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. 😉

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!

Carpe Diem!!

By: Shannon Boatwright

Seize the day and make your lives extraordinary!

The great Robin Williams spoke these incredible words in a brilliant film called “Dead Poets Society.” What a gem that piece of art was and still is. See the short movie clip below of our brilliant and gone-way-too-soon Mr. Williams giving this priceless piece of advice to a group of young men.

I actually use this saying in my middle school drama classes. It serves as a great way for me to hopefully inspire these kids and it helps me gain their attention. The students can be engaged in group work or pre-class chatter and I will yell “Carpe Diem!!!” and they will all respond, with passion, “Seize the Day!!!” It’s quite the empowering, cool experience. As soon as they finish saying the word “day”, the room is completely silent – which creates this really cool vibe in the air, especially after we’ve just yelled something so powerful, in unison.

I show my students the clip from the movie and use it as a way to inspire them to make the most of their time with me and throughout their day. Let’s face it, like Robin says, we will all one day be dead, it’s an inevitable part of life. So why not make the best of life while we’re living it? I encourage them to make a real effort, give everything their best shot. Life is too short to waste it away and be unhappy. Let’s make it count while we have the opportunity.

Now many of us, young students included, often see motivational videos about pursuing your dreams, getting out there and making great things happen – seizing the day! And a lot of these videos feature superstars, Olympic athletes…individuals who are exceptional and seem super-human. In my classes we discuss how these kinds of videos can indeed be very motivating and inspirational, yet it’s not always necessarily what the real world looks like for most of us. We can’t really stop everything we’re doing and go rule and rock the world. It’s just not quite that easy. We have responsibilities, requirements of life. In the real world, it’s not always feasible for anyone, much less a kid, to drop what they’re doing and suddenly reach for the stars, climb the tallest mountains, make a hit record overnight, create cures, or become president. It’s a process, succeeding at life. Seizing it takes hard work and effort. And I can guarantee a lot of us don’t look like visions of superhuman perfection while we’re making that effort. So…I make it a point to explain that when we use “Carpe Diem” in my class, we are using it as a means of gathering focus and reminding ourselves to make our best effort in that moment. Together we seize our day, making the best of the small moments that will lead us to do great things, big and small.

Here’s to making our lives extraordinary!

Carpe Diem!

Realize This is the Real World

By: Shannon Boatwright

So there’s this video circulating on Facebook. It’s been out in the web world for over 6 years now. But it’s resurfaced, rightly so, since we’re in total back-to-school mode. I’d seen it before but I recently watched it again, getting a good chuckle. As a good, hardworking teacher, you certainly get the point of the video. Any school employee that deals with craziness from parents will get this video.

Sure, there are unworthy people out there in the education system who should not be granted the privilege of teaching or even be in the presence of students. Sadly, passionless, burnt out, sad sacks exist in the education world. Sometimes you just can’t avoid those types. But the truth is, they are far and few between. There are millions of truly passionate teachers and dedicated folks who do care so very much and try their hardest to do everything they can do to provide the best education for our children.

 

Watching this video again reminded me of the great privilege I have to inspire, educate and hopefully create outstanding, respectable, hardworking individuals that will contribute to society. All that said, as you watch the video and chuckle too, whether you’re a parent, grandparent, guardian or supporter of children and education in any form, please remember that all the weight does not fall on the shoulders of the teachers, administration or support staff. An enormous part of creating, building, and molding a successful student must come from a student’s support system at home AND must be met with an individual student’s own effort and dedication to doing their best.

Like the school voicemail message states, this is the REAL world and “your child must be accountable and responsible for his or her behavior, classwork, and homework.” The answer to why a particular student is failing at anything, may not be due to a teacher’s fault. Always stop to consider this and make sure that your student, your child, is making an honest effort.

My personal mantra for the new school year, as a passionate, Arts-loving Drama teacher, is one of Brendon Burchard’s many fabulous quotes,

“Grant me the strength to focus this week, to be mindful and present,to serve with excellence, to be a force of love.”

Here’s to a successful new school year that will hopefully produce a sea of inspired, educated, standing-ovation-worthy students that will move on to do great things in their lives that will make a positive difference in this crazed world of ours!  🙂

I’d Rather Be…

By: Shannon Boatwright

I came across an anonymous quote that says, “I’d rather be completely exhausted from the hard times which breed success…than well rested from achieving nothing.” I can, with confidence, say that I have achieved this.

This special student message is one of the moments that makes all the hard work totally worth it!

This special student message is one of the moments that makes all the hard work totally worth it!

With each year I’ve been teaching in the public school arena, I’ve somehow managed to get busier. My first year, I was overwhelmed, proving myself and in survival mode as I dove into a whole new world. I certainly experienced firsthand the importance of needing to learn to say NO to taking on new things and responsibilities. I thought for sure I’d have it all down for my second year. Yes, I was better equipped with that first year under my belt, but fellow teachers and perfectionists know that we still take on the world and the busy-ness just truly never stops! I outdid myself with my shows and required trainings on top of planning a wedding and moving into a new house.

A precious student note that meant the world to me

A precious student note that meant the world to me

When my third year came along I guess I just wanted to really test myself and challenge myself to the core, because this past school year I:

  • Settled into a newly built school with no real classroom
  • Adapted to a new school schedule
  • Bought a new house, which led to yet another huge move
  • Took on two grad classes back-to-back while teaching full time
  • Produced/directed an enormous show with 56 honors drama students.

And I won’t even get into the personal stresses, responsibilities, requirements, commitments, health issues, and drama that are an inevitable addition to my professional life!

Grad class Final Grade - Worked incredibly hard for this A!

  Grad class Final Grade – Worked incredibly hard for this A!

Final grade for my last grad class of the year!!

Final grade for my last grad class of the year!!

I’m sure there are many of you out there who can totally relate. Needless to say, reading that quote made me realize that everything I do, everything I struggle to survive, all my busy-ness that keeps me on my toes and in a lot of cases, fills my heart, is all worth it in the end. I work so hard….so when those beautiful moments come – those moments that remind me why I’m working so incredibly hard and how my efforts help to inspire others make me a better teacher, a better mother, a better person – they make it all incredibly worth it.

Yes, I’d rather be exhausted from the success than bored amongst ineffective restfulness.

The Value of Creativity

By: Shannon Boatwright

Creativity. It’s the latest theme in education. I’ve studied it and have been given assignments on it in the latest graduate class I’m taking. Just this past week, for professional development in my school district, they had two speakers come speak to all of us teachers in the district. Their main topic? Creativity.

Watch the two short videos below. Seriously, take the time to watch them. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Sir Ken Robinson. I can say that this man’s brilliant, heart- and eye-opening words have impacted me on a level that words cannot describe. I am now an official and forever fan of this brilliant man, as his words have helped me to make sense of what I’ve been battling with since teaching in this warped education system. My heart and mind have felt a passion for exactly what he is talking about, I just could never quite put it into words in the eloquent and beautiful way that he has. On one level it fills my heart to have this confirmation that there are people out there that “get it.” Yet on the other hand, my heart aches because I feel the urge to spread this information and somehow figure out how to create a mission to help make this revolution a reality everywhere!

I feverishly took notes as I watched both videos, many times rewinding and listening again, letting Sir Robinson’s words sink in. I’m blown away by the way he has so simply and wisely shared this priceless information. I’ve been so inspired by some of these YouTube TED videos that I can honestly say that I think these videos have changed my life. A bit dramatic, I know. But this issue of recognizing our creative capacities and revolutionizing education away from an industrial model to an agriculture model is a part of my passion, a part of my talents and what I stand for. The thought of all the millions and millions of people in this world enduring what they do for a living, instead of enjoying it, breaks my heart.

The expectations, the wish, the absolute need at hand here is not something schools can do just by “differentiating,” “integrating,” “scaffolding”…. workshops, trainings, blah blah blah, are not the answer here. We need a total revolution. Like Sir Robinson says, we need to transform, not reform. We absolutely have to step away from this linear process and go organic! This is not a change that can effectively be made by throwing a few different teaching tools at teachers. In order for education to actually be effective and our bodies to stop being only a way to transport our heads, and escape this academic inflation that has gotten so out of hand, we have to radically rethink this!

So how can schools meet the expectations, the organic needs in order to infuse creativity back into the equation and keep education from being the industrialized, fast food model that it is? Well, this is where I am at a loss – due to the ridiculous nature of the system now, I feel like we hit a brick wall because the thought process is so ingrained with the higher ups. Very few seem willing to step outside of the current stifling lines. They’ll recognize how great the “concept” is and know in their hearts it’s the answer to making the world of education and the world as a whole a better place, but there are few willing to actually make the positive change happen. This is where I truly don’t know how to make this revolution a reality.

My mind races…. it would take a leader to gather the masses to force this change, to make it a requirement to change. But would any President take this chance? Would the masses come to their senses and support him or her? Would big money get in the way? What needs to happen to make a real revolution in education? I honestly don’t know. It’s going to take enough people taking a stand and insisting on change. At almost every turn at my own school, within my own district, we Arts teachers are given road block after road block. Everyone’s hands are tied, and everyone is overwhelmed and drowning in this fast food model of education. I agree with Sir Robinson completely, it is impoverishing our spirits and energy. I would love to know if Sir Robinson has or knows of a specific plan. I would love to pick his brain and find a solution together, a plan of attack.

For now, awareness is the key and the masses need to see, hear, and realize this killing of creativity that is so present in our education world today.

Here is a little short video I put together that highlights the topic.

 

Please feel free to leave comments here on the blog and share any brilliant ideas on this matter! What does creativity mean to YOU?

Reading Makes You Smarter

By: Shannon Shull

Reading makes you smarter. Yep, it does. It’s a proven fact that the more you read, the smarter you become. You open your mind, broaden your vocabulary, use your imagination…in a nutshell, you increase your “smarts” the more you read.

Reading

And here’s the eye opener – most people equate “reading” with actually reading novels, so some people will respond, “I don’t read!” Nowadays every adult reads, whether a newspaper, a magazine, or articles on their phone. Just because you’re not reading an actual book of fiction or nonfiction, does not mean you’re not reading.

I dare you to keep a journal of each and every thing you have to actually read for one day. Most people will give up writing anything down after a while because the truth is, reading is a part of our daily lives. Think about it; whether it’s road signs, advertisements, documents, recipes, manuals, bills, emails, menus ….I could go on and on. Now think about your life if you could not read. If you could not process any of the words constantly placed in front of you, life would be incredibly difficult. One could only imagine how heartbreaking this could be for an individual.

Reading

I recently had the pleasure of taking a graduate course titled, “Reaching Readers,” taught by a brilliant and beautiful woman, Ms. Kayce Cook MacLeod. Her enthusiasm and knowledge on the subject matter was proof that she not only cared, but has a true passion for education and teaching. It was such a pleasure to learn with her! Our required reading for the course was a book called, When Kids Can’t Read by Kylene Beers. This was a required graduate course that I had to take and I admit, at first I was dreading having to go to school after I’d just finished up teaching a full school year!

I was very pleasantly surprised to not only learn an enormous amount of valuable information, but also to be inspired. I admit, I was not looking forward to having to read what I thought would be a boring textbook for yet another required course. Boy was I surprised – and happily so! Dr. Beers is an incredible teacher who poured her heart into writing this book, sharing her experiences and helping to empower all who read her words. This book is a testament to years of realizations, applying strategies, reaching readers, and teaching a priceless tool required for a successful life. Reading is no simple task and each individual learns, reads, and comprehends differently. And that is ok! We all learn in our own unique ways. What might be a challenge for one individual may come easily for another, and vice versa. It’s a fascinating issue and so incredibly important.

Reading

As good teachers, we must create opportunities for success and recognition. One of my acting mentors taught me that ‘Acting is Listening,’ always reminding me that in order to genuinely react and BE a character, you must listen. The same rule applies for teaching. We cannot help others without listening to them. We must listen so that we can truly discover our students’ learning needs. I could go on and on about this subject but the point I want to make with this blog entry of mine is the importance of reading. The more time we spend reading, the more words we learn, the more we broaden our imaginations and minds, and thus, the more we increase our intelligence. In a nutshell, reading is GOOD for us!

I had many favorite quotes from Dr. Beers’ book. I literally marked that book all up as I got inspired and her words touched me in some way. But two of my favorite quotes include,

“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for one day; if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime!”

We need to help create generations of readers! And in order to do that we must model good reading behavior and show others how to do it.

That brings me to another of my favorite quotes from Dr. Beers’ book,

“Education is not like a Nike commercial! We must show students HOW to do it.”

Reading

I’m so thankful that my own children love to read. I’m thankful that their father is an advocate for reading and has helped to instill in them a passion and appreciation for reading. I’m thankful that as parents, we both provide opportunities and inspiration that encourage our children to read, use their imaginations and actually develop a love for reading. I’m thankful that my fiancé loves to read and that we all just flat out enjoy the luxury of being advanced readers.

If you’re a teacher, I encourage you to add When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do to your must-read book list. I guarantee it will make you a better teacher on so many levels! And if you’re not in any capacity to teach someone, I’d like for you to take away the utter importance and value of reading. It is a priceless art, a tool, a necessity for success in life. And I challenge you to read more! Let your minds soak in words. Let text speak to you. Let those words broaden your mind and, in some beautiful cases, activate your imagination and inspire you!