may not be great but, again, it may still be possible to find copies in intermediate and high school resource rooms.
  • Carrie Swanson’s PhD thesis gives a detailed study of how history can also be used alongside other curriculum learning areas. By positioning students as expert scientists commissioned to re-investigate the Sinking of the Wahine in Wellington harbour in 1968, she and the classroom teacher successfully taught the history of the event alongside science principles, specifically floating and sinking and cyclones. The link takes you to Carrie’s thesis. Check out appendix B (pages 356-359) for an overview of the planning.
  • Susan Battye has kindly shared her planning for a project from 1989, where drama was used across a secondary school to teach local history – in this case the history of Maungakiekie (One tree hill) in Auckland. The planning is interesting as an example of ‘rolling role’, where different groups and their teachers take responsibility for different aspects of the research. It also makes great use of the ‘person in role’ strategy by pulling in a range of adults to take on roles and meet with the students. Lots of potential for updating or adapting this one.
  • And finally, this brief plan is one of mine. It’s an overview for a Mantle of the Expert experience inspired by the history of Kahikatea use in the Waikato. This link will take you to previous posts where I reflect on teaching this with a group of adult students.




Details for cluster meetings in Wellington and Auckland

It’s a busy time for cluster meetings. As well as the Gisborne get together on Tuesday, we have two others coming up in Wellington and Auckland. Dates and times are below.

This is the first ever cluster meeting in Wellington and the first for some time in Auckland – how great to see this level of interest in our main centres! As with all our cluster gatherings, the meetings are suitable for all educators from early childhood, primary, intermediate, secondary, tertiary or community settings and whether you are an absolute beginner or an experienced practitioner. There’s no charge, just an opportunity to meet like-minded people and learn more about dramatic inquiry, including Mantle of the Expert, in a low key way.

Bring your questions, bring half-formed planning, bring stories from your classroom, bring an interested colleague or just bring yourself! We’ll share resources and ideas and discuss possibilities for future networking and professional development.

Big thanks to the hosts and organisers of these cluster meetings.


  • Where: Auckland University (Epsom campus) Room to be confirmed by email.
  • When: Wednesday 12th September 4.30pm to 6pm
  • RSVP: Please email


  • Where: Eastern Hutt School, 53, Kings Cresc, Lower Hutt 5010
  • When: Wednesday 17th October 3.30pm to 5.30pm
  • RSVP: Please email Sue Fennell at the school

By the way, don’t worry if you can’t make it right on time …  we realise some will need to travel … just join us when you can.





Cluster meeting in Gisborne 28th August

Kia Ora colleagues

Apologies for sending two messages in quick succession but I really want to let you know about the cluster meeting coming up in Gisborne later in August

[If you are based in Wellington and Auckland, watch this space as there are cluster meetings coming up for you in September and October – details to follow]

If you’ve never attended a cluster meeting, these are a great way to meet other teachers with an interest in dramatic inquiry. It’s not a formal workshop and there’s no cost other than your time. We sit down together over a cup of tea and share stories of our classroom experiences. We can also revisit planning, share resources and answer any questions. Cluster groups have been running on and off over many years around the country and they are a great way to learn and share in a low key way.

We’ve had a really good turnout at workshops in Gizzie lately so hope we will get a few colleagues along to this event. Big thanks to Michelle and Makaraka school for hosting us.

Where: Makaraka School, Gisborne
When: Tuesday 28th August at 5pm
What to bring:  Bring some food to share if you can plus any questions or planning (and a friend!)
RSVP: Please email Michelle Hall at 

Nga mihi,
Viv Aitken

Tim Taylor’s planning for Florence Nightingale Mantle

Here is the powerful Mantle of the Expert plan Tim Taylor introduced us to at winter school in July 2018. Thanks so much Tim for writing up the notes and your generosity in making them available for all.

The planning is based on the work of Florence Nightingale and her team of nurses at Scutari during the Crimean war. As well as being a good introduction to this piece of European history, it also touches on universal human themes of standing up to authority, the experience of being away from home and the roles played by medical personnel in conflict.

Originally taught with young children (approx year 2) the planning would work equally with older age groups …  I can personally attest to this having spent two days exploring the context and becoming fully invested – along with all the other adults in the room!

Planning notes       Powerpoint slides

Tim’s planning has inspired me to make a collection of process drama / Mantle of the Expert plans based on New Zealand historical events. If you have done some planning on local history and are happy to share – or can recommend some good resources, please let me know and I will share in my next post.