Cycle 1- Working with the Teachers

The Challenge:
The main challenge ENACT has faced in implementing a new online project using interactive theater, is how to train teachers to do the activities our ENACT Teaching Artists use to engage students.
We needed to find effective ways to virtually teach:
    1. How to participate in ENACT’s new online project using
            theater
    2. How to work with students in the classroom using theater
    3. How to work collaboratively with other teachers online

My goal was to find an effective way to train teachers on how to work in an online collaborative project using theater.

My research question was:

If I schedule regular meetings online with the group of teachers participating in the project, I will be able to explain what ENACT does in the classrooms and I will be able to explain how to successfully participate in an online project using theater?
Outcome: 

We initiated the project with two teachers: one from Morocco and one from Barcelona, Spain. I was working from the U.S.  as both the project coordinator and as a teaching artist working with students from a school in the Bronx borough of New York City.

My original plan was to schedule regular group meetings with the participating teachers. Unfortunately, it was not possible to find times when we were all available to meet because of conflicting schedules and time differences. There were also challenges concerning how to communicate with each other since we speak different languages. The teacher from Morocco preferred to communicate in English. While the teacher from Barcelona felt more comfortable speaking Spanish. As I speak both languages fluently, I decided to have individual meetings with each one of them every two weeks. and communicated all relevant information to the team.

To start, I explained what the project goals are and proposed a timeline. Everyone agreed to the activities and timeline and provided good feedback to incorporate into the planning phase.

As we moved forward, I intended to provide training and support to the teachers around how to participate in each activity of the new online project. However, as this was our first online project, there were a number of things I needed to create from scratch to support this project and it was challenging to know where to begin.

In the first few meetings, I started by asking each teacher what they were currently working on with their students, to learn about their teaching style and to be able to “meet them where they were.”

The first activity of the project was “Student Introductions.” Instead of explaining what we would do, I asked the participating teachers for ideas on how we should do this activity more effectively. This was the beginning of our collaboration, designing and creating the activities and how we should implement them. I shared with them what we would do in a typical ENACT workshop to get students to introduce themselves. The teacher from Morocco suggested that we should do a similar activity as the face-to-face ENACT workshop, asking the students to record themselves in a video answering a set of questions. This teacher took the lead in the activity and created a template for all of to use, with guidelines and questions that all our students had to answer in their videos.

The teacher from Morocco took ownership of the activity and worked on creating the videos with his students really fast. It made me realize that there is power in collaboration and distributed leadership. He worked very efficiently with his students as he knew what was going to work and he also motivated us to try new things with our students. My students responded extremely well to the creation of the introduction videos. This activity made them realize that their work had a purpose and a real audience. It was the moment they realize everything was real and it motivated them to do be even more committed to the project.

The next activity was “Create a Scene.” I decided to use the same method as before. I explained to each teacher what ENACT does and asked them to share how they typically engage their students in this kind of work, and to share what tools they use to do their own theater projects. The teacher from Spain took leadership of this activity. He shared with us the process that works with his students and a template to create storyboards so that all our students could create their scenes. We all decided to implement the storyboard templates to help our students create each scene.

Just as the teacher from Morocco did with the “Student Introductions” activity, the teacher from Barcelona took ownership of this exercise and helped us all to participate. He was motivated to take the lead in this activity because it was something he was familiar with and he was able to motivate us to try a new technique with our students.


Reflection:

As it was the first time that ENACT tried a project online, I was concerned that I was not going to be able to provide training and support teachers sufficiently, since all the content and approach would be new to me as well. Over time, it became clear to me that I didn’t have to be the “trainer” while the rest of the teachers were “trainees.” Instead, I decided that it would be better to encourage the sharing of theater activities that each participating teacher was already employing in their classroom.  In addition, I tried to encourage them to share the reflections on what practices and methods worked and which practices were challenging. By collaborating together in this way, we ended up developing the new online project together. While planning was essential to the implementation of the project, we had to take time to carefully design each phase. And, as we could not anticipate how each activity would go with our students, it was critical that we shared feedback and reflections from our experiences with each other.  
I discovered that this approach is a more effective way to train teachers to participate in a new project online. Instead of me being the sole “instructor,” we all become instructors of each other. This made the process a lot more dynamic and flexible and allowed us to adapt to emerging circumstances. It also gave the individual teachers ownership as each of us took responsibility for creating parts of the project.  

What will I do differently next time?

It was a great experience to work quickly and on my feet. I had to be spontaneous, flexible and adaptable throughout the entire process. However, in the future, I would like to strike more of a balance between a 
laissez-faire approach and one with more structure and guidance. It will be interesting to do another round of the project with the knowledge and experience I’ve gained.

Next time I will plan to share school calendars so that we may agree to a fixed scheduled of check-ins and meetings. While we only could have individual meetings, group meetings on a shared platform will be more efficient. Group meetings will also better support and strengthen our collaboration and more effectively distribute leadership. Individual meetings placed more dependency on me because I had to serve as the communication link and primary decision maker. In the future, I will also plan to be more diligent about taking notes during meetings to capture data, learnings, and reflections.

It also would be great to have a common space for communication in the iEARN collaboration center throughout the project. We created a common space a little late in the process when we had already established a culture of communicating via email. If we use the iEARN collaboration as a primary platform next time, we can still use additional communication services including email and WhatsApp when necessary.

Lastly, will be helpful to create a more informed timeline of planned activities. While we outlined one at the beginning of the collaboration, we experienced a number of unexpected events that delayed the progress of the project.