A guide to defining your strengths and weaknesses as a drama teacher.
Picture yourself at a crossroads. Map in hand. Maybe a couple of tumbleweeds. A farmhouse in the distance, ragged scarecrow – use your imagination. You could go in any direction.
The problem is you don’t know where you’re going. You don’t know the destination so how could you possibly choose? And there’s an even bigger problem: you don’t know how to read the map.
Does the classroom ever feel like this for you?
You struggle to get through each day without a plan. Or you’re overwhelmed with testing and assessments to even think about a plan. Or worse, you’ve been thrown into the drama classroom without any map reading skills with no time to learn them. How can you even think about creating a plan when you barely know the basics?
And when you’re in the middle of that struggle, the only thing you can think about is how you want to do better. You want to know more. You want to be able to offer a well-rounded education to your students. They’re your kids. But every Professional Development opportunity in your area is irrelevant to drama or filled with assessment paperwork.
In order to do the best for your kids, here are three important questions:
- What do you know?
- What do you need to know?
- How do you get what you need to know?
How do you answer these questions? You need a Professional Development Roadmap. Read on to learn more.
As we go, there will be actions to take and a lot of questions to answer. We’ve put together a Professional Development Roadmap in PDF format that you can download at the end of the post.
There are two types of people – those who will read this post and think about it, and those who will download the roadmap and do the work. I promise you that the ones who dig in and do the work will have far more success.
What do you know?
This question addresses your strengths. Do this in two stages: Brainstorm and List.
Brainstorm: Give yourself two minutes and a clean sheet of paper. Your job is to automatic write every strength you have on the paper without judgement or censorship.
Write everything down, big and small. Nothing is irrelevant. Don’t deny a strength because you don’t think it fits the classroom. Write them all down. And even further, don’t stop writing during your two minutes. The brain is a funny tool – sometimes it thinks best when it’s not forced to think. So just keep writing (even if you have to write I am stuck over and over) and you’ll be amazed at what your brain gives you. Do this exercise three times in a row so no strength is left out.
Once you have your three brainstorm sessions in front of you, go through them with a highlighter. Highlight every strength you wrote.
List: Once you have your highlighted brainstorm, you need something a little more tangible. Look through your pages and list ten strengths from most important to least important. (Our Professional Development Roadmap has a fill-in Strengths List). And don’t say you don’t have 10 strengths! You are a teacher. You made it to the classroom. You have something to offer so acknowledge it and write it down.
This is your known list. This is what you know.
What do you need to know?
Many drama teachers come into the drama classroom with one speciality. They did tech in school. They’re actors. They sing. But in order to teach students fully, the drama teacher has to know something about a lot of different subjects. It’s not just acting – there’s projection, and movement, and different styles of acting. Then there’s theatre history. Then playwriting. And don’t forget stage management! The list goes on and on.
The best drama teachers aren’t specialists, they are generalists. They are the GP’s of the theatre world.
So how do you become a generalist?
First off make a list of all the different areas that encompass theatre. Don’t worry about whether you know anything or not just yet, just make a list: Theatre history, set design, improvisation, projection, directing, mask, mime, movement, playwriting and so on. (our PDF has this done for you!)
Next, beside each item on your list rank your knowledge:
- N = Not-confident. I don’t know enough to confidently teach it yet.
- C = Confident. I know enough to teach a short unit on this topic.
- E = Expert. I know enough to teach a multi-week unit on this topic.
Don’t judge your knowledge. This has nothing to do with whether you’re a good teacher or not. You are simply gathering data. You’re gathering information that you can act on. Write down an N, C, or E beside each item.
When you look at your completed list, it’s time to assess. Take two minutes and automatic write your reaction. Does it overwhelm you? Scare you? Does it inspire you? Does it seem impossible? Does it seem doable? Write for two minutes without stopping to get your reaction out of your brain and on paper. This is especially helpful if the list seems too big to take on.
And then address your list. Don’t just leave it in a drawer. Address the areas where you marked down “N.” Write those out separately in their own list. If your “N” list is long, then start with ten. Choose the Top Ten items that you want to add to your toolkit as a drama teacher.
Now that you know what you need to know, it’s time to figure out how to deal with it.
How do you learn what you need to know?
You now have a list of strengths and have identified areas to work on. Don’t let this list scare you. Be systematic in dealing with it. Take one item at a time and repeat the following process:
Let’s say that one of the items on your list is mask. You know nothing about mask. You’ve heard other drama teachers talk about it, maybe you’ve seen it in a show. You know your students would benefit greatly if they could communicate physically instead of verbally, but you don’t know where to start.
Take these steps to get what you need to know.
1. Define what scares you: What stops you from learning to teach mask? What scares you and why? Get your reservations out of your brain and on to the page.
2. Identify why learning mask is important: What are your students going to learn through mask? How is mask an important skill? The more you identify the student outcomes, the easier it will be to specify what you need to learn to teach those outcomes. Instead of thinking Oh I need to teach them mask, focus on the fact that learning mask will enable students to determine how body language can communicate thoughts and ideas. Students will learn how to present a character non-verbally. Students will have a safe learning environment to express ideas visually.
3. Gather local information: What’s going on in your area? Are there any local workshops? Is there an opportunity for drama teacher Professional Development on mask? Don’t worry if there’s not. This is just one of the steps in this process. Do a little hunting. Let everyone in your network know that you’re looking for mask information.
4. List people who can help you locally: Brainstorm a list of people you could reach out to face-to-face. It could be another teacher in your district who might know something about mask. It could be a local community theatre. Call them up and offer to buy them lunch and pick their brains. You may be thinking I could never do that! I could never just call someone! This is about giving the best to your kids. If you have to do something out of your comfort zone to achieve that goal, you’re going to do it, right? The key to asking a stranger for help is to have an intro, an offer and a plan.
- The intro: When you reach out to someone, you have to put your best foot forward. Provide a context. Identify who you are and what you do. That way you’re not a stranger out of the blue.
- The offer: If you’re asking someone for help, it’s important to give something back. Offer to buy them lunch or at the very least coffee. Do not expect information for free. By providing an offer, you’re showing that you respect this person’s time and knowledge.
- The plan: You’ve got your meeting. You’re ready to learn. Never sit down and say tell me everything you know. That’s unfair. Thank this person for talking to you. Ask them how their year is going in their classroom, or in their rehearsals. And then come to your meeting with at least five specific questions about mask. Relate them to your student outcomes – I never know how to get my students to stop acting like themselves in their characters. Do you have any specific exercises? Or do you have any suggestions for where I can buy masks?
5. Look for a community: It may be that your local options are zero, nil, zilch. There’s no theatre in your area and you are the sole drama teacher in your district. If that’s the case you’re going to have to look farther afield. Thanks to the internet the world has become a much smaller place. There is no reason for you to struggle alone. Research drama teacher organizations. Is there something at the State or Provincial level? Is there a National organization? Is there a Facebook group? What you’re looking for is other like-minded people, a community. They may not be within driving distance, but they’re going to be a great help. For example, the Theatrefolk Facebook page has over 20,000 likes which means it’s filled with drama teachers who check in on a regular basis. When we post a question like: “I have large classes of middle-schoolers (27-32) and whenever we try to do monologues or scene work, I find I just can’t be in all places at once” the answers flow in. Find a community and start asking questions.
6. Look for online resources: The internet can be a gold mine. You don’t have to be limited to your local resources. You can reach out and make contact with a drama teacher across the country and you can gather resources from around the world. The internet can also be overwhelming. I typed “learning mask” into Google and it came back with 35 MILLION results. You don’t have time to sift through 35 million results! When you’re looking for resources you have to be specific. Identify keywords that link to your student outcomes and will narrow down your search. So instead of “learning mask” you really want mask exercises. And you don’t want posts on how to make masks. And you want the exercises to be specific to your grade level. When you look for online resources ask yourself these questions: Can I apply this resource to improving my knowledge of the topic? Do I understand how to teach this resource? Does this resource help with student outcomes?
7. Look for conferences and workshops: At this stage, don’t worry about logistics. Don’t put roadblocks in your way – I can’t pay for this, I don’t have time for this. We’ll get to those in a minute. You are simply gathering information. You need to learn about mask. Where can you learn about mask? What conferences are out there? That’s all you want to know at this stage. Where can you get Professional Development in this topic area?
How do you use your PD Roadmap?
Let’s talk about conferences. Conferences are a great place for Professional Development. If you have the opportunity to attend one you can learn from seasoned teachers or even professionals in a specific field. But conferences can also be a bit of a trap. I’ve been to many conferences where teachers seem to be at a loss for what workshops to take. They go to the ones their friends are going to so they won’t be alone, or they go because they know the instructor. And it’s clear these teachers aren’t getting the most out of their experience.
That’s why you need a PD roadmap. You need to identify both your strengths and the areas that need work. Take this document to conferences and only sign up for workshops that are going to address your “needs work” areas. Better still, contact the workshop co-ordinator for a conference and request that they bring in somebody to offer workshops that will improve your knowledge base.
You can also use a conference for networking. Sit down at a table of strangers at lunch and ask them what exercises they use in their classrooms. Make it known you’re looking for help with teaching mask. If someone makes a relevant comment in a workshop, pull them aside after a workshop and buy them a coffee.
Step out of your comfort zone. It’s what’s best for your kids.
Before we wrap up, let’s talk about roadblocks. When you start addressing your “N” list a number of roadblocks instantly come to mind – cost, time and location being the biggest ones.
These are not inconsequential. And thus it’s easy to dismiss doing the work: I don’t have time to go to that conference. Or My school board will never cover the cost of that workshop. Or Why should I learn how to run a lighting board? We don’t have one.
Remember, you’re not trying to become a specialist in these areas. You want some knowledge that you can share. Because for every topic that you don’t pursue, you’ll have a student in your class who will benefit from it. So start brainstorming. Write down every idea – go big! Don’t self-censor or judge. Some things to consider:
- If time is your issue, many colleges and universities offer / distance learning / summer programs.
- If money is an issue, think about the long term benefits of investing in a workshop. What is the value of being able to give your students the education they need?
- Consider online workshops. These can be done on your schedule, and you don’t have to take time away to get to the workshop. At Theatrefolk we offer the Drama Teacher Academy, a website that primarily offers online courses just for drama teachers. We know how busy you are!
- Do some research on different sources of funding. There might not be anything specific to Drama PD. But what about technology funding? Or media funding? Or library funding? Any online course could be considered use of both technology and media. Does your district have technology funds? Media funds? Think outside the box.
- Your administration expects you to partake in Professional Development. Will they pay for PD if the training is documented to align to standards and 21st Century skills? For anyone interested in our Drama Teacher Academy we have an Executive Summary just for school boards that outlines the courses, Common Core connections, and addresses both student and teacher outcomes. Contact us if you want a copy.
You can become a well-rounded drama teacher.Click here to download the PDF version of The Professional Development Roadmap.
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