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Mantle of the expert

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Mantle of the Expert is a form of inquiry which uses drama to step children up as experts by forming a company to fulfil a specific brief for a fictional client. In a Mantle children are talking as responsible people with roles to play and a job to do. Children are exposed to different perspectives and points of view within the context. They become problem solvers and innovators. The curriculum is shaped by students forming multiple cross curricular pathways. In this curriculum conversation, Gay Gilbert and Lynette Townsend discuss how they have used "the mantle of the expert" as a different approach to inquiry learning.

More Information can be found on the Mantle of the Expert website and Mantle of the Expert Aotearoa.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Enhancing the relevance of new learning

The New Zealand Curriculum (p34) states that:

"Students learn most effectively when they understand what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will be able to use their new learning. Effective teachers stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to use or apply what they discover in new contexts or in new ways. They look for opportunities to involve students directly in decisions relating to their own learning. This encourages them to see what they are doing as relevant and to take greater ownership of their own learning."


"Drama expresses human experience through a focus on role, action, and tension, played out in time and space. In drama education, students learn to structure these elements and to use dramatic conventions, techniques, and technologies to create imagined worlds. Through purposeful play, both individual and collaborative, they discover how to link imagination, thoughts, and feelings."

(NZC p20)

  • How could you use some of the aspects of Mantle of the Expert in your own teaching and learning programme?
  • In what ways do you ensure that what students are learning is engaging, relevant, and authentic?
  • How are your students empowered to make decisions about, and take greater ownership of, their learning?

Have you seen ...

Learning areas – A possible pathway for curriculum review
This section of NZC Online explores the ways the learning areas can be an integral part of your curriculum design and review. it includes review questions, relevant research, and links to useful resources and examples.


I’m Gay Gilbert and I’m the deputy principal at Hillcrest Normal School in Hamilton.

And my name’s Lynette Townsend and I work at Hillcrest and I’m a senior teacher there.

And we’ve been working on a joint project with the Faculty of Education from Waikato University and Teaching and Learning Research Initiative run by NZCER and our work’s based on Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert which is an approach to inquiry, and it’s a dramatic approach in teaching and learning. Just quoting Dorothy she says in Mantle kids are talking like responsible adults with a job to do. I think about it’s authentic children’s voice. For me, that’s the power. The children feel stepped up, they feel that their views are vitally important, they really believe in it. They are stepped into an imaginary world, children don’t have difficulty with that. And once they’re in there, it sort of feels like, it opens up so many places for them to step up and step into. And I guess that’s just so enriching, especially for teachers. And when you see the high engagement of children, it’s just very exciting.

I think to begin with, when I did the first one, that was in 2009, it was a little bit difficult as you sort of lost the thread. I mean, each day it took a new pathway. And I suppose each evening I was sort of thinking, well, where are we going to go with this? And we have to go with what the children are thinking, a little bit daunting to start with and then it was really exciting, I really loved it. What basically we started with, was we looked at the interests of the children, and then we used a photo of horses in a particular agitated state, and then we went into an effigy which caught the children’s interest straight away and hooked them in. So we proceeded then to work in a company, and we made a commission, and set up a logo and made a portal to our company which was the beginning of the mantle. So part of the pre-documentary focus was to look at both sides of the story. So we looked at the protesters side and we looked at the enviro issues. So there was tensions along the way which made the children think and they had to interview a DoC worker.

They agreed that they were working for the World Wildlife Fund. And they decided that they would be the - they were called problem solving people. And they decided that they would tell the story from both sides. At one stage we felt that the children were getting far too involved with the horse side of the story. So I sent an email as head of DoC saying that I was concerned that as they had promised in their company statement that they would tell an honest and truthful story but I’d heard that the protesters had their ear and that they were not presenting all of the facts and I would like to visit. So I then went in, as DoC Ranger, didn’t I Lynette?

And they interviewed her and then because the DoC workers were so busy they had to help out and conduct experiments in the field to be able to talk to the other DoC workers. So that was our link with science.

And through the storyboarding, the children used a lot of dramatic techniques they did a lot of freeze frames and they took photographs they also used a lot of technology, they took photographs from the net, they superimposed themselves on horses, they went around the playground and dramatized certain events and took photographs and storyboarded the whole thing.

We had our junior team working in Mantle of the Expert they decided to be art curators, they are only five and six year olds and they - we’re going to talk about them as well. They learned about famous artists, they painted and then they held an exhibition they were the curators of the gallery and they had an expert in and that was highly successful. So bit by bit more and more teachers in our school are experimenting with this form of inquiry, and we’re all on quite an exciting journey really.

We found that quite quiet children stepped forward and took on a leadership role. And they were participating a lot more than they would in other curriculum areas so that was exciting to see. They made comments like they felt like adults and they could make adult-like decisions, and they felt very much part of the company which they were in.
And it is a brave teacher who goes down this pathway. But I think you just have to put your toe in the water and have a try, and I guess the advice I’d give to teachers is to have a look at Dorothy’s work, and then have a dabble, have a go, just try it, try it in your own room with nobody watching you because you know you just can see where it takes you, and I think just small beginnings, that’s what we’ve had, small beginnings but we’ve grown each time we feel that we’ve learned a lot more and I think this year we’ll learn a lot more again.

Published on: 16 Mar 2011