Teacher Talks: Nina Harmande, Third-to-Fifth-Grade Theater Teacher

Nina Harmande uses her theater curriculum as a vehicle to help students grapple with complex social issues. This approach is a natural extension of her passions: Besides her background in acting, she is a dedicated anti-racist activist and educator.

The plays staged by Nina’s classes emerge from a unique creative process, in which she combines conversation, improv and collaborative writing to create scripts drawn from the students’ own words. The resulting stories reflect how students have deepened their understanding of nuanced topics –and inspire audiences to do the same.

"My goal in teaching drama to kids has always been about learning through theater. All of the research points to the fact that if kids are able to have age appropriate conversations and experiences around racial identity at an early age, they’re better equipped to understand what equity and justice look like as they get older. My overarching objective is to give kids these experiences so that they are ready for the harder conversations later.

When I came to Calhoun, I was told to teach my passion and positive identity development is my passion. I tell my students, 'you get to be the one to name your identity. Other people don't get to name that for you.' People will make assumptions out in the world, but in my class, we listen to how each person expresses themselves. Everyone's perspective and experience is recognized

Students in 5th grade perform on stage

Theater has the power to change people's minds, and my goal is for our plays to make both the children and the audience consider new perspectives. Where I want all of the kids to get to is a place where they can grapple with complexities.

The parallels between last year's play and current events were definitely purposeful. During the playwriting process, the students were hearing about the caravan on the news. I would tell them, ‘These are the conversations that grownups are having,’ to show them that adults are also dealing with the complexities of these situations. I want them to see that issues can be layered and that it's okay for something to be dynamic and changing, and that their point of view can change, too.

Students learn more from the play creation process. What we’re doing is truly learning by doing, and the plays are reflections of what students are learning.

We learn better when we collaborate. Learning how to listen, compromise, and bring together different ideas are important skills that students will need in the world. If we’re really thinking about how to create an anti-racist society, then shared leadership needs to be part of it."

Teacher Talks is a series spotlighting the educators of Calhoun and their approach to progressive education.