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When I was listening to Derek Rhodenizer’s podcast with Shawn Berry Clark on Beyond the Classroom, I was really excited by her perspective and style.  She spoke about pushing boundaries and putting yourself into your teaching. I related to her feeling of risk when she set out to start blogging, and I appreciated how she owned her story with strength and conviction. I wanted to connect with her and was thrilled when she agreed to come on the Personal Playlist Podcast. 

In January, Shawn took on a new job in a place that clearly needed her. She moved and even took a pay cut to be where she wanted to be and make a valued contribution. She was assigned to a school that was designated as a failing school and referred to as a “priority school”.  When she began, met administrators, teachers and coaches by trying to get to know them through a series of prompts. She found that giving people the chance to tell their stories was a valuable way to begin. The P3 is also a way to get to people’s narratives.

Shawn’s story is a unique one and doesn’t begin with a clear path to teaching. She journeyed in many different directions before she found education. She called it “floating from job to job”, and she dreamed that there was something better for her out there. Since she had not completed high school, her choices were somewhat limited.  She chose her nostalgia song for many reasons from the rhythm to the lyrics, “I think it’s one of those déjà vu things, or a dream that’s tryin’ to tell me somethin’.” Like the words of the song, her dreams really were telling her something that she needed to be doing. She felt trapped at one point, but she knew that she would find a way out. Shawn’s nostalgia song is PM Dawn’s Set Adrift in Memory Bliss:

 Shawn needed a new start in a new place with new people who built her up, so she moved and went to a technical college in Columbia, South Carolina. Her connection with a professor there set her, “…on the path to the straight and narrow.” Once she realized that learning could help her overcome what she called her “failures” she found her passion and kept going. Shawn got her degree in Psychology, two Masters degrees, one in Early Childhood Education and one in Ed Administration, and continued on to achieve her PhD. in Education Administration. From 1992-2012, Shawn was in school on a mission.

Keep on moving has been a theme throughout Shawn’s life.  She has learned a lot through her formal education and through informal education in the school of life. She had a daughter while in high school that she gave up for adoption. While this was an extremely challenging time for her, and she had family members that didn’t even know about it. Shawn and her daughter were reunited many years later through Facebook. Like the lyrics says, “The time will come one day,” and it did.  This song helped to remind her that she made it through some very difficult times by continuing to move forward. That song, which Shawn describes as something that tells her story but also makes her want to dance, came with a warning. Shawn has been told she has gorilla arms and dances like Elaine from Seinfeld:


I had trouble picturing that, especially to the beat of this 90’s neo-soul hit. This song still reflects the drive and determination of this amazing educator. Here is Soul ll Soul with Keep on Movin’

Dave Grohl wrote this next song after campaigning for John Kerry. Like interpreting literature, for which there are no wrong perspectives, this may mean something different for the artist than it does to the listener. For Shawn, this is a pick-me-up song. The message is one of breaking away from those things that confine you. She painted this picture of Jerry McGuire pumping himself up with a this Tom Petty Song (among others):

When it’s just the right song, it can do so much. In this song, Shawn hears the question as a challenge. “Is someone getting the best the best of you?”. This lights her on fire and motivates her to persevere. Here’s The Best of You by the Foo Fighters.

Shawn always breaks through and refuses to give in, ever. No one has gotten the best of her because her best just keeps on coming. Listening to her playlist is something Shawn says, “Everyone should do on a Monday. This could help people pick themselves up when they aren’t feeling like celebrating Monday.” We spoke about the power of music and she advocated for, “…using music for the teenagers, because music it is their life sometimes.” She added, “I can imagine the relationships being stronger almost immediately because I don’t know a teenager that doesn’t connect to music.” Shawn then describes how fundamental music is in the teenage life: getting ready to music in the car, in their mirrors, in their classroom. Music drives the children we work with, but it also drives so many people, and is a great way to connect to others and yourself.

Hearing Shawn’s story and thinking about how she connects to these songs was an amazing experience. Listen to Shawn’s P3 on VoicEd Radio.