I could not be more proud and excited to make this announcement….

The Dramatic Inquiry Network Aotearoa Trust – formed last year by a hardworking group of volunteers from across primary, secondary and tertiary sectors – has been selected by the Ministry of Education as a Network of Expertise (NEX).

Networks of Expertise funding supports subject associations and other peer-to-peer networks to deliver support for teachers and kaiako. The DI Network Aotearoa Trust is registered as a Network to support learning across curricula and learner pathways a recognition of the way DI can create authentic, engaging, meaningful and embodied teaching and learning experiences across the curriculum and across all sectors of education.

It’s great to know that Drama New Zealand, the subject society for drama is also included as a registered NEX – we will keep working closely with them as well as other organisations and networks.

With recognition from the Ministry of Education, and the significant funding that comes with it, the DI Network will be able to continue to strengthen its existing activities and create new resources to support New Zealand teachers with an interest in dramatic play, drama for learning, process drama, Mantle of the Expert and other DI approaches – with an emphasis on culturally sustaining processes and practice.

Work has already begun, with cluster meetings, workshops, symposia, teacher-teacher support and networking opportunities being planned around the country. Details of these will, of course, be shared on this site as they are finalised. A key objective of NEX funding is to offer professional development at low-cost, or no-cost to teachers, so watch this space!

Gaining NEX status marks an exciting time for education in Aoteaora and a significant turning point in the growth of Dramatic Inquiry in New Zealand. The growth of DI in Aotearoa has been a slow unfurling over many years. It has taken the passion and dedication of many wonderful teachers, mentors, researchers, teacher educators, and school leaders and this moment is a credit to everyone involved. Now many more teachers and kaiako can be supported to join our community – and countless ākongo will have opportunities to collaborate, engage, think with their whole bodies, question, create, explore multiple perspectives, and grapple with complexity as they enjoy learning in imagined worlds.

Ngā mihinui.

Viv Aitken (co-chair, awhi rito)

See also: From 'Underground' to Trust 
The story of Dramatic Inquiry Network Aotearoa

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.


Some reflections on the recent Masters summer school from Annette Thomson – thanks Annette!

This report was originally published in the Drama NZ newsletter. For more info on Drama NZ visit www.drama.org.nz 

The link to Hundred.org mentioned in the article is here https://hundred.org/en/innovations/mantle-of-the-expert

Some time ago I was invited to write a chapter for a book on University-school partnerships. I had never really thought of our activities as being worthy of academic attention, but I was tickled to be asked and I wrote the chapter – with help from a bunch of other people including Delia Baskerville, Renee Downey, Stephen Hall, Jon Jenner, Robin Kermode, Jodie Moore, Sophie Stevenson, Gaenor Stoate and Carrie Swanson…

After quite a few delays, the book finally came out in October last year. I’ve been given permission to share our chapter on this website… and you’ll find it here . Big thanks to those who helped with comments and input.

P.S. I nearly called the chapter “It’s not what we’re teaching, it’s how we’re teaching!” which was a bit of a catchphrase for the ‘Mantle Underground’ in the early days… but as you’ll see I went with something a bit more conventional in the end. Enjoy!


Enjoy this podcast from The Teachers’ Education Review Forum (an Australian podcast channel) in which Dan Haesler interviews Tim Taylor about Mantle of the Expert.


Tim talks about:

  • His first introduction to Mantle of the Expert through Luke Abbott and Dorothy Heathcote [26.51]
  • What Mantle is and how it works [31.23]
  • The ‘paradox’ of Mantle – real vs fictional expertise [33.00]
  • Engaging all students in the fiction [35.00]
  • Negotiating with students – asking permission & preparing for work in role [37.00]
  • Importance of collaboration and dialogue [40.45]
  • Possibilities for teacher in role – 1) as collaborator  2) as an ‘other’ from the fiction with a different point of view or status position 3) as helper [42.30]
  • Impacts of Teacher in role on learning – power shifting, safe risk-taking, exploration, dialogue and collaboration [46.25]
  • Using Mantle with different ages [51.30]
  • An example of Mantle with older students – Titanic [54.33]
  • Practical activities for Titanic context – creating artefacts, using drama conventions [58.55]
  • How drama conventions work – setting limits & prompting philosophical discussion [1.03.29]
  • How long should a Mantle be, and how is learning assessed? [1.05.50]
  • How Mantle enhances learning dispositions – authentic purpose, student agency, enduring understandings and passion for learning [1.10.10]

After the interview, Dan continues with his own reflections on learning through Mantle of the Expert and suggests it’s the sense of emotional attachment that deepens memories and retention of content. He muses on the importance of narrative in sense-making and concludes with a personal anecdote of how using role and positioning strategies helped him engage an unwilling class in a novel study. Well worth a listen.

Kia Ora colleagues

I thought you might be interested in this article from George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian Newspaper, in which Mantle receives a positive mention: Monbiot describes it as an example of a teaching programme “designed to work with children, not against them.”


Kia Ora colleagues

Here’s a lovely article from Susan Battye – published in the latest edition of Tomorrow’s School’s Today NZ magazine. Susan reports on our recent symposium Te Aho Tapu and shares stories from NZ teachers on how Mantle is making its mark in their classrooms … Thanks Susan!


Researching for  a chapter I’m writing on the history and development of Mantle of the Expert in NZ, I rediscovered this short piece by Susan Battye from a few years ago. It’s worth sharing again as it gives a bit of context about how Heathcote’s work has impacted on the NZ curriculum and teaching more generally. [She also says nice things about our work at Waikato… which is very cool !] It’s the final sentence that resonates most with me: “Mantle of the Expert is for many teachers, and not just teachers of drama. It is an idea for which the time has come.” So true!       Kia Ora Susan…

Dramatic reputation echoes in classrooms – Battye 2010

I promised a bit of a flurry of posts this week… here’s the next one. Sharing an article written for NZ teachers using the metaphor of the korowai to help explain Mantle of the Expert. This article has just been published in Drama Research International as part of a commemorative edition on the life and legacy of Dorothy Heathcote. Thanks to the editors for allowing us to reproduce it here. Do check out the other articles in the journal – which can be accessed by clicking here 

DR Article 10 Aitken_ Risking HeuristicsScreen shot 2014-05-14 at 12.24.56 PM