17th February 2018
By Roberta Luchini Boschi
Since 2010, when I first heard of Mantle of the Expert (MoE) during my Master’s in London, I have been reading, researching, applying and developing skills related to this approach. My background is in education, but theatre and drama have always been a very important part of my daily life. My first training in MoE was with Dorothy Heathcote and, after that, I had another training session with Palestinian teachers in the UK again led by Dorothy. I had the honour of interviewing Dorothy for over two hours for my dissertation and have also followed Luke Abbott in over fifteen sessions in schools around England. I also took the beginner and advanced courses on MoE at Ringsfield Hall in 2011, with Luke Abbott and Tim Taylor as lecturers before I returned to Brazil. At each stage, I have become increasingly impressed with the impact that MoE can make on students, teachers, the community and schools.
My first attempt using MoE on my own was in a nursery in London. I spent around two hours with the children there helping an imaginary friend who was receiving many boxes containing animals in his office, but wasn’t being able to organise the space. The responsible team, after drawing the messy office, travelled “by bus” to the place and organised it in such a nice way that the imaginary friend called us back (on our finger phones) to thank us for the job. After our help, his boss allowed him to keep his position and he could keep trying to find the best area to release the animals.
I was really pleased with this initial experience especially when the regular teacher mentioned that during the session some of the children displayed behaviour that she had not seen before. In particular, new levels of engagement were noticed by the teacher and the nursery head, with children voicing their opinions more freely and, in some cases, starting to take on leading roles within the group. Luke Abbott, after hearing about my session, also gave me some nice compliments noting that the very early year groups can be the most challenging to engage in MoE sessions.
I was invited by Luke Abbott to participate in the Annual Conference in Oxford of The National Association for The Teaching of Drama (NATD). It was a great opportunity to see some developments in MoE in the UK. I also got the chance to briefly talk about my experiences so far on my Master’s course and my plans to take MoE to Brazil. In the next year, 2012, I wrote some paragraphs that were read by Luke Abbott at the Conference where I explained about first attempts on moving forward with MoE in Brazil.
It was coming to the end of 2011 and it was almost time to leave the UK. My dissertation entitled Mantle of the Expert: Potentialities of this Method in the Brazilian Educational System was given an A grade and helped me to develop important ideas about how I could start the journey of taking a well-known approach into a brand new territory.
Once back in Brazil, in 2012, I was able to work in an infant bilingual school where I first used MoE in the classroom with huge success. The children got really involved and we were able to create and develop amazing stories. They also learnt a lot without realising it. My experiences at the school were included in an article that I wrote for the NATD Journal in 2013.
In the same year, I also ran a short course in a children’s school presenting MoE to the teachers and participated in a Congress in São Paulo presenting my research to the XXII CONFAEB (National Congress of the Brazilian Federation of Art Educators).
In 2014, I was invited to be a teacher at a University, and had the chance to work alongside students from different courses who were looking to become teachers. I taught them about Augusto Boal’s work, Viola Spolin games and also the Mantle of the Expert approach. The response from the class was so positive that even with only a couple of hours a week in the classroom, they found themselves ready to try using MoE in their school placements. Before they tried it outside the University, they got the chance to try a session guided by me, where they were a very special team of investigators with high qualifications. They had to discover what happened to a group of missing children in the south of the country. They got so involved in the session that when the class was over, one student came to me and said “oh, I have to switch my mind off. I was really thinking that I would arrive home and continue the research about the case”.
I returned to the UK at the end of 2016 and met with Luke Abbott and also went back to Woodrow First School for a two-day session with the teachers. I got the chance to speak to Richard Kieran again and one of his teachers who both kindly agreed to answer the same questions that I had asked them in 2011. I showed them the video of my first interview with them and they noticed how much their way of explaining MoE had grown because of their work in the school.
In 2017, I ran a videoconference for a State University in Brazil about MoE and the students and teachers were very interested in the approach. They invited me to run a session in person at the end of the year at the same University. The session was used as part of the final exam of the students before they became teachers. The session had the purpose of hearing from the students what they had learnt about the use of large scale tests in schools and colleges. Their teacher was also able to assess how confident they were in creating different arguments, write, work as a team, etc.
In the fictional MoE environment, the students were an expert team of advisors to the Ministry of Education and had to provide arguments against a public prosecutor that had claimed that large scale test procedures did not help to improve the level of education in the country. The session involved the students discussing orally, writing and also analysing the various elements of the topic, skills essential for them as new teachers.
In December 2017, I ran my first course on MoE in Brazil. During the course, I had the chance to spend over nine hours with a very select and mixed group that brought to my mind some new ideas about the use of MoE and its development as a methodology to teach. The group comprised of school teachers, school head teachers, NGO teachers, psychologists, HR professionals, business people and educational consultants. They were all fascinated by MoE, and we had the chance to have one session where I explored, without them knowing, their own characteristics as professionals using MoE.
The most valuable lesson I learnt from running the course was to realise how broadly MoE can be applied. Researching Dorothy Heathcote’s materials, I came across examples of her use of MoE in companies. I went to Newcastle and was able to watch a video entitled The Thin Screen which shows Dorothy using MoE with a senior group of managers at Volkswagen. With a well-planned MoE session, which links everything you want the group to learn, by creating an expert team, a task for them to solve, a client and incorporating tensions, dramatic conventions and creativity, MoE can be applied anywhere.
Naturally, the process of introducing MoE in Brazil is a lot more complex than I am able to fully describe in this article, but the course has already generated positive momentum and I am planning further MoE sessions for businesses in Brazil in the middle of this year. This will be the first time that MoE has been used for businesses there and so I am very excited to see how it will work.
I hope after reading about all these experiences, you will find exciting the idea that MoE is being taken to Brazil. More than that, I hope that MoE can be increasingly recognised as a broad approach, not just for use in schools but anywhere where people are open to experiment, create and learn.
Roberta Luchini Boschi