In 2001, Wesley College approached me to design a cartooning workshop program addressing bullying, for inclusion in a Yr 7 Resilience Program the college was piloting, and which incorporated many other materials such as drama, video, discussion, writing etc. When Wesley approached me with the commission I had just completed my year-long residency at Pembroke Primary under the mentorship of Kate Perkins (see Yarra Rd PS post), in which Kate & I had used cartooning throughout the school community to address various aspects of emotional communication.
And for the last 12 years since, the Glen Waverley campus of Wesley College have very generously invited me back as Cartoonist-In-Residence, to run the Creative Communication program with the entire Yr 7 contingent each year. For a whole week, I take the 6 Home groups for 2 sessions of around an hour each, drawing facial expressions, body language, and discussing ideas about respect, bullying, stereotypes etc. This year, Yr 7 Leader Penny Mudge worked her magic on the timetabling so that every group got an extra third session – more time to play, and to extend on some of the usual skills I teach in these sessions. In the first session, as usual, we covered facial expressions, but when it came to the second session (drawing scenarios demonstrating body language) the students creativity really began to shine through. Here are some of the fantastic results:
In all these examples, we drew everyday scenarios that the kids could relate to. I always deliberately leave out any details that identify the gender of the characters, so that the students can explore stereotypical thinking, and how the nuances of the story can change depending on what gender is allocated to each characters. It’s always fascinating to see how the students respond to stereotypes like “Boys don’t cry”, “Girls don’t bully boys”, “boys don’t comfort each other” etc. After discussing these ideas based on the genderless characters we’ve drawn, the students can then assign the characters whatever gender they want on their own drawing.
In the extra third sessions, we looked at a simple comic strip format, to tell a story between two characters entirely through their facial expressions, without text. The students are encouraged to think about interpersonal dynamics, sequential story-telling, and how life can offer unexpected outcomes depending on how we respond in the moment!
Thanks again Wesley College for having me back all these years! Thanks also to Penny for doing such a fantastic job of co-ordinating a tricky timetable, and to the awesome Yr 7 students who are always a pleasure to work with! You guys rock!