On Sunday May 7th I presented at a weekend Psychodrama conference called “Islands in the Stream” exploring the many ways psychodrama can be utilised effectively to build bridges between groups in different working environments and professions. The session I ran with my colleague and friend Ling Mu, was on the benefits of using Psychodrama when working with children. It is an area that both of us work in and obviously feel very passionate about.
It was evident quickly that attendees were very warmed up to exploring the school environment and the challenges the education system has in creating not only an optimum learning environment for children, but also a socially and emotionally safe and inclusive one to ensure children can flourish, have space and permission to discover their sense of self and really grow into themselves.
Ling and I decided that we would do a sociodrama with the group. A sociodrama according to Rollo Browne in his chapter from Sociodrama in the Changing World says,
“Sociodrama is a learning method that creates deep understanding of the social systems and social forces that shape us individually and collectively.
Through sociodrama we can experience and come to understand the nature of our social systems and their influence upon our personal and group roles and relationships. With this understanding, we can better address some of the collective issues that face us. This involves concretising the social systems inherent in the presenting situation and the social forces that shape behaviour at the critical moment in the scene.”
So where psychodrama explores the individual, a sociodrama explores issues that face us on a social level. It is incredibly helpful as an educational technique. Through a sociodrama we can look at the bigger picture.
As we know when looking at the bigger picture, and the notion of creating an ideal school is very complicated. We are all individuals with our own beliefs, feelings and experiences and these shape all relationships we have with people. So in order to create an “ideal” school environment, we first need to sort through all the crap. And when I talk about crap, I am not suggesting that it is superficial garbage, I am using that word somatically, meaning, all the issues that make us feel crap, and stop us from being able to see clearly or come up in ourselves to work towards a goal or develop strategies to deal with the crap.
John Marsden created a primary school in the Macedon Ranges called Candlebark. This school focuses on the holistic nature of growing children and growing minds in a non-traditional school setting. In fact the school is situated on 1100 acres, that for a start is incredibly unusual. However, even a school wanting to approach education from a completely different framework appreciate that creating an ‘ideal’ school is never a straightforward exercise. The school expresses,
“In 2011 an Australian television show described us as “the school with no rules, no uniforms, and no bullying”. Sadly, the programme only got one out of three right. We don’t have a uniform. We certainly have rules, and although we aspire to be the only community, society or group in the world without bullying, we have not yet reached that nirvanic state.”
The wonderful thing about working sociodramatically, however, is that we have the opportunity to flesh out the many multifaceted factors that seem overwhelming and too confronting to deal with in reality. Through the action of setting up a school and enacting these complicated elements, the attendees were able to experience the many roles involved in the education system. They could role reverse with them, and through this process, they could then break down some of the barriers, obstacles and feelings associated with schools and education. This then allowed them to create the learning environment that they ultimately wanted.
Candlebark believes that children flourish by experiencing life at close quarters.
“It would be more accurate to say that most of the people here are courteous, good-humoured, good-natured, adventurous, lively and tolerant, most of the time. We regard first-hand experiences as generally superior to second hand experiences. We try to say “Yes” as much as possible – yes to new ideas, yes to experiments, yes to innovations. If the school has a motto, it is “take care, take risks”.
Ling and I experienced the chaos at times as people expressed passionately from their social roles of parent, teacher, student, department of education, the cleaner, the school lunch, and even the bird that flies overhead through the school grounds. They were warmed up alright! We acknowledged in our role as directors how complicated this business is of creating the “perfect” school, and the group agreed. This new sense of agreement, that everyone was trying to do things for the better of the students, helped them to begin collaborating and connecting and listening. Suddenly, there was a calm, and optimism, and the group members playing the students, suddenly felt heard, supported and safe. They could express themselves and the things that they needed to get the most out of their schooling experience. This is what I see schools like Candlebark doing. They allow their students to learn in a multitude of ways. The result is that they feel empowered. They hear “yes” a lot and they are an active and focused part of the school’s teaching approach.
The power of the psychodramatic, and in this case sociodramatic process, is that people have the opportunity to see and experience the complexities we face everyday. We have all been a child at school, desperately trying to find our way through. I want to believe also, that in our heart of hearts all of us want what is best for our children. We want them to thrive, flourish and be the best person they can be. When this happens, the other elements we hope will be in all schools can follow, such as empathy, kindness, generosity, vitality and an eagerness to learn.
I enjoyed enormously the experience of presenting at this conference with Ling, and feel excited for new opportunities to explore these issues further with other groups I have yet to meet. There is no doubt that giving groups who work with children the opportunity to explore the factors they feel are important using this approach is incredibly beneficial. They not only experience the elements from the point of view that they understand, but they also get to explore the many other roles, seeing different points of view and as a result discover new perspectives, and potential ways forward that they may not have been able to see before. Sociodrama allows people a sense of empowerment to make changes that they otherwise may not feel is possible.
I will be running some workshops for children in the coming school holidays so stay tuned, or feel free to contact me and I can email you with details.