Judy Norton, Head of Speech and Drama, Saint Kentigern Girls' School
Can you give us some background on your career in teaching?
I have been the Specialist Drama teacher at Saint Kentigern Girls’ School for the past 17 years. Prior to this I ran my own Speech and Drama Studio for 11 years. While teaching at SKG, I completed my Bachelor of Education at Massey University. I have my LTCL, Trinity College London in Speech and Drama and am a registered Speech and Drama teacher through the Speech Communication Association.
You run a successful all of school programme. Can you tell us about how that came about and what it involves?
Speech and Drama as a specialist subject is something that is a point of difference from other schools. Our girls are confident because they have the opportunity to share their ideas, show creativity and be collaborative from a young age. By the time they reach Year 8 they communicate with clarity and conviction.
I have two facets to my subject: developing communication skills and using drama as a medium for learning. Each year, students participate in a school wide speech competition and a poetry competition. All students in the school write and present an original poem to their class. These formal speaking opportunities give students the opportunity to further develop their speaking skills.
Eight years ago, I introduced the Speech NZ Oral Assessment programme to our school. As we had Speech and Drama as a separate subject, introducing this programme enriched our existing curriculum. It involves preparing a varied programme which includes some individual and some group work and presenting it to an outside adjudicator in front of a small audience of peers. It is an opportunity for students to extend their communication and acting skills. They learn how to structure their ideas and present them informatively, respond appropriately in conversation and discussion and read aloud expressively to an audience. They also develop their creative ability through devising a group drama, story or choral poem for performance. Our students from Year 3 upwards can participate in this programme and receive outstanding results.
Through drama I engage students in deeper explorations of text and images and activate their imaginations to develop new understandings and perspectives. We stimulate creative action and response by engaging thinking, imagination, the senses and feelings. We use quality literature as a stimulus and explore a range of genres including Shakespeare and Commedia dell’Arte.
I also run the itinerant Speech and Drama programme. In this programme our students participate in Speech NZ and Trinity College exams, receiving consistently top results. More students are also becoming involved in external speech and drama competitions which are held in different regions throughout the year. This allows them the opportunity to hone their skills.
A couple of years ago I introduced Theatre Sports as a co-curricular activity for Year 7 and 8 students. Improvised acting is a challenging skill and loads of fun. The girls love the opportunity to be spontaneous, think on their feet and extend their acting skills.
Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way to a career in drama and speech education?
I grew up enjoying Speech and Drama lessons and had a teacher who encouraged and supported me on my teaching journey. I am becoming more inspired now through my involvement with Drama NZ, sitting on the National Executive as the Primary Liaison. This has given me the opportunity to connect and network with outstanding drama practitioners. I am currently working with Charles Bisley from Kelburn Normal School, Juliet Cottrel, a highly experienced and expert practitioner, and Dr Viv Aitken, a Research Associate with the Faculty of Education at Waikato University on the Network of Expertise Primary Literacy and Drama Project.
The main aim of the project is to increase the capability of teachers to engage their students in writing and literacy, and to assist their students to achieve success as writers, by building process drama strategies into their literacy programmes.
I am one of the project co-ordinators and have been involved with designing and implementing this pilot programme. This opportunity is allowing me to learn, be exposed to the latest drama education research and enhance my own practice. I have had excellent support from my principal and Senior teachers.
How would you describe Saint Kentigern Girls’ School?
A family - there is a great big sister, little sister ethos. It’s a school where girls have the freedom to be themselves, be seen and heard. They have opportunities to be leaders, and they are encouraged to use their initiative in their leadership roles. The specialisation throughout the schools means students are learning from experts in their curriculum areas. Students have a huge number of co-curricular opportunities in the Arts and Sports. Our school is underpinned by strong Christian values and service to others.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the light bulb moments, the moments in drama where students are completely in role, not self-conscious and acting authentically and truthfully. To see a student develop from being shy and hesitant to participating in discussion then flourishing into a confident and articulate student taking on leadership roles in Year 8 gives me great satisfaction.
I love teaching drama because I see it as a powerful medium to engage students. In a world filled with devices, and an emphasis on technology, I see the importance of being able to articulate ideas, to develop creativity, to show empathy and to relate well to others.
Teaching through drama develops our students’ knowledge and understanding of the world. It is a way of exploring the human condition and contemporary issues of social justice. They develop experience of walking in someone else’s shoes.
What do you most want to achieve in your role?
I want students to take away life skills, be confident in themselves and in their ability to communicate.
What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?
Smaller class sizes, you can focus on the learning, and you have greater freedom in the curriculum to focus on students’ needs.