John Saunders

John Saunders has recently graduated from a Master of Education after completing undergraduate degrees in Creative Industries (Drama) and Education (Secondary). He taught for 5 years at a Catholic school in Redcliffe Queensland, initially as a drama teacher and then as Head of the Arts. John is currently the Education Manager for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC).

In John’s work, the way process drama and drama pedagogy can be used across English and History subjects. This research has been instrumental in the creation of School Drama, a professional learning program designed to increase teacher confidence and capacity in using the Arts as a teaching tool. The program has been highly effective in combining drama pedagogy with quality literature for improving English and literacy in young students.

1. Could you tell us about yourself, your background, how you ultimately became a teacher/social worker?
I grew up in Brisbane and found learning really difficult, particularly during primary school. All the way through primary the Arts, particularly Drama, were very important to me. They represented something I was good at, times during the school day where I could thrive and learn my own way.

It was at the end of secondary school that I decided I wanted to become a teacher. Although I found school and learning a challenge, I had a few very inspiring teachers (usually Arts teachers) who made me want to learn, who made me want to work harder than I thought I was capable of and they really inspired me to become teacher.

2. What’s your current role?
I am the Education Manager for the Sydney Theatre Company. The main attraction to this role was managing the School Drama TM program, a professional learning program developed with esteemed academic, Professor Robyn Ewing AM from Sydney University. The program involves teaching artists working alongside primary school teachers mentoring them in using drama pedagogy to improve student literacy, engagement, motivation and empathy.

3. What degree/s did you complete and was there something in particular that attracted you to these courses of study?
After working at the STC for 12 months and working closely with Professor Ewing, I decided it was time to delve more deeply into my work through a Masters of Education (Research) at Sydney University. I was interested in exploring my work and practice at STC through research and because I was working so closely with Robyn Ewing, she became my thesis supervisor.

4. How has your degree supported you in your professional life?
I’ve been very lucky to be able to focus my study on the work that I’m doing at STC and it has really helped broaden and deepen my knowledge and understanding about the impacts of Drama pedagogy on student academic and non-academic outcomes.

I think having the Masters has given me a lot more confidence in doing my work. I feel like I can really talk with authority about the work that I do and that’s really rewarding. Doing the masters has also opened other professional opportunities to me, like presenting at conferences and even being asked to do a keynote about my research at a conference at the Sydney Opera House! Very cool!

5. What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?
I think my happiest memories of being a student at Sydney would have to be the support I received from my supervisors Professor Robyn Ewing and Dr Victoria Campbell. I’ve also been supported by other wonderful academics at Sydney in the faculty who have offered me other ideas regarding my research.

6. Who was your favourite Professor while you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?
Professor Robyn Ewing has been an incredible research supervisor, teacher, mentor and colleague to me. Her passion for her work is inspiring and she gently guided me through the challenges that any higher degree student will face. She was always approachable, always available, always just an email or telephone call away.

7. What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?
I think that the challenges I faced early in my own education taught me an important lesson which I’ve lived my life by. That is, that I might not be the smartest student, but if I work harder than my peers then I will succeed. I think that’s become my mantra.

8. What are your plans for the future?
Haha! Well, this is the $64,000 question at the moment! I’m not too sure … I’ve enjoyed doing my Masters so much that I think I might even do a little more study, but who knows! After I finish at STC, I think I’ll return to the classroom. I just really enjoy teaching.

9. What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?
I think the professional network that you can develop at university is really important. Your peers will become a really important part of your professional network and so will your teachers at Sydney, so keep in touch with them. Those relationships are really important.

Back to Connecting with our Alumni