School of Play

“Arts education aids students in skills needed in the workplace: flexibility, the ability to solve problems and communicate, the ability to learn new skills, to be creative and innovative, and to strive for excellence.” – Joseph M. Calahan, Director of Corporate Communications, Xerox Corporation

This year Australia celebrated Play School’s 50th Anniversary. What a fantastic achievement for a much loved and iconic part of Australia’s rich arts culture. Even as an adult I am transported back to my four year old self whenever I hear the theme song. I still have my favourite window (arch), learning the time by watching the rocket clock, drawing along with the presenters, doing basic mathematics equations and singing stories. Play School’s values of encouraging children ‘to think, to feel, to wonder and to imagine’ underpins my own teaching philosophy as a Drama educator. Whether it be a large scale production, classroom activity or an assessment task, my aim is to enable the students an opportunity to explore and create meaningful dramatic work that they can be proud of.

Years 7 and 8 students performing 'Hating Alison Ashley' during this year's Year 7 and 8 production

Years 7 and 8 students performing ‘Hating Alison Ashley’ during this year’s Year 7 and 8 production

Here at St Catherine’s, the girls are fortunate to have Drama as a core subject in Years 7 and 8, and as a standalone subject, not part of the English curriculum or thrown in with other Arts subjects, as does sometimes happen. These years are foundation years for learning how to navigate the adult world our students will soon be in. Drama allows them the space and opportunities to explore and be a part of that world in a safe environment.

The best practice of teaching and learning creates an environment which fosters creativity and nurtures the individual’s attributes and skills. A distinguished and much loved pioneer of Drama education Professor Dorothy Heathcote, was an advocate of Drama being taught in conjunction with all curriculum areas to support and enhance students’ understanding and knowledge. A well-known example of this is a practice called ‘Mantle of the Expert’. Professor Heathcote’s aim was to allow the students to become the ‘experts’ in their own learning thus creating confident and engaged learners.

As Professor Heathcote puts it, “Being treated as experts empowers pupils to actively explore issues across the curriculum, assume responsible roles, solve problems and make decisions in guiding the process and its outcomes.” This brings on special responsibilities, requires language needs and social behaviours. This practice also develops students’ emotional intelligence as they need to ‘read’ situations and negotiate in order to succeed. Brian Edminston a Professor of Drama in Education from Ohio State University shares a similar view, “Dramatic playing is essential for children’s learning empathy and self-control. Children learn to empathize as they view the world from other people’s perspectives including those of peers, adults, and people in stories.”

A statement or sentiment I am confronted with too often is that Drama is not an academic subject. Having recently attended a Professional Development session at St Catherine’s I chose to participate in a workshop which looked at the future of employment for our current and future students. It was interesting to hear Charles Brass discuss the skills that will be integral to the students of today and tomorrow. These included creativity, resilience, critical thinking, collaborative learning, communication, as well as being flexible, productive, having leadership skills and using initiative. These skills are the backbone of the Drama curriculum, and are, in fact, needed in most professional fields; medicine, law, engineering, IT, business and more.

In one Drama lesson students will negotiate and work together to explore creative ideas, problem solve, research ideas, plan, write a script and present a performance with focus and energy – all whilst remembering lines, responding emotionally and physically to a situation and taking on board all of the requirements for the task. Why would we not consider Drama as an academic subject when the demands and rigour of it are just as involved as any ‘academic’ subject? It involves analysis of text, of their own work, of others’ work, of professional performances and it is also creative.

In researching for this Blog I came across another Blog by a beginning teacher in the field of Drama who had listed ’79 Reasons Why Kids Need to Study Drama at High School’. I won’t list them all but a few that stood out were:

  • You will develop higher order thinking skills. We can often be limited by our own attitudes and beliefs. Drama requires us to view things from multiple perspectives, inviting us to share control of a narrative between different players. This automatically widens our perspectives, allowing us to synthesise and evaluate information at a much higher level.
  • You will learn how to give feedback and take on board feedback. Drama teaches us how to ask questions that help make sense of learning. The two simple questions; ‘what worked’ and ‘what could be improved next time’ encourage students to offer constructive feedback and think critically and positively about their own and others’ performances.
  • You will discover ways that you can make change, because “Creative people change the world”.

Returning through the arch window to Big Ted and Jemima, each week Play School’s shows are centred on a theme. These themes vary but all have real world significance. A theme which they focused on recently was ‘What’s Next?’. What’s next for the students we teach today and the careers they take on tomorrow is partly unknown. Building and developing these important life skills which will prepare them for their futures is essential. By giving them these tools, the skills, the creative mind and the imagination hopefully they will be equipped to go through the window and in to their futures with excitement asking ‘What’s Next?!’.

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” –Albert Einstein



Miss Tessa Dunstan

Head of Drama

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