Drawing on the power of drama
Wandsworth Preparatory School’s Jo Fife takes stock of her first half term as Headteacher, and discusses the power and impact of teaching drama alongside her headship.
It’s my first year as a brand new headteacher, and what a year to choose to take my baby steps… in a pandemic. “What a time to take this on… how are you coping?” are the words from friends and family, as they helpfully remind me of the responsibility of keeping a whole school community safe and well, both in mind and body.
My only response, one that I feel many people in all kinds of diverse situations must share, is that I just have to take each day at a time. If I thought too much about it, it would be incredibly overwhelming. I also feel very lucky that my new job comes with the added benefit of working with children, who always keep you grounded.
One of the joys of being headteacher of a small school is that I’m still able to teach. Not being able to teach would be a bit like not being able to breathe, so as an English and drama specialist, I now teach drama to the whole school from Reception to Year 6. I have been worrying about the effect of Covid-19 suffocating the use of drama as an educational tool for children to express themselves, collaborate and see the world from different perspectives.
I don’t believe that drama in primary school should have the prime aim of producing actors; drama is so much more than that and months of online learning has proved that to me. Seeing our 11-year-olds return to school and throw themselves into imaginary worlds with the same enthusiasm as four-year-olds, willing to suspend their disbelief, empowered as new characters, conquering new worlds, reminds me that active story-telling and workshop drama sessions are the priceless jewels of primary education – and they don’t cost a penny.
Watching a six-year-old, normally unable to sit or listen without interrupting, transform into the most articulate interviewer in a hot-seating session still completely takes me by surprise. How can the power of imagination and role-play so successfully alter a child’s focus? I believe it gives them the breathing space from the constraints of everyday life, especially in our troubled times of “you can’t do that now”, and real empowerment to make decisions and take control again.
During a session intended to inspire writing about a storm, a Year 5 boy, who recently joined in September, was busy building a boat out of benches, ready for his voyage on the Peggy Sue – his yacht. “Why is your school so much fun?” he asked me, all wide-eyed and grinning. I felt that warm glow again, the one hidden under all the Covid-19 restrictions of my furrowed brow, and remembered that if you can disguise learning as something that is fun, engaging, curious and sometimes surprising, children will learn without even knowing they are doing it.
So, if I may put off for a few more moments writing the hundredth adaptation of our risk assessment and address the original question, the answer is this: “I am coping by drawing on the power, authenticity and inspiration created in those weekly drama sessions”. And for all those worrying that I’d allowed children to build a boat with benches and weather a storm under Covid-19 restrictions… you needn’t worry. My risk assessment allowed it…