For National Teacher Day, we sat down with Learning & Engagement Officer Sarah Winstanley to talk about the importance of school engagement here at Leeds Heritage Theatres. Having started her career as a teacher before joining our Learning & Engagement team, Sarah shares her insight on the value of outreach for teachers and students alike.
Written by Sarah Winstanley and Aaron Cawood
Learning and Engagement
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do at Leeds Heritage Theatres (LHT).
I’m Sarah, one of three Learning and Engagement officers at LHT. Prior to this role, having started in November 2022, I was a primary school teacher for seven years.
As a Learning and Engagement Officer, I get to design, develop, and deliver experiences for young people across Leeds. I have created bespoke workshops that link to the school curriculum, share our rich heritage, and inspire the next generation to keep our stories alive! I have also developed a new work experience project, and a series of careers workshops for secondary pupils to fulfil their statutory careers needs in a fun and engaging way.
What has been the highlight of your time at LHT?
This is hard to answer because there have been so many highlights – I love this job. What could be better than talking about theatres all day?
I think getting to see the faces of young people walking into the auditorium for the first time is one of the best feelings in the world. When you see the glint in their eyes and the shock on their faces, it is a special moment.
I have also loved developing workshops to make them inclusive and linked to the school curriculum. Being able to deliver them and seeing the young people having fun and learning is just the best.
Tell us about some of the workshops and school events you’ve enjoyed working on.
For our primary age program, I love delivering the Spotlights and Sound Effects workshop as it combines the science curriculum with theatre. I love how STEM subjects can link to theatre in ways people wouldn’t necessarily think of.
And for our secondary provision, developing our first Work Experience Week must be the best thing I have done so far. Creating a new project from scratch, and then being able bring it to life in such a purposeful way has been so much fun.
Year 10 work experience is such an important part of school life, and I feel like we’ve created something special. They’ll be experiencing a range of non-performing careers in the arts, meeting staff, exploring application skills, seeing the venues behind-the scenes – all culminating with them taking on the role of a producer to put all their learning into practice.
What’s your favourite thing about collaborating with teachers and schools?
In general, teachers are just amazing humans. It is wonderful when we get to talk to teachers who are so passionate about their students being able to access the theatre and the arts.
I love being able to collaborate with them to create something that will work for their group. It is imperative to meet the school’s needs in terms of curriculum, but to also bring it to life in imaginative ways through practical work. Teachers are always so on board, and it makes our job a true joy.
As someone who was previously a teacher and now provides enrichment opportunities for schools, can you tell us about how valuable you find outreach?
Outreach is paramount to ensuring young people are inspired to embrace their aspirations. A lot of the students we work with may never have had the opportunity to come to a theatre before, and we are lucky enough to share those moments with them.
Schools and teachers work tirelessly to close the cultural capital gap and the reward is next to none in terms of the student’s engagement. It is so much bigger than the curriculum – it is about allowing young people to enjoy of the arts, no matter their background.
What do you feel like the teachers and students who work with LHT take away from the experience most often?
For our youngest visitors, often it’s the storytelling and the history that inspires them most, as well as the confidence they feel when taking part in our sessions.
With our secondary age students, we love exploring pathways into the industry and sharing the vast range of performing and non-performing roles in the arts, so they can make informed decisions about their futures.
We do a lot of work on wellbeing and confidence building, and it is lovely seeing our teenagers leave us with their heads held high! And for teachers, I think they take away ideas about how to bring the packed curriculum to life through drama and history.
What is your fondest memory of teaching?
I have many wonderful memories of teaching. Some moments really stick with you for a lifetime as it truly is a special, challenging but rewarding career.
One of my fondest memories was when a child in my class who was selectively mute and quite distressed in the school environment came out of his shell so much in the second year I taught him. His wellbeing was much improved through lots of hard work, and he even managed to say a line in the school show. Seeing how proud his mum was of him that day will stick with me forever.
I have been lucky to work with some incredible teachers and pupils during my career and I am endlessly inspired by their dedication, hard work and genuine love for education. Every day is teacher appreciation day, but take a moment today to thank a teacher. A kind word of gratitude goes such a long way!
Leeds Heritage Theatres Engagement Fund
Every year, we work with over 10,000 young people across the city, in schools, youth groups and other sessions to help them build skills, confidence and pride through our creative learning and engagement programme. All donations to this fund will help us to continue our work and reach more people across the Leeds City Region.
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