No drama teacher is an island

16 January 2019

By Keriann O’Rourke

Lost? Lonely? Drama department of one? I can relate.

A common issue that drama teachers face is feeling isolated within their own school. We hear this sentiment often in discussions with teachers at ISTA events. These drama teachers look longingly at maths and science departments who seemingly have an excess of teachers all chattering away about lesson ideas and laughing about things that happened during their ‘team meetings’. And there the drama teachers are left to day dream about a flourishing drama department of their own. Even when drama teachers are included on larger arts teams they often can’t quite find their tribe amongst the music and visual arts departments. Or sometimes they may be lucky enough to have multiple teachers at their school teaching drama – but sadly they are all teaching different grade levels so are being pulled in different directions based on differing curriculum goals which makes the ‘team’ feel less of an ensemble and more like a cog in the larger school machine. Been there. Done that.

My job now with ISTA also has elements of feeling isolated that we as an organisation are always trying to work towards alleviating for everyone on the team. As we are a virtual office we don’t get those experiences of chatting with colleagues, popping over to someone’s classroom to discuss an idea or issue and no one to eat lunch with either. My office assistant is an admittedly very cute 4-legged canine friend who offers little by the way of conversation (other than the occasional bark) and sleeps through most of her shift. It can be pretty quiet and for someone who likes the social side of things – it can get lonely.

So I offer to you some ideas of what I have used myself to battle these isolated feelings when they creep up. It’s not a perfect solution but it has helped me to feel more connected to others within my drama teacher community and in this great big virtual world I work in.

1. Attend PD&L experiences for you

If you are lucky enough to live in an area where there is Professional Development and Learning experiences on offer – go. No excuses. These experiences get you out of your classroom, away from your desk and will bring you together with people who are like minded in some way. Doing something for your own personal growth is also beneficial to your own well-being and you will leave the experience feeling inspired. Inspirations do not need to be life-changing experiences; sometimes a simple conversation can be just the spark to ignite a bit of excitement in the day to day. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to come up and your PD&L doesn’t always have to be related to curriculum or theatre to engage that part of your creative mind and body to get those creative juices flowing again. Do something for your own personal growth. Your inspiration could come from learning a new IT skill, to learning about Victorian Melodrama or attending that floral arrangement class that you have always been eyeing up but never had the time to attend. Network while you are there. Speak to others at the sessions, take the risk and go ahead introduce yourself to others as you never know who you may meet and what inspiration they may provide you.

2. Find your own PLN

A PLN (Personal Learning Network) is an online community that exists for the benefit of your own learning. There are a large number of networks on Facebook for drama teachers ranging from primary arts, puppetry, IB Theatre and many more. On Google+ the communities are less oriented towards the arts but is a fantastic place to explore all things to do with EdTech in the classroom. Twitter is another fantastic place for sharing and connecting across all subjects and through the theatre world. Follow artists, theatre companies and fellow drama teachers. Use hashtags to find topics that are important to you and then follow people who are engaged in those topics. Locating these communities for yourself is the first step but the important element is to engage with them to make it as meaningful for you as possible. Asking questions along with answering the questions of others will increase your feeling of connection with other members of the community. You will also most likely find fellow ISTA teachers in these communities too which allows your friendships forged at events to continue long after it ends. Can’t find what you are looking for? Why don’t you create your own community and invite others to join you?

3. Expand your community

Ok, you may be feeling alone at your own school community so why not expand your connections beyond the walls of your classroom? Finding other like-minded or creative types is guaranteed to make you a more energised and inspired educator. When working at schools I often found other teachers who were passionate about the arts in different subjects and grade levels – they just weren’t as obvious to locate outside of the arts department where I spent most of my time. Send out an invitation to others to join you at an arts event or local theatre performance – you might be surprised in who has similar interests to your own.

You can also expand your community beyond your school if you live in an area where there are other schools within your city. Look up the names of teachers on school websites and try to make contact with the school to get their email addresses. You may need to ask for help from a curriculum coordinator or principal at your school (who often have already made connections to peers with a similar role at other schools). Explain what you are seeking to do and invite those people to join in the fun as well. You might be the breath of fresh air that another drama teacher was seeking something similar.

ISTA events are great opportunities to find your tribe on an even wider scale and often the feedback we hear from teachers is how inspiring it was to discuss, create, share and feel connected to other teachers at our events. Gobble up these experiences, add teachers you connect with to your social media accounts (you are far more likely to stay in contact this way rather than via a work email address) and make a point of following up with fellow participants after the event. This will require a conscious effort to do so which can easily be forgotten when we fall into patterns where work commitments turn to be the priority over personal wellness and learning.

4. Make human connections

In really isolated experiences, try to connect with people beyond emails. Video conferencing and voice messaging humanises the experience for you as well as anyone else you are trying to make connections with. If you live in an area where there are other schools, hold a social event and invite others to attend. It can be as simple as coming up with a venue and inviting people to join for an after work beverage. There are most likely others who are looking for the same thing so why not be the person to bring everyone together?

5. Share

When networking and making connections – share. It will inspire others to do the same. Teachers can share anything they themselves would think would be useful for others like rubrics, scripts, ideas for school shows or costumes/sets and more. When it comes to sharing, make sure that if you take something from someone you need to reciprocate the action to be the inspiration for someone else.

These ideas are by no means the solution but they have helped me to feel a part of something and I have been inspired in numerous ways by the people that I have connected with both online and face to face. So go on, get inspired and if all else fails having a cute dog to hang out with helps too.