When I describe the current education system and project my vision of  what it could be like, I use the metaphor of the orchard.

As keynote speaker at this year’s SLT Camp, I had the privilege of engaging with outstanding leaders and academics. I returned home on Saturday evening tired and yet mentally refreshed. One of the thoughts I wish to share was inspired by Dr Megan Crawford’s session on the literature of leadership. She urged us, when sharing a vision, to use not one metaphor but many.

Reflecting on this, I went to an RSA lecture with Ken Robinson, “Changing Education from the Ground Up”:

Robinson shares my view that schools aren’t organisations at all, they are organisms and as such they foundations of the school aren’t concrete, they’re human. Robinson captures this in a metaphor which I wish to share, that of the theatre.

Robinson shares a book with his audience, “The Empty Space” by Peter Brook: ‘if you’re really concerned to make theater the most powerful experience that can be, we have to decide what we mean when we say “theatre”. We have to get back to basics and focus on what is fundamental.’

Brook invites us to imagine the pure theatre performance, what can be taken away and “theatre” still remain.

Education as Theatre

‘You could take away the curtains, you could take away the script, the stage crew and the lighting, you can get rid of the director, definitely, you can get rid of the building. You don’t need any of that. The only thing you can’t get rid of, and still have “theatre”, is an actor, in a space, and somebody watching.’ Pure theatre is a reminder of a core relationship.

Robinson reminds us that, ‘theatre describes the relationship between the audience and a performance. So if we want to make theatre the most powerful experience that can be, we have to focus on that relationship between the performer and the audience and add nothing to it, unless it helps. And of course a lot of what we add to theatre distracts the relationship and substitutes for it.’

Education is just like theatre in that respect – if education is to be the most powerful experience it can be, we have to focus on that relationship between teacher and student and we have, overtime, confused, clouded, complicated and obscured that relationship with every type of distraction. ‘We have testing regimes, testing companies, political ideologies, political purposes, subject loyalties, building codes, all of these timetables and schedules.’

Governments talk a great deal about going back to basics. If there is one basic we need to get back to, it’s this core relationship.


    • Derek kitchin

      I agree with so much of this ….
      As a leader with many years observation of teaching and learning … Not just through formal lesson observations but the daily on the hoof / high visibility and approachability walks around school I have seen to little theatre and too much theatre.

      Relationships are hugely important – the teacher who doesn’t invest time, effort, blood sweat and tears in winning over and motivating and engaging WITH every student, WILL struggle with ATTENDANCE, behaviour management, inspiration, INSTILLING SELf – belief and thereby the achievement of their students. Thankfully, there are far less teachers than there used to be who ‘teach a subject’ (I’m a chemist!) and far more who believe they teach children.

      Conversely – we see the teacher who believes the classroom is a stage – but believes he is the sole member of the cast and the children are the passive audience. I have really welcomed the ‘focus’ on assessment for learning, questioning techniques etc ,,,, as it has flushed this sort of teaching out with other didactic, boring, disengaging and unchallenging styles.

      Yes …. The theatre has to happen between and through students and teachers … But the script has to change for each sub-group or individual …. personalised learning!

      • Rob Loe

        Really helpful comments. I am blogging today on “the village effect”; that is creating the inclusive theatre experience so all feel connected to it and not passive observers of a performance.

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