Open Forum

Mentor Spotlight: Kathleen Woods

By Ginny Butsch posted 05-26-2020 15:01


Earlier this year, we launched a brand new Community program called Mentor Match. This unique online networking and career development tool is an EdTA members-only benefit that helps you find, connect, and share experiences with others. Our Mentor Match spotlight will feature some of the incredible mentors who are available to help you accomplish your professional goals.

Our current featured mentor is Kathleen Woods, an educator with over 40 years of classroom experience. Kathleen has served as a Thespian troupe director and on the boards for both California State Thespians and the California Educational Theatre Association. Kathleen plans to retire from Palo Alto High School at the end of the year and is looking forward to sharing her knowledge with mentees.

How long did you teach/have you been teaching? What subjects/classes?

My teaching career started in 1979 in Auburn, Washington. Since that time, I have run three large high school programs with Thespian troupes (including Auburn High School). I also taught over a dozen different courses and directed productions at San Jose State University and numerous community colleges. In addition, I have worked with students in every grade levelas well as adults of all ages. Subjects that I have taught include acting, directing, technical theatre, voice and diction, theatre history, acting with style, college level writing, storytelling, creative dramatics, theatre production, comedy in performance, Shakespeare/Chaucer, and philosophy.


What are your areas of expertise?

Directing (I have an MFA and professional experience, as well as years in theatre education). Building successful, collaborative teams with students and adults. Developing student leadership. Inclusivity. Thespian Troupe activities including Improvisation (Comedy Sportz) and fundraisers such as Play in a Day. Interfacing with theatre professionals in the community.


Why did you sign up to be a mentor?

To give back to a profession that has been so wonderful to be part of. As I retire, I am very interested in using my experience to support theatre educators. The job is challenging in the best of times and I believe passionately in the work. There are a number of mentors throughout my career who have been instrumental in my longevity and my ultimate success in the field. They not only helped me learn a variety of instructional and management strategies; they also helped walk me through some very difficult professional challenges through which I grew and was able to continue as a theatre educator.


Describe yourself in three words.

Energetic, Theatre passionate, Kind


Do you have any special training or certification?

I have the following: An MFA in performance with an emphasis in Directing, California Clear Credential in English, Career Tech Ed Certification in Arts & Entertainment, California Community College Credential, numerous workshops, training, and Professional Development through Educational Theatre Association, American Alliance for Theatre in Education, Thespian, and the Greater Good Institute in Berkeley.


Did you ever have a mentor or role model? What did you learn from them?

My first mentors were college professors who believed in me and helped me learn about all aspects of theatre. Other mentors have included directors in children's theatre, directors who I worked with in graduate school and afterwards on professional projects. My current colleague, Jeff Bengford at Westmont High School, and I have collaborated for years in various ways. I always look to him for ideas and opinions. Through California Thespians, two individuals who I have worked with for years, and who represent the best in theatre education (and who have helped me over the past twenty two years are Gai Jones and Krista Carson-Elhai.


Why do you believe theatre is important?

Human beings are storytellers by nature. We each have our own story and need to tell ours and hear the stories of others to make sense of, and appreciate and enjoy life.  Theatre as storytelling distills and enhances human experiences of all types. Despite the current hiatus, I believe theatre will always exist, and nothing will ever replace the experience of live theatre. Theatre education helps students develop lifetime skills that serve them no matter what they do with their lives. Through participation in theatre class and/or productions, they also develop lifetime memories. I know this for a fact as I am in touch with students as far back as forty-one years ago!


What is your greatest challenge (or what was your greatest challenge in the classroom)?

As a new teacher, my greatest challenge was classroom management. Over the years, I developed successful strategies for that. Finding the time to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of each student has increased teacher expectations over the years (mental health, individual learning styles and limitations, etc.). Overcoming mistaken thinking that theatre is not "academic" and that students are better served taking AP classes and or attending SAT tutoring rather than participating in a production.


Tell us about the best day of your career.

One of the best days was the opening GALA for the new Performing Arts Center at Palo Alto High School. I was intimately involved in the proposal, planning, development and opening of the building. It was a highlight of a years-long project. The Gala featured every performing arts student in the school and the new building (now four years old) is a jewel on the campus.


What is/are the resource(s) you most recommend to others in your profession?

Involvement in Educational Theatre Association and Thespians. It may seem like extra work, but the payoff is more than worth it. California Educational Theatre Association (if you are in California), American Alliance for Theatre in Education, Broadway Teacher's Workshop.


Do you have any tips for theatre educators who are just beginning their careers?

Find a mentor. Develop positive relationships with your department and other school theatre programs in your district. Learn to delegate. Work closely with middle school and high school to start to develop a strong river of students into your program. Do all you can to get the support of your administration. Learn how to manage your time so you don't get burned out. Take advantage of professional development opportunities.


What is the best advice anyone has ever given to you?

My first year of teaching, an experienced English teacher advised me to start out with more control of the class than I might think I needed. She said it is easier to relax rules than try to impose them later. I am not a strict person by nature, but took that advice to heart. Setting boundaries and understanding that, if they are fair, a reasonable structure is better for students and the teacher. 


What is your favorite musical (or play)? What makes it so special?

The Secret Garden. I love the story and the music. A production I directed won a regional competition.


What was the first play you ever saw?

The Unsinkable Molly Brown in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with my grandmother when I was about nine years old. It was a turning point for me. I remember being so excited I thought I would vibrate out of my seat. All I could think was, "I want to do that!" And I have!!


Tell us about the moment that made you decide to get involved in theatre.

See above. Also, when I was in my late twenties and transitioning in my work, I had a conversation with a high school theatre teacher. I was so excited by what he told me about his work, and from that point on I headed in that direction.


What was the most difficult element of a production you’ve ever had to manage?

Students behaving inappropriately. Parents questioning my decisions, writing and/or talking in ways that were inappropriate and untrue, and going above my head and making a big stink.  Challenges inherent in touring shows.


What would you consider your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

Learning to be aware of and how to work with the political side of situations in ways that lead to successful outcomes without compromising my values. I just wanted to teach and direct, but when you have a large, visible program, learning to keep the bigger picture in mind and work so it is in the favor of you and your program are essential skills.


What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?

The satisfaction of working with the students who struggle with difficult issues and/or are very quiet/shy who stick with theatre and grow out of their shell, and become part of the high school theatre community. Being involved with the successful development and opening of three different high school performing arts centers. Serving on two state theatre education boards. My professional directing work. Directing a new musical which was selected for presentation at the local professional Tony Award winning theatre (TheatreWorks) for presentation as part of their New Works Festival (2018). Going to the Fringe Festival twice and earning a five-star review for one of those productions.


If you are looking for guidance about running a Thespian troupe, directing, classroom management, or curriculum development, Kathleen would be the perfect choice. To request Kathleen as your mentor:

  1. Enroll as a mentee.
  2. Visit Kathleen’s
  3. Click on the blue “Send me a Mentor Request button.”

Learn more about Mentor Match here. Feel free to contact Ginny Butsch with any questions about this opportunity: