Q&A WITH DARREN HARVEY
The Australian School of the Arts (ASTA) program at Sheldon College in Brisbane supports the school’s thriving Performing Arts curriculum. ASTA Director Darren Harvey speaks with Emma Davies about the importance of the Arts in developing the next generati
Q. Why did you become a drama teacher?
I knew from a fairly early age that I learnt differently. What worked best for me was doing and demonstrating my understanding, [instead of just] writing about it.
I worked better in classrooms where there was no ceiling to the outcomes, and all participants in a drama room are only limited by their imagination. I gravitated towards arts subjects because they questioned my creativity, they capitalised on my confidence, and they challenged me.
The drama classroom was essential for my happiness as a student and it just felt like the natural transition to move into that at university.
I knew that I could work with students who were like me in high school, and I knew that there was a need for it because every learner is completely and utterly different. And if we’re serious about differentiating learning and individual learning then providing a variety of learning and teaching methodologies is really important.
Q. With a heavy focus on STEM and job-ready skills, what does Performing Arts education bring to the table?
STEM programs are after specific outcomes and the irony is that some of those include many of the outcomes the arts challenge students to produce; laterality of thinking, problem solving capacity, and utilising and empowering the less dominant side of the brain.
They are actually outcomes STEM is looking to produce through their programs, and yet the subjects that are best positioned to develop and challenge those skills sets are in fact the arts subjects.
This is why we’ve moved to STEAM at Sheldon College because we see it as an absolutely essential component of what future workplaces are going to need.
I have a lot of respect for what STEM programs are trying to develop, but intelligence quotient (IQ) will get you a job but emotional quotient (EQ) or emotional intelligence will help you keep a job and move you up the ranks and allow you to drive change in that workplace.
The very fabric of what arts are about is developing emotional intelligence, and empowering students to take what they learn in a STEAM sense and turn it into something special. There’s no point having IQ if you don’t have the EQ to go with it and empower those around you to utilise it.
Q. What are the main challenges and trends facing Performing Arts education?
It starts with busting the myth that subjects like drama and music and dance are ‘play’ or not really academic.
In our school we see a correlational effect between arts involvement and our results and performance measures on internal and external testing.
We’ve delved deeply into the data that actually suggests there is a clear correlation between academic success and artistic endeavour, and that comes down to the types of disciplines and skills those artistic endeavours bring out of a child.
Unless we talk about these sorts of things we’ll never bust the myth. Even the millennials coming through have still grown up in schools where the arts have not been given the credit that is necessary in order to change that mythology. It’s about discipline and ensuring that you develop the transferable skills to be able to utilise what you’ve learnt in an arts classroom and actually make that benefit yourself when it comes to internal and external testing measures.
Q. What sets Sheldon College’s Performing Arts program apart?
The Australian School of the Arts is something that we developed because we saw a gap between what universities wanted to see in their first-year arts and creative industry course and what high schools were able to produce.
While great students were able to bridge that gap, our programs weren’t lending themselves to student success so we created excellence programs that allow students to do an extra 3-4 hours of arts study each week of audition or portfolio work to bridge that gap. We’ve been really successful and our alumni success speaks for itself.
While that’s the pointy end of our program, what it’s saturated in is the fundamental belief that schools are about the development of a whole child. It’s fundamentally a school’s responsibility to not just produce academic results, but to produce people who know how to utilise those results and ensure that they set themselves up for life.
Again, it’s IQ versus EQ.
Schools are not about developing students with IQ alone. They have a responsibility to produce academic results, which is certainly a priority in this school, but for those students who learn differently and want to know how to use those results to their advantage, we’ll also work on those skills that develop and create the whole child.
Q. Do you have any advice for schools developing Performing Arts programs?
Ensure schools are employing arts education advocates, because if the advocacy is not there from the administration down then the growth won’t happen.
Arts programs need to see themselves as the drivers of cultural change. They need to understand and appreciate that their classrooms will become the next generations of leaders. They need to understand the power of what they produce in those classrooms could potentially set students up for the rest of their lives.
In a school context, arts are responsible for developing and designing culture within the school. It’s about having a presence and ensuring that the very nature of the arts is demonstrated, and that is giving students the ability to demonstrate knowledge and skills publicly.
If you have a program where people can’t help but see it because it’s in their face all of the time, then you will start to grow a really strong program that will not only drive cultural change in your school but will also drive cultural change beyond schooling for those students.
They will be the next generation of emotionally intelligent leaders who can drive the change. While IQ might decide what sort of change is needed, it’s the EQ that will have to actually implement it.
Sheldon College students performing the musical Legally Blonde.