Albert Einstein once said:
"Everyone is a genius; but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it is stupid."
This very idea has been my driving force for years.
For the last 12 years I have had the privilege of visiting hundreds of different schools, education establishments and youth groups across the country. It is an utter joy, but there was one thing that started to worry me. A lot. So much that I decided I had to take action.
After only a few months of being a professional drama practitioner I had already noticed that after nearly every workshop I led with a class, the teachers would say the following two things:
1. That was great! I could never do that!
2. See Wee Jimmy over there, I have never seen him respond like that before, he's usually so quiet/reserved/disengaged/hyperactive/the list goes on.
Way back in the day as a 22 year old, I was pretty flattered by these comments. Wow, I thought, check me out I am doing a great job! But as the years went on and I heard about more and more and more Wee Jimmys, I started to worry. What were all of these Wee Jimmys across the country missing out on that I was giving them? I was no rocket scientist, no brain surgeon; just a girl in a dining hall with an hour or two of drama. Why was this having such a major impact on certain individuals?
I wasn't really sure. Maybe I had magical powers? Maybe I did. So what were the magical powers? I was keen to work it out and share them out as I was passionate about showing teachers that they could absolutely do what I was doing; as it was pretty easy! And think of all the Wee Jimmys that would benefit!
The years went on and I met more and more Wee Jimmys. Every single one has stuck in my heart. I would go home and question it over and over to myself... if Wee Jimmy has never responded like this before, and he is in primary 6... what is he missing? What is usually missing and what am I providing? I still wasn't sure.
I would mull it over. What do these drama workshops entail that could potentially be different? The freedom to fail; no right and no wrong answers; being physically free, being at one with your own unique imagination, being silly, me prancing around like a numpty throwing myself on the floor? I didn't know if these things were missing or not from everyday school lessons as I wasn't there - so these were just random guesses.
Then I met a bigger Jimmy. This was the one that made the rage run through my veins. This was only a year or so ago. Say 2015.
I arrived at the high school and my first class was due to arrive in the hall. I was checking if there was any behavioural or medical information I needed to know before I started. The teacher told me that I should be wary of a pupil who was a problem in the school. This pupil had 'nothing between the ears' and had caused embarrassment to the school in front of visitors before. I couldn't hear anything else as I was so shocked and horrified at a pupil being described to me as having 'nothing between the ears'. I couldn't believe my own ears.
Just then the class entered the hall and my energy was consumed by the workshop. I enjoyed every moment of the class and had completely forgotten my conversation with the teacher that had occurred beforehand.
The class of secondary pupils were an utter blast to work with. Often to explain an exercise I ask for volunteers to do a demo for the rest of the group with me. I had one particular pupil who had helped me out doing this a number of times. He was calm, bright, intelligent, hilarious, polite, courteous and a role model. An utter delight. If someone had asked me to select a pupil to represent the school within drama I would have have suggested him without any hesitation.
The class were all on task working away in groups and suddenly the previous conversation popped back into my head so I quietly said to the teacher how amazing the class were and I commented that the problem boy I had been told about must be off. No the teacher replied, he’s over there. I was completely confused. So much so that I spent about a minute clarifying. I asked her to clarify it was the same person over and over. What on earth was she talking about. It was the same boy. I jumped to his defence and started to bullet point all of the positive and amazing things that he had done in that short space of time. The teacher agreed to watch the rest of the session.
After the class left, the teacher was ‘impressed’ by the boy. I was dumbfounded. Imagine people describing you as having ‘nothing between the ears’ - I’m sure it was never said to his face, but even that vibe - it's insanely unfair - and wrong. He has a whole lot going on in between his ears.
I spoke to the management of the school and reiterated what I had seen. I sang this boys praises and I was heard. I don’t know what happened next.
It made me think of all the Wee Jimmys and all the Wee Jamimas that I had met over the years and why they could be slipping through the net.
If I could hazard a guess at what the drama workshops provide that allow the Wee Jimmys to step up - I’d say it could be the environment. Like the fish that Einstein spoke of being asked to climb the tree, no matter how much they try, or how much extra tuition they get - the fish will never be any good at tree climbing. Even if they get a bit good at it, by that time they will have most likely damaged their scales and fins and their swimming wouldn’t even be that hot.
I imagine all the Wee Jimmys are the fish. They are all in the forest and I have never seen a fish thrive in a forest. The fish just need water. Maybe they have never been in the water, and maybe they don’t even know that water exists.
Maybe the drama workshops were the first swim in the water. It would feel natural, relaxing and maybe a bit magical.
And there is the magical power. I think.
So back to those two comments I hear time and time again after a drama workshop:
1. That was great! I could never do that!
Yes you can, let me show you how!
2. See *Wee Jimmy over there, I have never seen him respond like that before, he's usually so quiet/reserved/disengaged/hyperactive/the list goes on.
Let’s try to change that. Let’s see how he gets on in the pool.
I have taken action by creating training courses in drama for teachers, I want to show all the wonderful teachers I have worked with that they can easily deliver these transormative drama workshops week after week, and help all the Wee Jimmys around the world.
EVERYONE IS A GENIUS.
*We are all a Wee Jimmy in some areas of life.