Hitting the high notes in the classroom
For Nancy Shotts, the piano teacher at W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy, Dallas ISD is home. Her passion for music started at 6 or 7 on a “little Hammond organ” and was fostered first at Bayles Elementary School and then at Harold Wendell Lang Sr. Middle School and Skyline High School. She returned to Dallas ISD as a teacher and for the past 18 years has been developing her students’ own talents.
While she loves nothing more than encouraging her students to be “superstars” with their music, she always emphasizes the life lessons at the heart of every ensemble, duet or concert. These lessons include how to focus, how to be dedicated and how to perform under pressure; and each one serves as a reminder to her students that their end goal is growth, not perfection. The “performance pyramid” is one of many visuals she uses to get this point across.
“The bottom level is when you first are looking at a piece of music and you don’t know how to play any of it, but you study it and you figure out the patterns,” she said. “The next level, you are learning the notes and trying to make it all come together. Then the top level of the pyramid is where we want to be, and the pinnacle is that very highest point. You’re not going to be perfect, but if you are growing—that’s the standard.”
To further emphasize music’s life lessons, Shotts encourages her classes to follow an acrostic for “piano,” where “p” stands for pride, “i” stands for integrity, “a” stands for artistry, “n” stands for knowledge (with a silent “k”) and “o” stands for ownership.
“This is what we’re all about,” she tells her students. “Yes, we’re learning to play the piano, but these are our core beliefs. This is what I want you to demonstrate throughout the whole entire school, not just in piano but also in your family and your neighborhood.”
One of Shotts’ biggest personal lessons in her 18 years of teaching has been authenticity. She has seen time and time again how intuitive her students are, so she works hard to be dependable, trustworthy and honest. As a result, her students recognize that she values them and are far more receptive to her teaching strategies and plans.
Shotts is preparing for the 2022-2023 school year with a new theme to motivate her students: flourishing. After adjusting to so many changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shotts believes they are ready to thrive, and she will continue to apply her passion for teaching and music to help them achieve their goals, whether they hope to become an engineer or pursue piano at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
“These are students who wouldn’t be able to have private lessons. Their parents aren’t even able to look for that type of opportunity, much less pay for it and get them where they need to be, so the piano program makes music available to them,” Shotts said. “It’s just been a dream come true for me to be here at Greiner, so I appreciate that greatly.”