“The World And I”: A Social Presencing Theater (SPT) Workshop In The Middle School


This workshop took place within the H@ppynet Plus Project for the Municipality of Figline e Incisa Valdarno organized by For.Ed.A Toscana (the Regional Forum for Adult Education in Tuscany) with the aim of promoting digital education and preventing bullying and cyberbullying. This school year (2018-2019) was the fourth edition of the project and was more complex than in previous years because we wished to go beyond a sterile classification of the roles of bully and victim and to examine human fragility not only as a problem but also as an opportunity for change. 

Five classes (12 to 14 year olds) and their teachers from three public middle schools in Figline and Incisa Valdarno were involved. Parents were invited too and the conclusion was celebrated with an event open to the general public. Intentional/nonintentional learning was interwoven with formal/informal learning in seminars and workshops in a stereophonic research of sense. The starting point, however, was worrying for three reasons: 1) the fourteen year olds’ experience of Blue Whale, the online suicide game; 2) the instigation in all classes to perform dangerous or compromising actions; 3) their tendency to insult others during online chat. The students’ definition of “bullying” and “cyberbullying” was perfect, so we presumed they knew what they were talking about, whether as bullies, victims and/or spectators . They described their online activity as between 6-8 hours daily. Parents seemed to be present but mostly just as advisors of a defensive line of conduct. 

This year plural disciplines were involved: the distinction between social media and social network was more precisely defined and fake news, information sources and the metacognitive meaning of language were examined.  We also did activities based on Social Presencing Theater for the first time and organized creative conflict management games.

What I did

I facilitated the workshop “The world and I” where the goal was to work on the group’s awareness of itself and of the context.  This was not at the level of mental recognition but rather of an “ah ah” type of experiential awareness. The workshop was divided into two phases, the first of exploration and the second of prototyping. We worked in the gym and not in the classroom in order to have a space which was less codified and freer of objects. 

I used eurythmic exercises with a ball for the check-in to soften and ultimately dislodge the pressures of 'habits and must be'.  Then I used the Village (SPT) as an exploration of the field, of the students individually and of their relationship with others. This gave them the opportunity to gain new ways of experiencing the group as a whole, while doing. It was a method to “see with new eyes” and to discover their potential to act in the world. Then they wrote this experience up in a form of constant flow journalling so that they connected the experience of external space with that of their own internal reflective space. Finally I used the Ninja-Go theatre game as an instrument of use scene and space. This was also a way to approach creative ways of conflict resolution. Only with one class did I try out 4D mapping, because they spontaneously moved to the telling their own experiences of bullying, and so I suggested a 4D mapping as a way to further understand the different roles they were presenting, and they agreed. 

For two months we try to used the same format in each meeting. This allowed us to greet each other, move, engage in journalling and generative dialogue. It was more important to move than to speak. One group of the five had enormous difficulty in being present in their bodies and with themselves, while the curiosity of the other four groups led them to make generative discoveries of new attitudes to “bullying” and “cyberbullying”. This allowed them to develop prototypes, some of which had real systemic vision.

Key learnings

"A seed grows with no sound but a tree falls with huge noise. Destruction has noise, but creation is quiet. This is the power of silence...”  Confucius
  1. Innovation requires an open mind and internal space that can welcome the new: 

  2. the container determines the viability of the experience; 

  3. flexibility allows the presence of discording elements;

  4. it is not always necessary to “understand everything”;

  5. being part of a social body is not at all obvious;

  6. space “Where” and  modality “how” are two aspects of actions that influence the work of a group;

  7. “internal space” is fundamental to be able to connect with future possibility;

  8. a static vertical teacher-centred approach based on information transfer reinforces the positions one wishes to remove;

  9. didactic resources with a strong impact on the physical senses are no guarantee of evolving the perception of themselves. They risk blocking the activity in “performance” and so create an illusion of “as if”.