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Day 31: Greg Dennett, Drama Teacher (Seaquam Secondary School)

October 22, 2012

in·no·va·tion (noun)

1. something new or different introduced

2. the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods.

I’m a late career teacher. My context is Seaquam Theatre. So where is the innovation that really excites me? Well…when you teach the performing arts, students are really creating themselves. Students enter our school with one identity as grade 8s, and through a process of experimentation and exploration, emerge at the end as somebody quite different.

Pursuing subjects they are passionate about with like minded people is vital to this process. How do kids find their passion?

In a world where “entertainment” is on tap 24 hours a day, it both stimulates and distracts us constantly. How do we convince the awkward, the insecure, and the overstimulated, that spending time with other people in a room where you cannot control what happens with a trackpad gesture or mouse click is worthwhile? How do we move the anonymous watcher, who can judge and comment on everything without consequence, to take risks and reveal themselves to other people?

My students tell me that they value the theatre “because it is the place in the school where they can truly be themselves.” I usually add that they do this by “pretending to be someone else.” I strive to encourage and develop a climate where students feel valued for who they are and what they can contribute. Relationships are developed by playing together in all senses of the word.

Most contemporary students have had less time for unsupervised, imaginative play with other kids than their parents and grandparents did. They are constantly seeking one another through social media, but often have difficulty arranging time to be with one another.

In the Drama classroom we start with children’s games to break down inhibitions and build group relationships. We talk and listen, and eventually enter into deep dialogue with one another. We engage with other times and places through works of dramatic literature and with other artists far greater than any of us. It is in becoming a “community of creation” that we discover delightful things about one another.

What does this have to do with innovation? Every show, every project, every class is an attempt to create something temporal and new that will only exist while this group is together. Every year, the courses are redesigned to inform, support, explore, and create something different.

We embrace each learning technology to research, communicate, and make a place for reflection and discussion. We use many technologies from the periaktoi and masks of the ancient Greeks to video and computer-assisted lighting programs to support and make our work shine. The real innovation in my teaching is when each unique group of students and I combine our energy, imaginations, and passion to make something new. And then every time we perform, to make it new again. When my students discover that they can do things that they had only imagined they suddenly, before my eyes become somebody new. These moments, when they form a new identity, are the innovations that excite me.

Greg Dennett teaches Drama and IB Theory of Knowledge at Seaquam Secondary. Follow him on Twitter @Seaquamtheatre

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 24, 2012 1:36 am

    What a thoughtful reflection, Greg! I’m doing a little work with some of our teachers around play-based learning, so that part of your post particularly resonated with me.
    Your passion for teaching really shines through- your students are so fortunate to have you to help them discover who they are, and to inspire them to create something new!

    I will be sharing your inspirational message with our teachers- it has really helped me put some of my own district’s puzzle pieces together.

    Curriculum Facilitator
    Parkland School Division,
    Stony Plain, Alberta

  2. Tami permalink
    October 24, 2012 4:55 am

    This really struck me:
    “because it is the place in the school where they can truly be themselves.” I usually add that they do this by “pretending to be someone else.”
    It’s ironic because most of the time in high school they’re pretending to be someone else. The someone they think people will like and they lose themselves, but here they find themselves…

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