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Archive for stress

Perseverance

In the past few weeks, I have had the fortunate opportunity to clinic sixteen shows in different parts of Texas.  I always leave feeling challenged, inspired, and blessed.  This past weekend, I returned with a huge appreciation for the life lessons we teach students while working on a production.  We teach students about perseverance, commitment, and the strength we gain when working with others.

As I have worked with each director, I recognize the toll the long hours and stress put on each of us.  Preparing for the competition season, working within a budget, lesson planning, teaching, grading etc. (not to mention having a family) is draining on all of us.  With the earlier contest dates, we are all scrambling to re-adjust our schedules to be prepared for that first contest.  Even with the best-laid plans, unexpected delays seem to pop up.  I know many of you have had additional, unforeseen complications with obtaining production rights, commitments (or should I say non-commitments) from students, and the flu season.

About the time I am at the end of my stress level and ready to throw in the towel, I am reminded of the invaluable lessons we are teaching our students as we press through all of the obstacles to prepare our production.   When students see us continuing to work hard, staying positive, working around all hurdles, they are learning life lessons.  These are the lessons a student cannot learn from a book, they learn from example and their own experience.  This is why we continue to pick up our bootstraps and keep moving forward.

In the past couple of weeks, I know of three productions that have had to start all over.  All three companies had created their super-objective and commanding image, prepared their scripts, begun costuming, designed a set, gathered props, etc.   Their students had already memorized their lines, were blocking and developing a character.  Then, because of some unexpected obstacle, the current production had to be halted.  I am afraid in today’s society, too many people would give up and quit – but not theatre teachers.  We know how to look at the worst of situations and turn them into the best possible scenario.  What a gift we give our students.

We all could tell stories about companies who pulled together to overcome complications – stories about changing productions with few rehearsals left before a contest or opening night, students who failed to commit, administration that stopped a show or concept, unfortunate accidents or sicknesses.  This list could go on and on.   Very few times can we name the times a company quit because of these unfortunate incidents.  Instead, we have watched as directors and students pulled together to produce quality theatre.  More importantly, we have watched as directors taught young adults how to persevere in life.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  We cannot quit in the face of adversity,

As I watched a group of young actors enthusiastically welcome a production change due to the lack of commitment from some of their classmates and peers, I stood in awe.  I never heard one complain.  I never heard one say they could not do it or that it could not be done.  I watched these students embrace the challenge with a contagious eagerness.  Those students are the ones who will survive in life.  They are the ones who will succeed in their endeavors because they did not quit when it was difficult.  They backed up, re-evaluated the situation and embraced a solution.

As theatre teachers, we begin modeling how to persist through adversity early in the production process. When we begin designing a set and have to adapt our vision with the reality of the space, contest or our budget, we are modeling perseverance.   When we find the need to recast the lead actor, we are demonstrating how to work through adversity.   Students watch us face an obstacle, re-evaluate and develop a solution through all aspects of the production process.  I realize now, that every time we adjust our plan of action to meet the needs or restrictions at the moment, we are modeling life lessons to our students.  What a gift we give our students every day without even realizing it.

As you continue preparing for your competition season, don’t disregard the little lessons you are teaching everyday.  Every time you stay positive in the face of adversity, your students are watching you.  Every time you refuse to give up or quit and, instead, continue to work hard, re-evaluate and keep going, you are modeling the lessons in life that make people succeed.   Those lessons are more important than any administrative evaluation or trophy you can win.

 

 

 

Beyond Shocktober- Confronting Stress for Improvement

“It’s that time of year.”  Every teacher knows that the school year has a predictability, a cycle of excitement, stress, anticipation and reflection.  Sometimes we attribute behaviors and energies in the classroom to the phases of the moon, the weather or the anticipation of holidays but we all know that certain times of the year bring unique challenges. The last few years I have noticed that October brings a specific brand of stress and worry amongst teachers and students.  In the profession, we refer to it as “Shocktober”.  Shocktober is the convergence of all the positive energy and plans you made in the summer for student and personal success and the reality of time constraints, increased expectations, and that annual sinus infection. Shocktober can leave you feeling deflated and rethinking the whole year and even your future in teaching.  I think this quote from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring captures the feeling in a perfectly creative simile: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

If you are like me, this level of exhaustion is the perfect breeding ground for doubt.  With all the pressures of the remainder of the year (class productions, musicals, UIL One Act play, etc.) looming, finding a wellspring of energy and inspiration is critical to being your best for students. Most of us grind through to ultimately crash during the holiday break but what if we could address our needs before the break in order to enjoy our holidays and recharge. How do we turn “Shocktober” into “No-Fear November”?  How do we refocus and harness stress to maximize the time left in the year before the holidays? How do we create a stability that not only sustains us but inspires our students to make the most of the sweet spot of instruction that is the end of the first half of the school year.

Confront your stress and conquer the worry so you can improve.

Worrying about what is going to happen if we don’t meet expectations becomes crippling during “Shocktober”.  For me the time leading up to the first production of the season was always a time where I felt the pressure mount. I meticulously crafted a spectacular season and set instructional goals in the summer and as the year began to de-rail those plans and force me to adapt, I found myself losing sleep which only intensified my reactions to my mistakes, changes at school or stress. This cycle of worry reminds me of a story I once heard about Willis H. Carrier the engineer and founder of the Carrier Corporation, the company many of us use for our air conditioning system. Early in his career, Carrier made a mistake and installed a massive air handling system that didn’t work. After nights of not sleeping, Carrier adopted three steps that changed his life.

  1. Analyze the situation fearlessly and honestly and figure out the worst that can happen as a result.
  2. Accept the worst outcome
  3. Calmly devote time and energy to improve upon the worst which has already been accepted mentally.

Carrier’s process of confronting fear and worry is a proven practice for success and certainly helped me get back to sleep.  I think it is also not only an excellent way for you to process your fears mid-year but it is also a process that your students may be able to use to re-focus and continue to improve.  This process can be done in a journal entry or through a visual collage in the classroom or on the back wall of the theater. You can also use a student sharing approach to assess class and production goals. One technique to address goal evaluation is to have students practice active listening in pairs.  Start by talking about opportunities and solutions related to the topic at hand to help move beyond current feelings of stress and/or tension. The activity involves one student talking while his/her partner(s) listens without comment. Set the stage with students by establishing rules for safe sharing. For example: Be respectful of all feelings, ideas, opinions. Before beginning, model the activity using yourself and student volunteers to clearly demonstrate the activity.

Instructions:

Part One

  1. Students should be in pairs; have students find a partner (e.g. you can number off students 1, 2, 1, 2…).
  2. Student #1 talks while student #2 simply listens (e.g. ask Student 1 to share how they are feeling about the topic and why? Or about any concerns or worries they are experiencing).
  3. After 1-3 minutes the students switch roles and student #2 talks while student #1 listens for another 1-3 minutes (Student #2 now talks about the same question)

Part Two

  1. After the pairs are done sharing, group students in triads (groups of three; again you may number off students 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 …).
  2. Student #1 talks while students #2 and #3 listen (e.g. ask Student 1 to talk about opportunities and solutions related to current issue or stressors he/she is experiencing or concerned about).
  3. Every 1-3 minutes switch until each student in the group has a turn to talk.
  4. OPTIONAL: Students may share with whole class their experience of sharing thoughts and feelings while being listened to and what it is like to listen intentionally without comment.
  5. Check in with students to see if they feel any sense of relief, calmness, focus or less stressed as a result of the activity.

Extension:
Teacher may follow-up by having students practice peer sharing at other times. Encourage students to practice this method on their own amongst themselves for mutual support.

In addition to confronting immediate stress, processing fears can help with adjusting goals for the remainder of the year and strengthen the team bond of your class or production company.  Now that you know what students are in your program, what your classes look like, what level your students are at and where you need to get them, you are prime to re-assess your goals and adjust for success.  Hearing their thoughts and solutions can only strengthen your focus for improvement. As you finish your first productions and speak with your students about your next shows and class projects, consider working as a team to address what has worked (behaviors, routines, planning, execution, leadership, etc.) and what still needs work (clear communication, meeting expectations for rehearsal and performance, commitment, quality, teamwork, etc.)  Talking through the disappointment or frustrations of Shocktober and then making an action plan for success moving forward into No-Fear November can mean both you and your students will be prepared for the challenges and rewards of the new year.