Phase One:  Creating the CODE Community 1971-1987

CODE began as a network of friends and colleagues determined to support one another and to raise the profile of drama in Ontario schools. At conferences, by writing curricula, often by driving across the province to visit and help each other, these early drama teachers worked and volunteered for the same goals. Such activity continues to this day.

A planning conference was held at Queen’s University in the spring of 1967. The drama people from Queen’s and the University of Toronto worked to create momentum for Drama to be taught in schools as a stand-alone subject. 

Helen Dunlop organized a key dinner meeting at the old Granite Club in Toronto to discuss a new kind of association. At another larger ‘gathering’ (conference) at the St. Lawrence Centre in 1969, many Canadian teachers first saw Dorothy Heathcote working with students in her unique style of role-play. With the encouragement of David Booth and others, this way of working became the standard for Process Drama in Ontario schools. At this conference, discussion and planning for a provincial autonomous organization continued.

Helen Dunlop – chaired the Theatre Arts Committee, a sub-committee of the Creative Arts Committee of the Department of Education – and continued by the Ontario Institute of Education (Office of Development) in 1965-1969. The result: Courses of Study in Drama and Theatre Arts, Grades 7 – 12, 1969.

Helen became Assistant Superintendent in the Curriculum Division of the Department of Education. At the government level, she and others nurtured the acceptance of drama as both a subject and as a methodology. 

At an Ontario Educational Association conference at the Royal York Hotel in 1970, a room for drama was set aside and a conference of the ‘new’ organization was planned. There was discussion about duplicating the role of CCYDA (Canadian Child & Youth Drama Association); however, many people felt the need for a focus on Drama based entirely in Ontario from K – University, including professional artists.

In May, 1971 Queen’s University hosted CODE’s first official conference. Michael Wilson became the first President, and the organization was a reality.

Pioneer teachers (such as Bob Barton, Chuck Lundy, David Booth, Marilynn Nixon, Bill Roberts, Margaret Shotliffe and Michael Wilson) experimented with new courses. 

Teachers in this era were teaching only one or two sections of drama per year and were usually the only drama person in their school or perhaps in their board. Support was non-existent and there were no resources. Teachers ‘invented’ the drama courses for their schools, touching base with the one ministry document and by calling friends in other cities. Teachers’ personal networks provided consistency of course content and techniques, province-wide, and these pioneers confirmed or amended their direction each year at the CODE Conference.

This period saw conferences in Kingston three times, and spread across Ontario universities in the other years. CODE traveled east or west to ‘boost’ the profile of drama in regions. Keynote speakers were the top drama people in the world, such as Dorothy Heathcote and Brian Way. In spite of excellent quality, poor attendance cancelled the 1979 conference at Queen’s University. The momentum of the network was not big enough to carry the ‘word’.

Prior to the Internet, CODE established both a monthly newsletter “Touchstone”, and the annual scholarly journal “Contact”. Lorna MacKay was the first editor and Margaret Burke was the last. Both publications provided vital ideas and classroom resources between conferences. Slowly, teachers began sharing their ideas province-wide, school by school.

1980 saw a CODE/CCYDA Conference in Guelph. Between the 10th and 15th years (1981 – 1986), CODE conferences were held at the Bayview-Wildwood resort at Sparrow Lake, where a central resort location proved successful. The annual conference had a ‘reunion’ atmosphere that continues to this day.

With the publication of the Ministry curriculum revisions: Dramatic Arts, Intermediate and Senior 1981 and Drama in the Formative Years, 1984; and later the Ontario Academic Credit  in 1986, “Theatre Arts” became known as “Drama”.  Veteran CODE teachers became part of the writing teams for these Ministry curricula and support materials for the elementary and secondary panels. CODE people moved into positions of leadership within the Ministry of Education, universities, drama festivals, professional theatre and the teachers’ federations. The vision of the early pioneers was being realized.

Phase Two:  Curriculum and Politics 1988 - 2003

From the outset, teachers debated the importance of what became known as “process drama” and the influence of “theatre production” skills in the curriculum. Teachers favoured one set of skills over the other in their practice and debated passionately at the conferences. During this period, due to the wisdom and leadership of mentors like David Booth and Norah Morgan, teachers realized that a good drama teacher should be comfortable teaching anywhere on the spectrum from role-play to theatre. This era saw the peak and end of this ‘either-or’ debate. Drama simply became ‘both’ in the hands of progressive classroom practitioners.  And Drama also now included dance skills.

During this era, Dance as a subject was introduced to the Ontario curriculum, and Dance teachers joined CODE as their subject association. The “Council of Drama in Education” became the “Council of Drama and Dance Educators” in 1998 and eventually the “Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators” in 2006. CODE Conferences benefited greatly with the introduction of dance workshops.  A much broader understanding of all the arts as tools for learning came into common practice. Currently, both Drama and Dance teachers are content to share the same subject association governance group.

There were political tensions between teachers and the government of Ontario premier Mike Harris, in power at the time (1995 – 2002). Moving forward with an arts agenda was difficult, but not impossible with many CODE people already in place in positions of trust. Budget cuts hurt most in schools where the arts had little or no support.  In boards where CODE had a good network in place, teachers found ways to survive the downsizing. Sadly, some schools saw their classroom dance and drama programs shrink or disappear at this time.

In this era, CODE tried to connect with all arts organizations that had similar goals. A CODE member (often the CODE President) would volunteer to liaise with these to keep communications going. The original goal of networking now extended to a much broader, international drama and dance community, and included a political element. 

CODE has participated in the international IDEA (International Drama/Theatre and Education Association) congresses, and was a founding member of IDEA; their first congress was held in Porto, Portugal (1992). CODE was instrumental in the founding of Theatre/Thêatre Canada in 1997. In 2004, it was Canada’s turn to host the IDEA congress in Ottawa, and CODE played a significant role in planning and producing that event. 

In 1998-2000, the Ministry revised the Arts curricula. After an intensive advocacy campaign that was reported on in both the Star and the Globe, Dance was finally added as an art to both the elementary and secondary curriculum.  CODE coordinated the hiring of writers and reviewers with Vice-President Jane Deluzio supporting Dance and Ron Dodson supporting Drama. Secondary Course Profiles in 1999-2000 were significant steps forward for teachers and for Drama and Dance in Ontario schools. CODE worked with the Upper Canada District School Board and OMEA and OAEA to ensure that the ARTS were included in this massive writing project spread over four years. 

Building on those accomplishments, recent Ministry of Education revisions have intensified the need for classroom teachers to acquire drama and dance skills. CODE saw a shift in membership. In this era, members from the Elementary panel had numbers equal to, then surpassing those from the Secondary panel.  This changed the tone and content of the annual conferences to a broader range of teaching concerns.

In 1987, the CODE conference alternated between a university and a central resort hotel. CODE co-hosted Augusto Boal who was the keynote speaker at our 1991 conference. The 25th Anniversary was celebrated in Alliston for the our fifth and last time in 1995. CODE partnered with the Teachers-Festival Liaison Council (T.F.L.C.) in Stratford in 1999 and all four arts subjects came together for the millennium conference, ”Arts and Education 2000,” in Markham. Many useful connections came from these partnerships.

In 2003, the need to reach out to the corners of the province resulted in “CODE on the ROAD”, a project where a ‘portable’ conference traveled to at least four locations in Ontario – as a way of stimulating membership and interest in drama and dance education.

Phase 3:  Re-imagining the Community 2003 - 2010

In 2003, CODE voted to discontinue “Contact” as plans developed to expand and improve a website presence. Within a year, CODE was responding to a generation of teachers well used to the Internet and on-line communications. In 2007, CODE, now the Council of Ontario Dance and Drama Educators, changed the logo and came to the conference with new colours and a new look.

The website became interactive, with a discussion forum and an online newsletter combining the best elements of both the old print newsletter and the printed Journal.  By 2010, the online Discussion Forum was replaced with a Blog. CODE now has a searchable database with over 200 resources and links to the “Learning Through the Arts” video podcasts, produced by Curriculum Services Canada and funded by the Ministry of Education, and CODE’s partnerships with arts organizations offer a wider range of benefits to members.  Posters were created in both English and French as advocacy tools for drama and dance.

CODE now reaches out to pre-service students, offering them special conference rates and FREE membership, and half price rates for new teachers.  Pictures and videos from conferences are featured on the website. Lesson plans and links to many teacher resources are posted and updated regularly.

CODE works to expand the resources available on the website, as that is the ongoing ‘home’ of constant dialogue with drama and dance teachers in the province and beyond. The website allows any member to read minutes and speeches, current or past.  The website keeps the dialogue from the conferences alive all year round. CODE now also has expanded its online presence with an active Facebook group and Twitter account.

The reality of placing Drama and Dance as separate subjects in the 2009 Elementary curriculum and on the Elementary Report Card generated a renewed interest in drama and dance skills.  Across Ontario, current and former CODE members are offering workshops to help teachers ‘catch up’ with the skills that may not have been part of their initial pre-service training. This renewed interest is also reflected in the attendance at recent CODE conferences.

Supporting the establishment of Dance on the elementary curriculum, pioneer Dance teachers, such as Carmelina Martin, through CODE, established “Pulse” – an event where secondary dance teachers and students are able to interact with the finest dancers and choreographers in the country.  “Pulse” was first held at York University in 2006 and again in 2008.  It continues every second year as a pivotal event in Dance Education for Ontario. 

At the same time, other local dance festivals, again often organized by CODE people, served local needs.  This broad groundswell in many areas has shifted dance events from ‘unusual’ to ‘normal’ activities for all teachers to attend. 

CODE partnered successfully with the Ontario Society for Education through Art (OSEA, now known as OAEA) in 2005 at the Brampton conference. Three of the four arts were featured at that time – a very visual success. In 2006, a powerful Symposium, hosted by CODE and Ontario Arts Educators Teachers Association (OAETA) kicked off the Blue Mountain conference and in 2008, Dorothy Heathcote addressed the London, Ontario conference interactively and live from England.

CODE has been active in the recent curriculum revision led by CODE Past President Christine Jackson, culminating in The Arts Grades 1-8, 2009, The Arts Grades 9-10, 2010, and The Arts Grades 11-12, 2010.  This, combined with Ministry initiatives in Assessment and Evaluation in the Arts, has placed CODE and its members at the forefront of planning and decision-making for the new century in Arts Education.  The current CODE president, for example, sat on the National Roundtable on Teacher Education in the Arts (NRTEA) in May, 2011. This first-ever event brought together key stakeholders such as Faculty of Education professors from across Canada, subject association representatives, and arts consultants to discuss how to advocate for more time and attention being devoted to the teaching of the arts in pre-service Education programs.

CODE continues to liaise and advocate with and through various organizations, including the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC), the Ontario Teachers Federation (OTF), the Ontario Teacher Educators in the Arts (OnTEA), and the Ministry of Education, among others.

In 2010, CODE celebrated its 40th anniversary in Niagara-on-the-Lake, partnering with the Shaw Festival to provide another excellent conference.  A video documentary commemorating this event is available on the CODE website. At this time it was decided that CODE’s archives would be relocated to Brock University’s Faculty of Education.

Leaders of CODE

Original Advisory Board Members

Helen Dunlop, Bob Beattie, Juliana Saxton, Michael Wilson, Norah Morgan, David Booth

Former Presidents 

What began as a small circle of friends, dedicated to raising the profile of drama in Ontario schools has now become a major stakeholder in the direction of drama, dance and all the arts in Ontario schools:

CODE now interacts with teachers through links to literacy, character education, Student Success and other major educational initiatives in Ontario.

With the advent of new technologies, resources can flow with the click of a computer mouse.  However, arts teachers still drive across the province to visit and help each other.  That part is not ever likely to change.

Ed. Note: Many references in this article are taken from “As I Remember It” by Robert Beattie, published in Contact #10, 1986: the 25th anniversary edition.