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Creating Valiant Spaces as a Theatre Educator

A group of teachers stretching during the Valiant Spaces workshop with Jade Lambert-Smith at TEC 2022

Many people today spend a third of their day more at work, and for educators, that number can be exponentially higher. According to a study by the RAND Corporation, during the 2022-23 school year, teachers worked 53 hours per week on average compared to 46 amongst fellow adults, and those hours can be even longer for theatre teachers when you factor in time spent on auditions, rehearsals, and show prep.

At the Theatre Education Conference (TEC), Jade Lambert-Smith presented a workshop titled “Curating Valiant Space for Personal and Professional Development,” which explored the importance of safe spaces for theatre educators as part of her Living Authentically Method of Artistry (LAMOA).

EdTA caught up with her to learn some easy steps educators can implement today to begin building their valiant spaces.

Why Do Theatre Educators Need Valiant Spaces?

Social-emotional learning and the importance of mental health are more prevalent in schools today, yet much of the focus is on the student side and rarely applied to teachers’ well-being. “For teachers specifically, valiant space is about first and foremost serving yourself, because we find that we’re starving bakers at the end of the day,” Lambert-Smith says. “We bake all this bread, and everyone eats, and then there’s none left for us.”

Creating valiant spaces is aimed at helping educators create safe spaces – both physical and mental – to help develop a healthier culture for themselves and as a learning opportunity for students.

“As one of the prime examples of mentorship or leadership these students experience, we’re modeling what they want to be or what they’re going to become later,” she says. “We have to make sure the space feels safe for us and we feel like we can thrive. When we do that, ultimately the creativity flourishes in a reciprocal manner – it’s wonderful in that way.”

4 Tips for Creating Your Valiant Space

Ready to start building your valiant space? Like many mental health practices, it requires intentionality and transparency. Not only should you be focusing on the things within your control (like your physical space), but also ensuring your students and administration are aware so they can help support your needs.

A few steps Lambert-Smith suggests include:

1. Design the Ideal Environment

Theatre educators don’t get much of a choice when it comes to where they work. But today, many companies focus on creating over-the-top office spaces to get their staff back in the office, and it’s clear to see there’s value in designing a fun and creative space for educators and students, too.

  • Flexible Seating: Incorporate different types of seating, like cushions, bean bags, or movable chairs, which allow for a dynamic space that can be easily reconfigured based on your needs – whether for classes or your own downtime.
  • Tea or Coffee Station: Set up a small area with a tea kettle, coffee maker, and a selection of teas and coffees. Whether you need it for a little wake-you-up or as a comforting ritual, a warm drink can always do the trick.
  • Snack Drawer: Coffee not your go-to? Keep a snack drawer at the ready. Just remember, mix in some healthy selections like nuts, dried fruits, or granola bars to serve as a “guilt-free” energy booster.
  • Speakers: Install a good quality sound system to play your favorite showtunes or mix in some relaxing lo-fi throughout the day. Music can be a powerful tool in setting the tone of the class and to unwind after tough days.
  • Adjustable Lighting: Just as it does onstage, lighting sets the mood for different activities. Soft, warm lighting can create a relaxed environment, while brighter lights can energize and focus attention.
  • Personal Achievement Display: Save some space to showcase personal achievements or memorable moments from past productions. This serves as a reminder of the educator’s journey and successes in theatre.

For Lambert, one of her secret weapons is scents. “I have a lot of essential oil diffusers with lavender; a ‘wild child’ will walk in and Zen right out.”

Jade Lambert-Smith discussing Valiant Spaces at the 2023 International Thespian Festival.
Jade Lambert-Smith discussing Valiant Spaces at the 2023 International Thespian Festival.

2. Set Daily Intentions

Whether it’s your planning period or just the quick downtime between classes, working on your mental space is just as important as your physical space. A key element to this practice is to focus on your mood and intentionality – and that doesn’t mean just telling yourself to be positive.

These mindfulness moments are opportunities where “I’m intending how I want the rest of the day to go,” says Lambert. “And that can be anything from ‘I’m gonna take deeper breaths,’ or ‘I’m only going to work on this one scene,’ even when your intention was to do a lot more.”

The goal is to choose a very specific and controllable outcome that can help you get back on track and in control of your day and mental state.

3. Make Your Schedule and Needs Known

A 12-plus hour day can be the norm for theatre educators – particularly during show season. Although it can be difficult to limit the number of hours needed any given day, creating valiant spaces is also about setting guardrails to protect your schedule and needs.

For Lambert-Smith, that included routine walks during planning periods, morning time to “take it all in,” and without fail, a 15-minute break every day to decompress, of which she made her students aware to avoid interruptions.

“It modeled something in my students because they saw a shift in my patience and compassion,” Lambert-Smith says. “Sometimes I would hear people say, ‘It’s Ms. Jade’s 15 minutes, you can’t bother her.’ It became a game-changer.”

And when it comes to getting your admins on board? “Sitting down with your administrators or department chair proactively at the beginning of the year and letting them know how you intend to curate your classroom experience creates a level of buy-in that leads to less stress,” Lambert- Smith says.

4. Focus on What You Can Control

Theatre educators are often a department of one, whether that means they are the only theatre educator in their school or in their district. And while resources like time and funding are limited, expectations for the program are not. For many theatre educators, including Lambert-Smith, this can often feel debilitating.

“I’m a dramaturg, actor, producer, and director by trade, but I’m not a technical person by any means,” she says. “Asking me to run a large award-winning program by myself is stressful because many programs that do well have four or five teachers.”

But often, this stress really stems from being judged on work that isn’t your strong suit, which is where the affirmations mentioned previously come into play.

“When I asked teachers whether they affirm their students, they all raised their hand. And I said, ‘Well, how many of you affirm yourselves?’ and no one raised their hand,” Lambert-Smith says. “It reminds them they deserve the same treatment they’re giving their students and it’s okay to connect to how this work fulfills you.”

A group of teachers stretching during the Valiant Spaces workshop with Jade Lambert-Smith at TEC 2023
Jade Lambert-Smith with a group of educators at TEC 2023

The solution? Focusing on your strengths and things you can control. “I had to release the stress around that [technical theatre elements] because I know what it requires to create an amazing set and do amazing lighting design, and I know that’s not in my wheelhouse,” she says. “If I spent all my time comparing myself to the excellent technical director instead of affirming the thing I did well, that just leads to more stress and anxiety.”

The Impact?

Being a theatre educator is always going to come with its challenges. And while successful productions and student experiences can be the payoff, ignoring your mental health and satisfaction is never the right call.

Although adding essential oils and tea stations to your classroom or working on your personal affirmations can seem “different,” the work to create valiant spaces can help ensure a better overall experience as an educator.

“It’s very old-school, but don’t knock it until you try it,” says Lambert-Smith. “It brings more joy out of your day if you’re focused on what you want as opposed to planning for what you think is going to go wrong.”

 

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