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The teacher as performer – PP13

The topic of the week is The teacher as performer.


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We were delighted to welcome a new voice to the podcast this week – Ollie Frith joined us for our episode about the teacher as performer. Ollie is a Pivotal Trainer, a writer, an educational trainer, a director and an actor. His website is where you can find fun, unique and engaging workshops for enrichment in areas such as Brain training and Learn to Learn, Theatre and Drama skills and PSHE courses.

Some of the skills and techniques of stage performance can be transferred directly into the classroom.

Actors never show the full limit of their range. They always leave the audience wondering what the extremes of the range are. In the classroom, if you always work at your highest volume or in other ways at the extremes of your range, the children lose some of the mystery, some of hte excitement of their teacher as a performer. The light and shade of using the middle of the range, with more subtle changes in tone of voice, pace or volume, for example, can be just as impactful as someone who commonly uses the extremes of their range.

The concepts of predictability and the unexpected can be very usefual as well. If everything is predicatable, the children become very adept and recognising the patterns whereas the teacher who holds something back as a tantalising gift or employes unpredictability well, can be much more effective, like a great actor. Students can be pulled into the lesson because they want more – they are caught by ‘the hook’, they are engaged by curiosity. Great teachers provide that curiosity not only through their resources but also deliberately through their own performance.

Not every teacher is performing every moment of every lesson – that would be exhausting and unsustainable – these are cameo roles.

These cameos are well-rehearsed, sometimes well-ritualised and often ‘less is more’. In great lessons, like in great theatre performances, there is an ‘arc’ – a build, a crescendo, a diminuendo or a denouement. With a great arc, students can be on the edge of their seats, wanting more, excited and inspired.

The most effective teachers, like the most effective actors, give the performance over to the audience, to the students and share the journey. Audiences or classes leave the session or play feeling euphoric when they feel that they were part of the experience, not just watching someone else’s.

Intuition plays a large part in successful teacher performance and this cannot be just given to a teacher – it needs to be developed and learned for which the time needs to be allowed. Where an actor learns and grows with notes from the director, it’s also very beneficial for new teachers to be be allowed the time to work with more experienced colleagues who can watch them and feed back on the ‘performance’.

Improvision is another core skill of a teacher. No actors are naturally good at improvision, they are rehearsed, they practise it. Paul describes how he works directly with teachers to develop their improvisation skills. He points out that actors see this very much as a core skill but, in teacher training, the skills of performance and improvisation get left behind. Stand up comedians who appear to be improvising brilliantly have actually practised this a thousand times before – and got it wrong many times. One thing they have mastered is having some key phrased to get them in and out of situations – this can be adopted very successfully by teachers as well. A collection of ideas you know work and you can fall back on allows you to be more confident in trying out new approaches.

Your physical language in the classroom is also critical to your performance and is often overlooked. Body language and the way you move around the classroom is as important as considering what you say and way you say it. Part of teaching, especially initially, is an assertive ‘act’. The small things which are important to manage in the classroom require ‘acting’ from teachers.

Ollie and Paul caution against copying practice from other teachers because what you do needs to fit in with your own character and a discussion of engaging with a mentor who can give you honest feedback on your performance is recommended so you can benefit from someone spotting things you can’t see for yourself.

Paul points out that being over-prepared gives you the freedom for spontaneity, otherwise you can be constantly thinking about the mechanics of the teaching, worrying about what you are going to do rather than relaxing and opening yourself up to the possibilities of how you can create that ‘little bit of magic’ which the best performances are capable of.


Paul and Ollie on video

Ollie and Paul created this video for the National College about difficult conversations.


New free iPad App! Be the first to download and use this amazing new app! Students love using the Pivotal Progess Sliders app on iPads to track their progress during lessons. You can also save progress and return to it in the next lesson.


What would you like to hear covered in forthcoming episodes? Let us know by emailing or by leaving a comment below this post.

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