Professional learning adventures in schools

2019 is a very exciting year for dramatic inquiry in Hamilton. Two primary schools, Knighton Normal and Hillcrest Normal have taken advantage of centrally funded PLD money from the Ministry to secure professional development for staff members in dramatic inquiry. It’s been great working with these schools and I wanted to share some of what we have been up to.

At Hillcrest, all staff at all levels of the school have taken up the challenge of using some kind of dramatic inquiry strategy in their teaching. In the junior school this has meant enhancing their play-based programme and thinking even more deeply about storytelling, socio-dramatic play and teacher in role. For example, I was recently part of a lovely session with the New Entrants as they offered advice to a young child (teacher in role) who was being teased about her home knitted jersey.

In the middle school the emphasis has been on process drama and drama for learning – using drama strategies and conventions to enhance lessons and explore picture books. I spent a wonderful session the other day with a class exploring the story of how kiwi sacrificed the power of flight for the good of the forest. Engagement was high as the children donned their imagined back packs and the teacher used a narrator’s voice and a range of drama conventions to entice them in to the fictional bush setting where their adventures would begin.

Meanwhile, the teachers of senior classes have been further expanding their existing understanding of Mantle of the Expert, with cross-curricular units lasting for a term based on a particular topic or big question. Examples have included building an interactive timeline of local history for a local museum, devising technological solutions for carrying tourist equipment up and down a sacred maunga and coming up with a plain-language resource for staff at a recycling centre to help them understand the science behind how different kinds of matter breaks down. Never a dull moment!

Meanwhile at Knighton Normal school the focus is on teaching New Zealand history and social studies. A group of ten teachers from different levels of the school are exploring together how dramatic inquiry can be used alongside Tamsin Hanly’s curriculum resource Critical Histories of Aotearoa. This valuable resource has been embraced school-wide including in Te Hihiri, the school’s partial immersion unit. Working with the resource gives us a shared focus for planning, which is super exciting. Staff are just so committed and I am relishing the sense of ako. It’s also exciting to work with staff from Te Hihiri who bring their deep knowledge of Te Ao Māori into the mix. In term one we developed a new process drama based around the Māori creation story and next term we will be looking at exploring significant events from New Zealand history, including the importance of framing for safety and respectful distance. This feels like significant work, since there is something of a shortage of resources for teachers who want to use drama to explore historical events.

The enthusiasm of staff in both these schools, and their willingness to try new things and take risks, makes it such a delight to work on these projects. And it’s thrilling to think of the new opportunities for learning that are opening up for these children as they venture into imagined worlds. We hear so many negative stories about education, it’s good to celebrate the neat things going on in classes like these!

And of course none of it would be possible without the support and resourcing provided by principals and senior management. My thanks to Gay, Marie, Stuart, Whakarongo and others who secure funding, organise relievers and carry out all the mahi that goes on in the background to make these things possible. Ngā mihi, ngā manaakitanga. It’s a privilege.

P.S. The framework we are using to guide our school-wide professional learning in Dramatic Inquiry is this one – shared in a previous post. If you’re thinking about what DI can look like across different school levels, you might find this useful too…

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