I love the promise of a new year. The holiday usually gives me some much-needed rest and I am full of energy and hope for the second semester. I would have time to get prepared for the first few weeks back and I was always eager to start work on the next production. Success for the new year means doing your best to anticipate the challenges that come with all that is the Spring Semester. However, this doesn’t mean you do everything alone. Certainly, having partner teachers is a plus but even if you are the lone wolf in the drama department you are not on your own.
Since leaving the classroom, I have become more aware of the most powerful partnership I had as a teacher. That partnership is what I now refer to as “Kid Power”. I truly miss “Kid Power”. Frequently, I think to myself how many of my tasks in my current administrative role would be so much better if I had students sharing their skills, planning ideas, and most of all, using their physical power. From offering suggestions on projects, planning and organizing, and setting up sets or building, students are the power behind any successful program.
Students have so much to offer and can certainly use their skills to assist in making your classroom instruction and productions run smoothly. Now that you have had a semester to build relationships, it is time to challenge your students with opportunities to own their learning and take on more responsibility. January is the time to engage your students and develop their “Kid Power”. A new year is the right time to empower students to become leaders.
“Leadership is the wise use of power. Power is the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it.” -Warren Bennis, scholar, author, and pioneer in leadership studies
You really can’t be a leader without having power, which most dictionaries define as “the ability to act.”
You know that with class and productions your plate will be full for the second semester. Now is the time to grow your own leaders and transform your students into partners in learning by embracing their power. One way for students to embrace their power is by feeling a strong sense of self-efficacy—a strong belief that they can accomplish their goals. William Glasser calls this quality the “power within.” Developing “Kid Power” in the classroom means helping students embrace their ability to own their part in learning. So many students have learned, through school, that they are passive receivers of knowledge and theatre is a fantastic venue to promote learning as an action. Letting students know that learning is something done, not something done to you and they need to take action and decide how they want to learn is necessary to take your classes to the next level. Setting up differentiated lessons where students have choices on how they will demonstrate mastery of skills is a great way to offer opportunities for students to harness their power.
Teaching students about learning strategies can also strengthen self-efficacy. This is different from teaching skills. Being able to start a car with a key in the ignition is a skill, but if you lose your car keys, you need strategies. “Kid Power” helps students gain the capacity to tackle unforeseen problems by emphasizing comprehension. Students are empowered to categorize information, identify patterns and problem solve in theatre without a teacher always telling the “rule” in advance. For the second semester, challenge your students to solve problems without spelling everything out. It will be messy and if you are a control freak, like me, it can be hard to watch, but when you watch them develop and begin to work together and collaboratively use their creativity, you will find they will surprise you with exciting ideas and innovative techniques.
If you are concerned that your classes may not be ready for the responsibility I suggest, it is important to note that Glasser suggests that 95 percent of classroom management issues occur as a result of students trying to fulfill a need for power. When we share power with our students, it doesn’t mean that we “have less power” —but it can mean we’ve created more possibilities for learning and leadership. You have already laid the groundwork for “Kid Power” by building relationships with students. As you head into the next semester, continue to explore your students’ self-interests, hopes, and dreams, and be better prepared to more explicitly connect lessons to them.
Another way to shift your classroom to “Kid Power” is to provide opportunities for students to teach others. Teaching others not only requires students to reread and return to learned material but it also enhances self-confidence and provides good modeling for peers. I often used the “jigsaw” concept—in which students become experts and teach each other about a topic in small groups. I usually required students to provide an original visual or performance to teach their assigned material. Small groups of students can teach short lessons to other small groups, who then reverse roles. Another strategy asks individual students to prepare short fill-in-the-blank statements and then exchange them, keeping in mind that their statements need to be carefully designed so that their peers can use context clues to complete them.
The classroom is not the only place where students can exercise their power. I know most of us trust a student to be a stage manager or perhaps you trust and give power freely to that light board technician kid who knows the board like the back of his hand but, I want to challenge you to embrace “Kid Power” for the entire company.
Your students can help get the word out about your productions. I always asked my best students to bring at least two new students to the audition for the next show. I asked them to listen for great readers and speakers in their English classes or great presenters in other classes. They would often get excited about finding someone to bring to an audition that would ultimately get cast. They took great pride in their recruiting skills and casting eye and the students they brought were so happy to find theatre and become part of the team.
I would often prepare a 1 page audition announcement flyer for them to hand out with the following information to help new recruits:
- Title of the Show
- Performance Dates
- Important Details (Special performance times or requirements)
- Production Team Positions Open
- Kind of Audition (Musical or Play)
- Audition Dates
- What to Prepare
- What Type of Performers are Needed (Age, Gender, and Special Skills)
- Brief Synopsis
It is important to remember that “Kid Power” doesn’t mean Seniority. Seniority has its place but “Kid Power” is about building leadership skills for all students and helping students own their department. When you create opportunities for all students to make an impact in production you build commitment and you see less students abandoning the process mid-stream. Students see their power as immediate and know that you trust them with responsibilities. Certainly we are good at assigning leadership roles for certain students but the task of “Kid Power” comes in finding opportunities for all.
All students can cast the play. This is a wonderful activity at auditions to help students understand the responsibility and difficulty of casting. I required that all actors and technicians interested in participation in the play submit their cast list in writing as the last activity before I dismissed them from the audition. This is something they did not discuss with others and many struggled with the task but it helped them understand the responsibility of a director.
All students can lead warm-ups. Have your stage manager model leading a 10 minute vocal and physical warm-up for the company. Then have them create a calendar that allows for every student to have at least 1 rehearsal where they lead the company in warm-ups. This 10 minutes at the start of every rehearsal allows for you to have time to get set up and problem solve before each rehearsal. Students can repeat traditional warm-ups or introduce new warm-ups to the company that might just become traditions. Have students plan for end of rehearsal reflection activities. Each student should have a rehearsal they are responsible for running reflections. If you are like me and use a “source wall” (See Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints) when doing table work for a production, students can rotate responsibility for updating items on the wall and presenting to the group.
All students can offer suggestions for improvement and by creating an open communication system, students can offer suggestions for what scenes they may need to work on more. Developing an appropriate way to share ideas, students can help problem solve difficult scene changes, costume issues or blocking concerns.
All students can develop and deliver your 3-5-7-9. On a 3×5 card, have students write your department’s mission and goals in 7 sentences. They should practice delivering this message in less than 90 seconds as an elevator speech to promote what your department or production is all about. This 3-5-7-9 technique can be used to recruit students to the program or invite folks to come see your latest play. You can also use this strategy with Twitter by having students use 140 characters to tweet about the show or the program.
It is important to note that “Kid Power” does not mean you don’t make decisions. It is important to establish that student leadership is respected in your department but you are there to guide them and ensure their safety to prepare them to promote what is best for all students.
Using “Kid Power” doesn’t mean there won’t be teachable moments, times when you will need to intervene and hit the re-set button or that you will not need to re-direct students who make poor choices or choose to use their “power” for ill. However, the benefits of embracing “Kid Power” or student leadership far outweigh the risks and students are more prepared for post- graduation because of their experiences. Here are some of the ways embracing student leadership in theatre can better prepare your students:
- Having their abilities recognized by others is empowering, and the work students do in a leadership role is likely to be recognized and help them gain confidence.
- Public speaking plays a major role in many careers today. You teach your students to speak with confidence and poise to diverse groups about your department’s mission and goals (running warm-ups, reflections, critiques, planning, 3-5-7-9, etc.). Diplomacy skills and persuasion tactics are applicable to almost any career.
- Student leaders aren’t only responsible for themselves – they also have extended responsibilities that affect a wide range of people. Leaders of a group must not only make sure that tasks get done, but that all members of the department are performing to the best of their abilities. If someone doesn’t follow through on a task, leaders make sure that, ultimately, the task is completed. This responsibility can be a lesson on how to hold others accountable.
- A play is the ultimate collaborative project. Student leaders must learn to establish priorities and compromise when necessary. Success occurs when the integrity of the production is maintained and everyone involved feels valued and empowered. This form of negotiation is invaluable for helping any group meet its goals, including professional teams in the workforce.
- A strong leader is one whose management skills become second nature. Leaders must oversee operational tasks, make budgets, prioritize workloads, build consensus and perform other executive duties as necessary. Students will likely make mistakes, but learning how to handle them now, through play production and with you as a safety net, can better prepare them for college or the workforce.
- Student leaders have many obligations to meet while maintaining a full course load and attending to other personal responsibilities. It will take some creative problem-solving to get everything done and keep life in balance. Leadership experiences allow students to hone multitasking abilities that future job and life responsibility demands.
- College recruiters and employers recognize the responsibilities that student leaders take on, and they respect the initiative it shows to be a leader a play production. With leadership experience on their resume, they are more likely to get the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager. A student leadership role is also a great talking point during interviews.
Happy New Year! and best wishes for a “Kid Power”-ed semester. Your leadership and extra effort with your students means they are not only becoming well rounded theatrical professionals but they are also honing skills and techniques that empower them to be successful in learning and in life. Enjoy the partnership with your students and celebrate the promise of new beginnings!