How Do You Read?

By: Shannon Boatwright

Alright, so here it goes…I’m going to admit that I’ve actually learned something, as an adult, from a class that I was forced to take. Yep.

I’m a teacher and director of the fine arts. And I like to think I’m darn good at what I do.  I’m a true lover of the arts and currently I get to teach middle school kids how to express themselves. I teach them how to control their bodies and voices to express themselves successfully and portray characters. I teach them the benefits of concentrating and cooperating, letting them experience it. I inspire them to use their imagination. I attempt to create opportunities for students to explore their talents and most importantly, to increase their self-confidence. Unlike most drama teachers, I don’t just teach theatrical terms and unload a bunch of theatre “stuff” on a classroom full of kids in which 95% of the students I teach will likely NOT seek a profession in theatre. I take the opportunity to teach these precious kids the true elements of drama, the tools in the actor’s toolbox – body, voice, imagination, concentration, cooperation – and how to successfully utilize them.  All tools that will help them in EVERY area of their lives, no matter what profession they go into.

Needless to say, I’m passionate about what I do and although teaching in the public school system is incredibly challenging, has aged me considerably and definitely is not financially rewarding, I strive to make a positive difference in these students’ lives. The true rewards come in the success of my students. And I can confirm that those successes, small to some, huge to others, are positively priceless.

All that being said, (and of course I could say more, but on to my point of this blog post…) one of the many requirements by the state was that all teachers take a class called “Read to Succeed”. The instant reaction is, well, naturally and unapologetically, sarcastic, “Fantastic, another thing we teachers are required to do. Another time-wasting, no money-making, not-making-me-a-better-teacher, required THING”. Sorry, but that’s the blunt truth that we teachers are used to. Sure it’s not every time, but daggomit it happens all too often. So yes, pardon me for jumping to obvious conclusions, but all too often us teachers aren’t allowed the time to just do what we do best. All too often we are weighed down with silly requirements and nonsense that tends to be a most unfortunate, serious waste of time.

So here’s the admission – though this required class I had to take certainly did not need to be stretched out over so many hours and could’ve been condensed and simplified, I did learn something valuable from it. Thankfully. “Read to Succeed” is actually an appropriate name for this state-required course. Every teacher uses reading in their classrooms on some level and the truth of the matter is, we take for granted this idea that all kids can properly read when they get to our classes. This sadly is not the case. I’ve known that students read differently, with a different level of skill as they read out loud. My focus has usually been on that skill of reading out loud, applying character and emotion. But what this class has taught me is that we need to help students to think while they read. Hmmmm…. Yes, there’s the key! Forget sounding out words and all that reading “stuff” we’re used to hearing. Students need to learn how to actually understand what they’re reading. Make sense of what they’re reading. Visualize and grasp the content, the story, while they’re reading. They need to think while they read.

So how do you read? What was your reading experience like growing up? Do you remember being taught how to read? Did you experience struggles that you had to overcome to be a successful reader? As an adult do you still have moments in which you read a paragraph and have no clue what it was about? Then you end up reading it 2 or 3 or more times before you gain the focus to take in the meaning? Yea, me too. It happens. Now imagine a student struggling with that same thing, a teacher thinking they’re understanding what they’re reading, and yet a student possibly not having a clue what they’re reading. We have to teach the art of thinking while reading!

I hope you were able to think while you read my blog. 😉

Accidental Blessings

By: Shannon Boatwright

“you deserve to be in spaces and relationships that make you happy. that feed your soul and help you grow. you are worthy of connections that are loving, nourishing, kind, and authentic. so before you settle for anything less than, remind yourself that the places you visit, and the people you journey with through life, should make you feel safe, loved and enough”

– alex elle

Coming across this particular quote was an accidental blessing.

One of my favorite radio stations is q93.5. I follow them on Instagram. This past Sunday they posted this quote by Alex Elle, wishing everyone a good morning. I had no idea who this Alex Elle was. In fact, upon first read earlier in the day, I thought, maybe it’s from some of the DJ’s named Alex and Elle? Later on Sunday night, before diving into a load of stressful work, I treated myself to one more scan of Instagram, secretively hoping for some uplifting inspiration to help lift my head out of my state of overwhelming work and life stuff. I allowed myself to read the q93.5 Instagram post again and really soaked in the words. I thought, wow, this is lovely. This is gold. Priceless truth for your life.

I immediately knew I needed to find out who Alex Elle was. I Googled the name and came across this site  www.alexelle.com – a beautiful discovery for sure. Come to find out, this Alex Elle is a brilliant writer, a woman who shares her passion for life, love and healing through poetry, narrative writing, storytelling…At first glance over her website and blog, I have fallen in love with her positive spirit of hope, self-love, healing, and positive living. I immediately signed up for her email newsletters of encouragement and plan to follow her blog.

My accidental blessing of coming across this incredible woman’s amazing work as I simply sought out a quick escape before trudging through required, aggravating school work, has enriched my life. I only hope that I’ll continue to pursue her encouragement and let it help build the strength that I know is within me. If I could do what she does and have the means to dive into my writing, share my own personal journey, and spread joy, love, encouragement and hope into others lives, and actually make a living at it, I WOULD TOTALLY DO SO!

Here’s to praying that my accidental blessing will lead me to wonderful achievements. I know I’ve already scored by discovering a gorgeous mentor in Alex Elle. We’ll see where life leads me. I certainly agree with what she says in her quote. Amen, amen and amen to that one. I’m ever thankful for the priceless people in my life that come to mind when I read her words. As I scan over her other words of encouragement, I am reminded of the power within – the power that we have to make great things happen for ourselves.  Hmmmmm…maybe God and the universe is trying to tell me something? Maybe it’s time to pursue new goals and make greater things happen so that I can make more of a difference in other’s lives as I enrich my own?

Sharing Your Talents

By: Shannon Boatwright

I came across a very inspirational video on Facebook. It happens to all us Facebook users from time to time and we’re actually happy that we clicked the “watch” button.  This particular video really tugged at my heart strings, totally produced tears and made me do some deep thinking. Some of you may have seen it, too. It’s a video of a precious, most talented young lady on Romania’s Got Talent.

I didn’t realize how many countries have these types of talent television shows! In this particular clip, although the song is sung in English, not a bit of the spoken dialogue is in English, yet you’re still able to totally get the intensity of the specialness of the moment.  This amazing young lady has no arms or legs, but proved herself a total superstar. What an all-around beauty! I honestly still don’t know the history to this young talent’s story. I still need to research it because I’m curious how she got to the point in her life to be on the television show, as well as what she is doing now.

Upon watching the video though, I immediately knew that I wanted to use it as a teaching tool for my honors drama students. I knew I should take the opportunity to give them some inspiration and a good reminder that life is too short not to follow your dreams. Interestingly enough, the topic of this singing, keyboard-playing talent’s song is about following your dreams. It’s emotional to see grown men crying as they hear this young lady perform. If watching the video is so incredibly moving, I can only imagine how touching it is to see her perform in person.

For me, this performance served as a reminder that we should share our talents. Too many of us do things that we love, whether it’s something with the arts or any other interesting talent, and we tend to not share it. We get joy from doing whatever it is, yet most of us are too insecure, shy or scared to share our talent with others. I told my students to imagine if this special girl had decided not to take that leap of faith and share her love of music despite her challenges. She could’ve easily given up and not taken the risks, but she decided to share that joy that she gets from music and when she did, WOW! Hundreds, thousands, millions have been inspired thanks to this brave young soul sharing her beautiful musical abilities. How thankful are we that she did!

So the lesson is, if you have a talent that brings you joy, please consider sharing it! It just may bring joy to others too and inspire them as well. 🙂

Are You Exhausted?

By: Shannon Boatwright

I’m exhausted. I’m so tired, it hurts. Why is this? I ask myself all the time, why does it seem that I’m always so worn out physically and mentally? It’s that time of year for me, when my world is rocked by deadlines, school requirements, performances,…some of my greatest career accomplishments tend to happen during this time of the year, so yes, I’m overwhelmed and overworked. But after so many years of feeling this way, I’m beginning to get really frustrated about it. Is it just the fact that I’m a teacher? Or is it just me? Is it because I’m an over-achiever?

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I have a terrible time sleeping. I literally cannot shut my brain off. I don’t take medication to sleep, and I probably should, but I’d really rather not! I’m sure if I could actually get good, restful sleep and a decent amount of it, I’d feel so much better! But heaven forbid I actually be able to achieve that. Most unfortunately, a good night’s sleep is totally foreign to me these days.  I live in constant fear that I’ll get sick because I know my body and mind need rest. But I’m stumped when it comes to figuring out the right formula to actually achieve this.

So I decided to do some research. A healthy living article in the Huffington Post called “How To Shut Your Brain Off When You Just Can’t Sleep,” by Shelby Freedman Harris, Psy.D. gives several tips for those of us with an overactive mind. The problem is, I’m not so sure these tips can or will work for me. For example, one of the tips is to “not worry in bed.” Yea, um, not an option for me! I’m a mother, a teacher, a wife…worry is something I will never be able to get rid of. I try not to let it rule my world, of course, but worrying is a fact of my life. The article suggests that when you can’t calm the worries that plague your mind, to get out of bed. Getting up and going to another room, doing a simple chore, etc may help someone else realize how sleepy they are and enable them to go back to bed and actually sleep, but I guarantee you that WILL NOT work for me! Not only would that wake up the pets and truly give me more to deal with, but if I get up out of bed and start doing something, my body will think it’s time to get stuff done! Sadly, that is a technique that will not work for me in my circumstances.

On a plus side, the article mentions “mental imagery.” Now this is something I do try to attempt when I can’t shut my brain off. They say there’s a reason why people say to count sheep. Something about the repetitive, soothing nature of it. I’m not a math person, so that would just aggravate me, but I do like to use visualization. So I’ll try to envision myself getting a massage or floating on a cloud, or lounging weightless in a glorious, hot tub. Sometimes I am able to actually do this and it helps me get back to sleep. Yet sometimes I work so hard trying to focus on relaxing imagery that my brain engages and leads me to other thoughts that keep me awake. Though it doesn’t always work, it’s definitely worth a try!

They say to write things down, create your to-do list so that you don’t engage in “unproductive worry.” I am a to-do list maker, something major! And, fortunately, this past year, I have found my go-to solution for helping me remember to do things. In addition to hand written to-do lists, I create alarms on my phone to remind me of things that I need to accomplish, whether it’s a simple daily task or something major. That alarm going off on my phone is my little savior at helping me not to fret about forgetting to do something on my list. And I don’t have some annoying alarm noise go off, I use a song that will make me smile or do a little dance as I’m reminded of what I need to do. My family, students and fellow teachers know that if they hear a song start randomly playing from my pocket, there must be something Shannon needs to do. It’s funny, but hey, it helps!

sleeplessI wish I had the time and energy to create an official daily wind-down, decompression time that could allow me to engage in some honest relaxation, distancing me from worries and to-do’s, but some days I don’t have the energy to make that bubble bath. Sadly, sometimes I think of a soak in a bath as more work ‘cause I’d have to prep and clean the tub and in the end, use up more time that I could’ve/should’ve just been in bed sleeping. Pathetic, I know. Ever feel like you put yourself in a position where you just can’t seem to win? Yea, me too.

There are many tips and techniques to help one get better sleep, ranging from drinking a warm glass of milk to turning off the TV and any other stimulating gadgets. I’m a firm believer that the TV should be off and the room dark and calm, but… and yes, another BUT…some days when I have had a really tough, stressful day, I need that TV on, at least for a bit. Watching something light and fluffy can help keep my mind off the stress, so that I
can indeed eventually get some sleep instead of letting the stress consume me. That’s what good stories, whether from a book, magazine, the television, etc., are wonderful for – helping us escape! I could write page after page of tips and techniques. Ha! I wish I had the time and energy to do so, but who am I kidding, my phone alarm has already been playing a Bruno Mars song repeatedly, reminding me of yet another thing I must accomplish on my fat to-do list.

So what are the techniques that work for you? After doing my research, I know that I’ve got to make more of an effort to get more exercise, create a solid routine for winding down at the end of the day and some way, somehow find more ways to simply relax. If I ever figure out the winning equation for shutting my brain off at night, I’ll definitely share. In the meantime, please do share what works for you. It might just be something that could actually help create some zzz’s for us overactive brainiacs!

Here are some links with more info on how to get better sleep.

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/how-to-sleep-better.htm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/23/shut-off-brain-cant-sleep_n_5161774.html

http://www.youbeauty.com/life/habits-for-better-sleep/

Working with Friends

By: Shannon Boatwright

I recently read an enlightening article called, “How Coworkers Affect Your Job Satisfaction,” written by Jacob Shriar.

In the article, I came across an interesting bit of information about the results of a 20-year study on the work environment in all sorts of different job fields. They expected factors like long work hours or having a mean boss to be a major factor affecting a person’s health. According to the article, “What they found instead, was that the factor most closely linked to health was the support of coworkers. The meaner a colleague was, the higher their risk of dying. According to the study, middle-aged workers with little or no “peer social support” in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the study.”

 Wowzers! Isn’t that crazy!? This was really eye opening for me, especially since lately I have felt especially thankful for my amazing coworkers. I am truly blessed to have colleagues that are not only supportive, but many of them are like family. We’ve created a special bond that has helped us all to better survive and make the best of our job situations. I always say, if it weren’t for them, I’d never last in my position in our messed up education system. We band together and lift each other up. We always have each other’s backs. We love and care for one another. The support is real and genuine. I can’t imagine my life without these people I’ve come to know and love.

Reading this article just added scientific back-up to what I knew in my heart already: having friends at work is truly important to our mental health. Check out the article link above and take stock of your own work environment. Do you have a friend at work? Do you have a family of fabulous colleagues? It really is important and can be so beneficial to your overall health! If you’re like me and are blessed to have an incredible support system at your place of work, thank those special friends. Let them know how much you appreciate them. As they say…appreciate the good people in your life. They are hard to come by!

To my family at CMS, I positively adore you all! I’m here for you and can’t thank you enough for being there for me in return. You fill my heart and lift my soul! Big smiles and millions of thank you’s!

Creative, Special Book Wreaths

By: Shannon Boatwright 

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I had the privilege of learning a new craft before the holidays, thanks to a dear colleague. One day at school, at the start of the year, I happened to see a beautiful, very unique wreath made of the pages of a book displayed in our library. I thought it was fabulous! I discovered that my colleague had actually made it. She offered to teach me how to make one. I took her up on her offer and in time discovered what a joy it was to create something so cool, unique and special. And the interesting thing is that this particular craft is so inexpensive! Yes, it is time consuming, twisting the pages and getting everything positioned just right to make all the pieces come together into a lovely creation worthy of being displayed. But it is definitely a cheap project. I bought a few books from the dollar store, choosing books that had good pages. And also from the dollar store, I bought foam board and some more glue sticks for the glue gun I already had at home. And that’s it! One wreath costs me less than $5.

a-collection-of-book-wreaths-before-they-were-given-as-gifts

Creating these lovely book wreaths really was a labor of love. The expense is not in the materials, but in the time. I spent several hours over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday making these particular wreaths to give as Christmas gifts. I only wish I’d had the time to make more! There are so many fabulous ways you can create wreaths with the pages of a book! Or, as you’ll see in my picture, a book wreath can be made with sheet music as well. I was especially proud of this wreath that I made for my Mama.

the-book-wreath-made-of-sheet-music

So if you’re the creative type and love to take the time to make handmade special things to give to others, you ought to give this project a try! You can research them online and find all sorts of amazing ideas for your own creations.  Here’s to getting crafty and putting time and love into special handmade gifts!

The Midlands Arts Conservatory

Providing a Free, Public Education that Combines Arts and Academics

By: Shannon Boatwright

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Just one year ago, in January of 2016, I wrote this blog entry sharing news of a mission to bring an arts conservatory to Columbia, SC. With great zeal, I shared my support for this mission and why the arts are such a huge part of creating a quality, top notch education for the young minds of today.

“Amazing things happen and great knowledge is attained when the arts help to bring core school subjects to life. The joy of the arts is that they can be integrated into every subject. In a perfect educational world, every school would have a fine arts program and arts integration would be a part of every school’s curriculum. Students and teachers would only benefit; there are no negative aspects whatsoever, only the deepening of understanding. To those who recognize the benefits of, engage in and truly support the arts, bravo to you! And thank you.”
– Shannon Elizabeth Boatwright

I am thrilled to help announce that people have rallied behind the mission of the Midlands Arts Conservatory (MAC) and an outpouring of support is helping to make it a reality! Please help me continue to support the mission and share the progress of MAC. There are informational meetings being held this coming weekend that parents and families can attend to get all their questions answered. If you know of any student in the area with a passion for the arts, absolutely do not hesitate to share this info with them! For more details, please read the information below and share it in every way that you can. Let’s help make the arts shine so that young minds can be enriched, deeper understanding can be attained and creativity can thrive!

Arts Charter School to Open in Columbia:
Midlands Arts Conservatory

A committee of arts professionals, educators, parents and community members is moving forward with plans to open an arts charter school in Columbia. The Midlands Arts Conservatory (MAC) will have a focus on the visual arts, theater, dance and music.

mac-logo-squareThe school will hold two informational meetings for parents and the community: on Saturday, January 7th at the North Main branch of the Richland Public Library at 4:00pm, and on Sunday, January 8th in the second floor theatre at the main branch of the Richland Public Library at 3:00.

MAC will provide a free, public education that effectively combines arts and academics. The school plans to open in the Fall of 2017 with 6th and 7th grades, and will add a grade level each year, reaching 12th grade in 2022. The Midlands Arts Conservatory will be free for any South Carolina resident student in the appropriate grade level who has an interest in the arts and is willing to meet the high academic expectations of the school.

The school will be staffed with highly qualified arts and academic instructors in an environment that provides training, exposure and practical application in the arts and the integration of arts into the academics of the school. The student-teacher ratio in classes will be no higher than 20 to 1 and lower in specialized arts areas. MAC will have small group and individualized instruction in the arts with a wide spectrum of academic support available.

The MAC Planning Committee members understand the importance of a high-quality arts education for young people. They want to ensure that every child in the Midlands has the opportunity to experience the power of creative self-expression.

For more information, contact J Britt at (803)-630-1622 or (803)-630-1MAC; visit http://midlandsartsconservatory.org; or follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MidlandsArtsCon.