Dorothy Heathcote: An Obituary
11 October 2011
The University of Derby was saddened to hear of the death of Dorothy Heathcote, a world-renowned teacher and one of its Honorary Doctors of Education.
Dorothy died last Saturday (October 8) aged 85, as the result of a blood disorder.
In a long career she revolutionised the use of drama in education through a variety of pioneering techniques.
Born on August 29, 1926, a remarkable life saw her leave school at 14-years-old to work in a Yorkshire wool mill and later train as an actress, before realizing her true vocation lay in education. By the age of 24 she was a Lecturer at Durham University's Newcastle-upon-Tyne campus.
Much as she enjoyed acting, her vision extended beyond the stage to the use of theatre as an educational construct, and a means for people to use drama as a means of exploring and understanding the world.
Dorothy remained at Newcastle when it became a university in its own right in 1962. Her openness of spirit and radical teaching approach drew a stream of postgraduate students to Newcastle; many of whom where welcomed into the home she shared with her husband Raymond and daughter, Marianne.
Dorothy's approach to drama practice shifted the teacher from being an instructor to the role of coach, facilitator and fellow artist; recognising the advantages of a co-creative process in which learners are empowered. The new terminology she created, such as 'teacher in and out of role' and 'rolling role', is now part of the canon for drama teaching world-wide.
She worked with children, young people, teachers and students across the globe; from South African townships, to New Zealand Maori communities, to UK inner city areas and USA borstal institutions. Her pioneering methods in the use of dramatic reconstructions also saw her work with trainers at major organisations such as British Gas, Volkswagen UK and the Crown Prosecution Service.
However, wherever Dorothy was in the world she always tried to catch the earliest flight home. Her heart was first and foremost with her family.
Apart from the Honorary Doctorate of Education award she received from the University of Derby in 2007, Dorothy's work was recognised in many other ways.
She also received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was the subject of a BBC documentary film, and frequently received invitations to speak at prestigious international events.
Dorothy was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in June (2011), which her family will now accept for her at Buckingham Palace in December.
Addressing a gathering of teachers she reportedly once remarked: "I shall look forward to death." When people gasped she added cheerily that this was not in any morbid sense but as being "the greatest and most mysterious adventure of all".
A celebration of Dorothy Heathcote's life will be held at 1pm on Sunday December 11 at St Werburgh's Church, Church Street, Spondon, Derby. Those who knew her are welcome to come along but it would be appreciated if those attending could notify Dorothy's daughter, Marianne, via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.