Report on a Visit to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

NAIS-logoPaul Miller
Executive Director of Global Initiatives
National Association of Independent School Schools

The NAIS Schools of the Future initiative asks schools to re-examine and reconsider how they educate their students. While we don’t prescribe what schools should come up with, we do have some basic thoughts: schools should have a comprehensive approach to all aspects of student life and learning; students should learn IN the world, not just about the world; experiential learning should go hand- in-hand with academic rigor; inter-disciplinary study is preferable to learning in silos; global education fosters the ability to see things from multiple perspectives; the arts are critical to developing creativity and are core subjects, not luxuries.

That list was not drawn up by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon England, but it could have been. The Trust offers a variety of educational experiences for students, including short residential courses (meaning several days rather than a term) that incorporate multiple aspects of theater, literature, history, and culture, bound together by the work, life and times of William Shakespeare. The program is experiential as well as academic and, based on my observations and reports from NAIS member schools which have participated in the program, successfully engages students who come with varying interests and experiences.

The program can be tailored to suit individual schools’ needs and to ensure the immersive learning of the days in Stratford is well integrated into what students are doing before and after this experience.

I was invited by the American Friends of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to spend a couple of days in Stratford to learn more about the programs and the people responsible for them (full disclosure: my expenses were paid for by them).

The opportunity to visit the houses where Shakespeare was born and lived, to view historic collections of books and other items connected to him and the production of his plays, and to see a Royal Shakespeare Company performance would have been incentive enough.  And they were all wonderful. But they struck me as building blocks for a much larger edifice: a world where the playwright, his characters, ideas and events are very much alive.

That is less a function of the historic setting, exhibits and collections and more a tribute to the enthusiasm, scholarship and love of all things Shakespeare demonstrated by the staff of the Trust. Dr. Nick Walton, the Shakespeare Courses Development Manager, is a national treasure who could make Shakespeare compelling to anyone. He is hardly alone in his dedication, friendliness and intelligence.

The classes I sat in on were lively, interactive, informative and thought-provoking. It would have been fun to have sat in on one of the many workshops on drama, directing or theater craft, but as luck would have it those intensive sessions were not offered while I was there. Not surprisingly, the residential visits by schools normally take place during vacation periods. The day trips by schools in the U.K. and Europe happen year-round.

The Trust is investigating a number of offerings to schools that would not entail the same commitment of time and money as the full residential experience. At the same time it hopes to increase the number of schools that will take advantage of the on-site experience.

We have always urged our schools to use international trips to delve deeply into whatever aspect of global education they are interested in and not settle for the superficial. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust helps schools meet those criteria in ways that are both intellectually stimulating and enjoyable.