Ceramic Stories E-Book Launch

Excited to announce that I have a new e-book for sale! Ceramic Stories: Storytelling & Gardening Workshops

On a white background an image of terra cotta pots in bright paints on top of a table. Brushes, open cans, and scrap paper can also be seen around the project. Above and below the image the title and subtitle are situated in a handwriting like font.

On a white background an image of terra cotta pots in bright paints on top of a table. Brushes, open cans, and scrap paper can also be seen around the project. Above and below the image the title and subtitle are situated in a handwriting like font.

This text is a step-by-step guide to the Ceramic Stories I program I run over the summer. It’s a program that combines sensory play, nature play, and storytelling! Below is the introduction from the e-book.

Introduction

In the winter of 2017 I was at an open mic at Word Up Books in Washington Heights. The host encouraged us to chat with our neighbors during the set-up and their gregarious energy coupled with the free wine convinced me that perhaps I should, in fact, chat with my neighbor.

I was sitting next to the Community Engagement Manager for the New York Restoration Project (NYRP). I hadn’t heard of the organization before so we chatted about their work creating and maintaining community gardens around the city. Conversation eventually turned to what I did for work, so I talked about the poetry workshops I was running at Rebecca School.

At the end of the open mic we talked more and they mentioned that NYRP was looking for new programs. Would I be interested in bringing my workshops into one of their gardens? 

Of course I was! 

Community garden tucked between tall New York City buildings. In the foreground can be seen pavers marking a path, benches, compost bin, rain bucket, and array of trees and bushes. The side fencing of the garden is painted teal with red, poppy flowers painted eye level. Above are hung red and white cloud-human figures from a recent public-art exhibit.

Community garden tucked between tall New York City buildings. In the foreground can be seen pavers marking a path, benches, compost bin, rain bucket, and array of trees and bushes. The side fencing of the garden is painted teal with red, poppy flowers painted eye level. Above are hung red and white cloud-human figures from a recent public-art exhibit.

At this time I was still a teaching assistant and part time Creative Writing Teacher at the Rebecca School.  This was an opportunity to bring my workshops into a new location and how cool that they could be in a community garden?

After a few follow up emails and some site visits, I found myself workshopping in the beautiful Lucille McClarey Wicked Friendship Garden on West 150th Street.

In this first year I ran my Sensorimotor Poetry Workshops in the garden, combining movement and literacy learning, treating it much the same as I would a classroom session. I was too nervous to differentiate or deviate from my design.

The sessions went well enough, but when I was invited back to do it the following summer I knew I wanted to do something special, something unique to the space. This was a garden after all, not a classroom. I wanted to take my sensory ideas and infuse them with Nature Play.

Nature Play is a concept I first encountered at SXSWedu 2017. In a nutshell, it’s using nature as a means of experiential learning, especially in early childhood education. As an avid hiker and backpacker this thought engaged me and stayed with me well after the conference, but I had yet to find a way to incorporate it into my teaching.

Then inspiration struck. 

I was looking at some flower pots that my partner had painted in our apartment and thought: why not paint flower pots in the gardens…but paint stories. I thought of Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn” and the way ancient civilizations throughout the world told stories on their pottery. 

I decided to play on that concept by letting participants tell their stories on flower pots. Then, once the paint dried, we planted in them. When planting we had a sensory exploration of soil, pebbles, rocks, all that messy, garden stuff, and then at the end the children and families would had a potted flower to take home.

With the success of that summer’s program Ceramic Stories was born.

Terra Cotta flower pot with a painted green alligator. The alligator has a rainbow coming out of its mouth and flowers around it. The pot is sitting on a wooden bench and in the background is the greenery from a bush and ferns.

Terra Cotta flower pot with a painted green alligator. The alligator has a rainbow coming out of its mouth and flowers around it. The pot is sitting on a wooden bench and in the background is the greenery from a bush and ferns.

This text is a guide to run your own Ceramic Stories project. It includes an outline for each of the sessions (storyboarding, painting, planting) with example pictures, materials lists, storyboard, and a suggested resources list at the end. Throughout the text, participants will be referred to as gardeners.

As with all my work, please adapt Ceramic Stories to meet the needs of your gardeners. Even though it’s broken into three parts, it doesn’t need to be completed in three sessions. Take your time and have fun!

Get your copy of Ceramic Stories today!

Edupreneur: Backpacking & Business

I’m back in New York after a successful end-to-end hike of the Long Trail with my brother! It was an incredibly difficult, incredibly wonderful 273 miles over the high peaks and through the wilderness areas of Vermont. All those miles gave me time to think and, amidst those thoughts, I began piecing together some of the ways backpacking prepared me to venture off on my own as an edupreneur and poet. I’ve decided to share them below, as they’re important traits and considerations for anyone planning a similar adventure in self-employment!

Donnie Welch and Jonathan Welch, two bearded young men, stand on the Canadian-US border in Vermont. The two are standing on a silver, spiked monument with a white base which denotes the border line. Behind them can be seen mountains and forests with a clear cut line for the border. The looks on their faces are ones of excitement and joy

Donnie Welch and Jonathan Welch, two bearded young men, stand on the Canadian-US border in Vermont. The two are standing on a silver, spiked monument with a white base which denotes the border line. Behind them can be seen mountains and forests with a clear cut line for the border. The looks on their faces are ones of excitement and joy

Take Care of Little Things- Getting a blister 20 miles into a trail might not seem like a big deal, but if I had just left it alone then the next 253 would have been miserable. I needed to stop and take care of my feet with each blister and hot spot that popped up . Similarly, small issues like a broken link or mislabeled website header will inevitably come up when I’m working on larger projects like books or presentations. While it’s annoying to stop, especially if I’m in a good pace with the project, if I let those little things go they'll become problematic later. For example. If I don't fix that broken link because I don't think it's worth taking my time from my presentation, then if someone visits my site after hearing said lecture and can't access what they want, I've lost a customer.

Preparation & Planning - While developing a full business plan has become a thing of the past (check out the principles of the Lean Start-Up) I still had to make sure I had the right tools in place before I set out. Backpacking requires not just gear, but knowledge about my gear. It doesn’t do me any good to have a tent if I can’t set it up. Before I set off on my own business venture, I had practiced blogging, done volunteer workshops with the non-profits who would later hire me, and practiced talking about my curriculum at conferences. So make sure you’re ready before you head out the door!

Adapt, Adjust… Adapt Again - With a good plan you also need to be flexible, because you won't truly know what you'll need until you're in the field. Be ready to change on the fly or, drop something all together. When I started Donnie Welch Poetry I also started a podcast because I thought it would be the thing to do… then I realized I didn’t have clients yet. The podcast was a fine idea, but not practical from a business standpoint so I had to ditch it. Maybe it’ll be useful on a future adventure (I still have all the accounts in place), but I don’t need to be lugging it around right now.

Take Measurable Steps Toward a Goal- A big hike like the Long Trail takes patience. We had to chip away at miles over 25 days. This practice, breaking down a massive undertaking into small goals, is exactly what I do when I know I want to put out a new book. I don't expect to sit down and write, edit, and publish everything in one day or even one week, instead I break down what sections of it I'll need to do. I’ll start with a writing schedule, then I'll work on the design, then send out an advance text to close colleauges for feedback, finally I’ll plan the promotional work for a release. It’s a process. If I rushed right to the finish line, not only would the quality be sub-par, but I’d burn myself out!

No One's Going to Do It for You - As an entrepreneur you're on your own, no one is going to carry you up that mountain, you're either going to climb it or you're not. That’s not to say you can’t have a support network or find like minded people. I had my brother and around us were a bubble of other end-to-end hikers. But my hike was ultimately up to me to walk or not. Running Donnie Welch Poetry there are no sick days, no boss to hold to me accountable for not working one day or slacking, it’s just me. I either get up and work or I don’t. This can be a hard choice (especially with so many bingeable shows a click or two away!), but one that any aspiring entrepreneur needs to be aware of.

Trust Yourself- This kind of a more optimistic pt 2 to "No One’s Going to do it for You.” Trust yourself. Trust yourself when you make a decision. Trust yourself to get the work you need done. Trust yourself to succeed. You've trained and focused to get where you are so act with confidence. This isn't to say you won't make mistakes, you will and you'll correct for them (again and again) but don't let that deter you. Enjoy the journey, you’ve got this!

Sunset view off Bromley Mountain. In the foreground is a field of tall grass bent by the wind and an old stone work with LT and AT symbols and white N for North painted on in white.In the background can be seen ranges of mountains pale blue and purple from the light at sunset.

Sunset view off Bromley Mountain. In the foreground is a field of tall grass bent by the wind and an old stone work with LT and AT symbols and white N for North painted on in white.In the background can be seen ranges of mountains pale blue and purple from the light at sunset.

Self-Care for Educators

The month of August I’ll be gone on a backpacking trip with my brother. We’ll be thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail. If you want to follow along on that adventure you can head over to Brothers Welch, the blog we share.

I wanted to write a little reminder to the educators reading this to take time over the last month of summer to do what you love!

There are a lot of blogs out there about self-care: the benefits, whether or not it’s just re-branded self-indulgence, the science behind it, and on and on and on. So I won’t get too deep into self-care as broad topic.

Instead, I’ll speak from personal experience. I know anytime I had a rough day as a teaching assistant, or even now if I have a workshop that goes awry, heading out into the park by my apartment and taking a walk to clear my head really helps me out. It allows me to calm down, process, put things in perspective, and go about the rest of my evening. Hiking is a kind of care for me.

The work of anyone in a school or with youth is intense, you’re impacting the life of another person. Ideally that impact is positive, but even so it’s still a heavy responsibility to carry. On top of that, there’s administrative issues to deal with, the expectation of being a liaison to parents and the student’s community, and (depending on what and where you teach) the pressure of hitting certain metrics and scores.

With all these combined duties, you need an outlet or else you’ll burnout. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. There will be teachers, librarians, youth coordinators, who I thought were excellent, but have all of a sudden left the field entirely. These careers require you to give and give and give to others, so make sure you give to yourself every now again too.

Now, self-care won’t solve all the intrinsic problems of US education or even the problems within your own institutions, but I firmly believe it can help you be a better, more emphatic educator when the 2019-2020 school year starts up. What’s more, it’ll help you be rested and energized, ready to fight the battles necessary to create a change.

I know summertime can mean a lot of prep, especially at the tail end, but make sure among the classroom prep (and potentially/probably second job) to save some time to just do you!

Forest with three tall white birch trees in the front of other green foliage. In the foreground of the picture are stones arranged into a rough staircase.

Forest with three tall white birch trees in the front of other green foliage. In the foreground of the picture are stones arranged into a rough staircase.

Rhythmic Reading

I've started two YouTube playlists on Rhythmic Reading, or how I use affect and rhythm to bring picture books to life.

They're very much a work in progress, but I'm excited to share them with you all as I learn along the way.

The first playlist has read alouds in which I read picture books the way I would in classrooms and workshops.

The second playlist uses these same books, but now I take pauses in the reading to discuss the hows and whys behind my reading style. It's a free video class on an easy to learn technique that I hope parents and educators can use!

This is my first time filiming in earnest and I have a lot to learn, so any feedback and comments are welcome!

Also, please let me know if there are any books you think I should record. I have a list already that I'm working through, but I'd be happy to make some additions!

What's the Weather

What’s the Weather?

What’s the Weather?

What’s the weather like today?

Is it sunny? Is it cloudy?

What’s the Weather like today?

Is a pretty standard song classrooms use for morning meetings . And, as it turns out, weather is something a lot of kids like to talk about!

I think it’s because it effects them immediately. Weather is easy to recognize and it’s impact is easy to quantify. For example, if it’s a rainy day the park trip will probably be canceled. So the connection between weather and expectations or emotions is pretty direct.

For that reason i really love to use weather and seasonal imagery (Halloween, the winter Holidays) as prompts in my workshops where poets either have difficulty ideating, or on the cusp of being able to abstract and come up with their own prompts.

I’ll oftentimes reference whatever the weather currently is, talking about summer heat and thunderstorms or how could New York winters can get! This gives the prompt a bit more immediacy as the poets can rely on their senses and short-term memory to support their abstraction.

Words on a white board in black expo marker read “Brrr! It’s cold outside / so I” with a long line after “I” for student response.

Words on a white board in black expo marker read “Brrr! It’s cold outside / so I” with a long line after “I” for student response.

I remember very vividly sitting in my second grade class when a thunderstorm opened up torrential rain. None of us could pay attention to what was happening, we were transfixed on the storm outside. The teacher said, “Haven’t you ever seen rain before?” Which, besides being rude, missed the point entirely. Of course we’d seen rain before, but every time it’s a little different and a exciting. There’s a natural curiosity to weather, in part because its something so out of human control, that has made the the subject of paintings, poems, stories, and songs throughout human history. I want to take this same curiosity in the poets I work with and hone it.

Words on a white board in blue expo marker read “It’s raining it’s pouring the” This line is repeated again and again.

Words on a white board in blue expo marker read “It’s raining it’s pouring the” This line is repeated again and again.

Weather can be a great entryway into other topics, especially with a newer group. I might not know the poets well enough to know all their interests and passions yet, but I can find a common ground and common curiosity through what’s happening outside.

Words on a white board in black expo marker read “Brrrr! It’s cold outside so I…” with various student answers written. The answers are hard to completely discern at the distance of the photo.

Words on a white board in black expo marker read “Brrrr! It’s cold outside so I…” with various student answers written. The answers are hard to completely discern at the distance of the photo.

Edupreneur: Know What They'll Ask

SXSWedu opened up Panel Picker 2020 and my gears have been turning to submit a session. Looking ahead to conferences got me thinking about presentations, both at conferences and pitches to potential clients. Over the past couple of years I’ve done quite a bit of both, traveling to and presenting at various conferences as a way of building social proof and pitching schools and cultural centers to get my business off the ground. One piece of advice: Know what your audience is going to ask before they ask it.

You don't have to be clairvoyant, (though that certainly wouldn't hurt!) you just have to be self-reflective and critical enough to analyze your previous work. For example, after doing a few conference presentations I noticed the same questions popping up again and again in the Q&As. People would ask me how I work with non-verbal students. I’d explain the ways I make the workshops adaptable and inclusive through sensory activities, word walls, close coordination with speech therapists, and the like. Eventually, I learned to anticipate the question.

With this knowledge I could do two things: build it into my presentation or purposefully leave it out. There’s an argument for both and for me it really depends on who my audience is going to be. I'll give reasoning for both strategies in the case of the non-verbal student question.

Donnie Welch, a young bearded man with glasses, speaks in a school auditorium, gesturing with his hands out. Next to him is a projector displaying a slide on a screen him.

Donnie Welch, a young bearded man with glasses, speaks in a school auditorium, gesturing with his hands out. Next to him is a projector displaying a slide on a screen him.

Building it into the presentation gives me the opportunity to better control the conversation. Someone might ask the question about a specific student they have and want the kind of answer that’s better handled one on one or they might use wording I don’t feel comfortable with necessitating that I switch up their language when I reiterate the question. Building it into a presentation ensures that the language surrounding non-verbal students is in my own words and that the ideas I share connect to the full range of my audience. It also gives me the chance to say something like, “ If you’re interested in a specific student or classroom, you can feel free to email me and we can talk about how I can best help and consult,” which both avoids questions that can derail the group and sets up new client opportunities.

That said, If I’m giving a broad, quick overview of my workshops at an education conference like SXSWedu as opposed to specialized conference, like the Council for Exceptional Children, diving too much into a specific aspect or student profile could very well interrupt the flow and my greater goal of introducing my theories and curriculum.

In these situations I might not address my work with non-verbal students in detail because there’s so much content to cover. In doing so though, I know in the back of my mind that the question will come up during the Q&A. It’s a bit like a magic act, pretending to pull a card out of an audience member’s ear when it’s been up your sleeve the whole time. A mark of a good presenter is someone who is able to give clear, informed answers to whatever questions pop-up. It showcases a depth of knowledge and a calmness under pressure. Once again, like magic, there’s a bit of an illusion to it (you can’t substitute knowledge or experience, got to have that) because you can be prepared for the question and have an answer ready.

This certainly isn’t to say there won’t be new questions that throw you off guard or bring you pause, just that there are some you can predict, that you’ll be able to prepare for, answer with poise, and these moments of confidence will make lasting impressions that on your audience.

What makes this skill so important in presenting in the education sector especially is that people always want to have best practice in mind. Teachers and administrators want strategies that will effectively reach all their students. Answering confidently proves that this is a fully formed curriculum, ed-tech app, or product that you’ve thoroughly considered the insides and outs of.

Summertime Fun 2019

This summer, along with the Ceramic Stories gardening and storytelling sessions (more on those soon), I’ve done a pop-up park event with the New York Restoration Project and ran a planting-sensory table at Art in The Park’s autism family fun day.

I love having the opportunity to work outside in the summer, it’s a nice change of pace from classrooms and opens up whole new forms of engagement.

At the Sherman Creek pop-up park event, I set up a community mural for people to fill out.

I used a long roll of white butcher paper, glued on a green construction paper stem, yellow center, and asked “What makes Inwood Bloom?” Admittedly, I got some help from NYRP's education with the lettering since I don't have the neatest handwriting.

The activity being to fill out the flower with people's favorite things about the uptown community. I pre-cut petals of teal, red, and pink for people to write their answers and then glue on, creating a mural of flower petals that extended across the paper. Some of the most common answers were “the people” and “the parks” and I’m inclined to agree.

Photo of art mural on fold out table. The mural is on a long white sheet of paper and covered with “flower petals” in red, teal, and pink all with writing on it that is indiscernible at this distance. “What makes Inwood Bloom” is written in multi-colored large letter up top. On the mural can also be seen some writing and doodles. The table has some rocks on it, holding the paper, supplies, and other objects down in the wind.

Photo of art mural on fold out table. The mural is on a long white sheet of paper and covered with “flower petals” in red, teal, and pink all with writing on it that is indiscernible at this distance. “What makes Inwood Bloom” is written in multi-colored large letter up top. On the mural can also be seen some writing and doodles. The table has some rocks on it, holding the paper, supplies, and other objects down in the wind.

For Art in the Park’s Autism Family Fun Day I ran a table with flower pot painting and planting. It was a condensed version of the three-week Ceramic Stories programs I run with NYRP. Since this was a one day event I had families come and paint the pots, not necessarily creating a story, just having fun.

Once the painting was done I left them to dry and told the families to come back in a few minutes to do the planting. There was a lot to do at the fun day, so it was an easy enough request. There was grilling going on (including black bean burgers for the veggies like me!), non-profits tabling, sensory spaces, and a table full of free books that was run by a speech therapist.

Autism Family Fun day grill set up, families and children are in the foreground of a shot of a food line. Tables in the background have the food on them and in the top right of the photo the grill master cooks while smoke can be seen coming off the grill.

Autism Family Fun day grill set up, families and children are in the foreground of a shot of a food line. Tables in the background have the food on them and in the top right of the photo the grill master cooks while smoke can be seen coming off the grill.

Inflatable, plastic swimming pool with an inflatable palm tree in the middle of it situated on a piece of asphalt. The pool is filled with water-bead sensory materials.

Inflatable, plastic swimming pool with an inflatable palm tree in the middle of it situated on a piece of asphalt. The pool is filled with water-bead sensory materials.

When they were dry and the families came back, I had the kids add the soil, seeds (marigolds or poppies), a little bit of water, and then sent them on their way with some care instructions. The soil and seeds for the planting were donated by Urban Garden Center, an amazing garden store in East Harlem. If you’re in NYC check them out next time you have any gardening needs!

Entrance to the store “Urban Garden Center” The store's name is in large green block letters on a wooden frame with the word “Urban” being the largest. In the background can be seen plants and garden supplies such as fencing as well as signs denoting the stores hours and sales.

Entrance to the store “Urban Garden Center” The store's name is in large green block letters on a wooden frame with the word “Urban” being the largest. In the background can be seen plants and garden supplies such as fencing as well as signs denoting the stores hours and sales.

The event was a huge success! Shawnique, the Art in the Park director, had one-hundred people signed up on the eventbrite and I imagine most, if not all, showed up along with families who came off the street when they heard the fun! We went through all the pots and paint over the course of the day and a lot of families left with new plants to care for!

Events like these makes the summers so fun, but it also makes them fly by! The second session of Ceramic Stories will be starting next week in Sherman Creek and it’s hard to believe that’s already here!

Painted flower pots arranged on plates dry beside a tree. There are names on the plates that denote whose pot is whose, but the writing is difficult to discern at this distance. In the middle of the pots are two large bags of soil. In the background can be seen a sidewalk chalk welcome to Autism Family Fun Day.

Painted flower pots arranged on plates dry beside a tree. There are names on the plates that denote whose pot is whose, but the writing is difficult to discern at this distance. In the middle of the pots are two large bags of soil. In the background can be seen a sidewalk chalk welcome to Autism Family Fun Day.


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Bronx Museum Spring Partnership

May marked a whirlwind Spring partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts which ended last week with a final performance and celebration!

I saw three classes from PS 73: a 1st & 2nd grade class, and two 3rd & 4th grade classes. I work specifically with the classes of students who have IEPs, each of these classes was a 12:1:1.

The partnerships starts with a museum visit, wherein I guide the classes (one at a time) through the recent exhibit and prepare activities for them in response to the art.

This season's exhibit is "Useless: Machines for Dreaming, Thinking, and Seeing" It's an amazing study of machines and devices built for aesthetics rather than practicality. 

As the Bronx Museum website describes:

As a reaction to our current times focused on utilitarianism and profit, Useless: Machines for Dreaming, Thinking and Seeing presents a selection of curious machines created by artists with the goal of stirring dreams, feelings, critical thinking, and ironies; for seeing what microscopes, telescopes and cartographies cannot show; for flying without taking-off; in short, for doing the impossible. Such are some of the uses of art.

Contemporary art installation on a hardwood floor. The art work looks like a 1970’s space capsule, but covered in sheet metal, plants, and bricks. Extension cables can be seen running out of the piece as well. In the background are other photos and statues.

Contemporary art installation on a hardwood floor. The art work looks like a 1970’s space capsule, but covered in sheet metal, plants, and bricks. Extension cables can be seen running out of the piece as well. In the background are other photos and statues.

While the intention and theme is quite intellectually stimulating, my students were all immediately taken by the visual spectacle of the art itself and it was an incredibly fun curation to teach.

My program was an co activity that built on itself every session around the idea of story-making.  I was inspired especially by Stefana McClure’s film and visual poem in the exhibit that she made in response to the George Perec’s Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books. Perec famously had a “story-making-machine” with which he wrote the novel, or “novels” as the book opens, Life a User Manual. I wanted the PS 73 students to be their own Story-Making-Machines, creating and then sharing/typing their stories.

On a flatscreen TV gloved hands can be seen with metallic tips on the ends of each fingers. The hands seem to be typing with small, black residue visible underneath the fingers.

On a flatscreen TV gloved hands can be seen with metallic tips on the ends of each fingers. The hands seem to be typing with small, black residue visible underneath the fingers.

edupreneur-blog-BXSPring19-McClure-Art.jpg

To start, I had the students come up with robots for the closing museum trip activity. They could think back to some of the machines from the exhibit or also use the book Clink by Kelly DiPucchio, which we had read before going down to the galleries, as a kind of mentor text. 

Once the robot was drawn I asked them to come up with a name, then write what their robot was made out of, and finally what their robot could do. By making each description an individual step, I was scaffolding the idea of character development, helping them make robust and well rounded robots (say that 10x fast) for their stories. 

In the first school trip we did a quick warm up, read Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, then got to work on our stories. First students hand wrote a story involving the robot characters they made at the museum. Once the stories were finished, they "typed" them up to create a visual poem similar to the Stefana McClure piece on display.

On an art room table, covered in old paint marks, print outs of computer keyboards are taped down.

On an art room table, covered in old paint marks, print outs of computer keyboards are taped down.

Close up of the art room table, the keyboard print outs are now covered by a piece of tracing paper so that the keys themselves are still visible.

Close up of the art room table, the keyboard print outs are now covered by a piece of tracing paper so that the keys themselves are still visible.

To achieve this typing effect, I taped print outs of keyboards to the table and placed tracing paper over them. Giving each student a pair of gloves, I then gave out a dollups of black paint to rub between their gloved hands, telling the students to focus especially on their finger tips. Once everyone was painted up the students typed the stories they just hand wrote as if they were typing them into a computer. It was a pretty exciting activity, so took the groups a couple sheets of tracing paper to get right!

On the art room tables students hands can be seen covered in gloves and black paint “typing” on the tracing paper.

On the art room tables students hands can be seen covered in gloves and black paint “typing” on the tracing paper.

When the story was finished, we peeled off the tracing paper and there was their visual story. Some of them came out so much like the McClure piece it’s uncanny!

Pieces of tracing paper with individual black dots made with paint.

Pieces of tracing paper with individual black dots made with paint.

For my final school visit I brought an old typewriter. I wanted the final draft of these robot stories to be typed up and in keeping with the “Useless” exhibit themes, thought it would be fun to have students explore the now outdated typewriter as a mode of typing.

I have an old, portable Royal typewriter. It was given to me by my uncle during the clean out of my grandmother’s house. I actually thought it was broken at first, but it turned out the keys that were getting stuck were meant to get stuck! (Just had to actually read the manual…which thankfully was still with it)

In prepping for this session, it was a fun exploration to work and tinker on the old machine. I had to buy new ink and learn how to put that in, do a little light cleaning and maintenance on it, and learn how to set and reset all the margins.

Since I only had the one typewriter, for the third and final session I had students use large alphabet stamps to stamp out their story letter by letter onto mural paper while they waited their turn. I did this because I wanted them using their fine motor systems to mimic the typewriter’s mechanics and keep on that idea of them being “story-making-machines.”

The students had a blast with the typewriter! Some of them asking, “ is this what old people use?” or calling out to their friends, “Hey, look! I’m old now!” as they typed. They were also curious about all the little knobs and levers and often, after their turn, they’d linger to watch the mechanisms of the machine as their classmate wrote. The teachers also had funny, nostalgic memories of the typewriter  which they shared with me and the classes.

Black and White photo of a 1970s typewriter. A paper with some typing is loaded into the scroll.

Black and White photo of a 1970s typewriter. A paper with some typing is loaded into the scroll.

At the projects close there was a lot of art to be shared and sorted": the original robots, the handwritten stories, the McClure like visual stories, and the class’ typewriter made story. For the final, assembly for I bound the stories, the typewritten text and visual poems, together with a bit of colorful twine, embracing the DIY aesthetic in the exhibit.

Two books handmade books side-by-side on a table. Both are tied together by a bit of twine, the front of them have typewritten words that are indistinguishable at the photo’s distance. Behind these front pages are pieces of tracing paper with blotches and dots of black paint.

Two books handmade books side-by-side on a table. Both are tied together by a bit of twine, the front of them have typewritten words that are indistinguishable at the photo’s distance. Behind these front pages are pieces of tracing paper with blotches and dots of black paint.

To close, the classes did a little Be-Bop Beat, as described to me, while I sang the story out loud. It was a lot of fun, and cool to see how proud the poets were of their work!

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Affect Autism Interview

Affect Autism is a fantastic blog, podcast, and one stop shop for all things DIR/Floortime. I had a chance to go on the podcast and talk about the poetry workshops! You can read the full blog summary here, find the episode “Sensory and Developmental Poetry Workshops" on your favorite podcasting app or service, and watch the video of the interview below!

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Brooklyn Public Library Staff Training

As the culmination of my workshop series with Brooklyn Public Library's Inclusive Services, I gave a presentation to library staff on strategies for making reading, events, and programs more inclusive.

Donnie Welch, a young white man, stands smiling at the front of a room in business casual attire. Behind him on a large, computer monitor is a presentation title slide reading, “How to Read Literature like an OT, PT, or SLP” in white lettering on a blue background.

Donnie Welch, a young white man, stands smiling at the front of a room in business casual attire. Behind him on a large, computer monitor is a presentation title slide reading, “How to Read Literature like an OT, PT, or SLP” in white lettering on a blue background.

I focused specifically on ways to bring movement and sensory play into reading by finding opportunities in the figurative language, themes, and imagery of the texts you’re working with.

I’ve shared the slide’s publicly on SlideShare so feel free to check them out and if you do, then let me know what you think!

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Font Fopas

I can't tell you the amount of times I print something off quickly for workshop, read it, realize every capital i looks like a lower case L and debate with myself whether or not I should recycle the papers or just power ahead.

So for a small tip: take a few extra seconds in your prep time to make sure you use a font where capital i and L are obviously different, especially working with poets just learning to read and write. I usually keep it basic with Times New Roman, but there are definitely more fun and engaging fonts out there that also make a clear distinction.

This simple edit makes it easier for everyone to read, whether you're printing something for a collaborative found poem, individual reading activity, or blowing the letters up large for an activity on the board.

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Young Child Expo 2019

Yesterday I presented with my Rebecca School colleague Allison Johnson at the 2019 Young Child Expo here in NYC!

Allison is an occupational therapist who works with me in one of my younger workshops and has helped me integrate movement into those sessions. More than that, she’s been a teacher, taking the time to give me a deeper understanding of movement and the body’s sensory system.

She has such an amazing sense for what will help each poet in our workshop. I often find myself referencing her for what movements we should do. It’s truly a super-power, this seemingly innate sense that “oh, yeah, bear walking right now will help this poet regulate.” I can’t gush enough!

I’ve put up our slides on SlideShare. As a note, we had a fairly video heavy presentation culminating in a twenty-minute case study of one of the poets. These had to be removed for confidentiality so there are some blank slides and slides that just have titles.

That said, the SlideShare presentation still contains great information about the movements we use in the workshop and why we use them.

Give the presentation a view and if you find the information useful, feel free to share it around with your friends, colleagues, and admin!

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Wall Writing

As I’ve mentioned in other posts I keep the workshop spaces completely clear except for the essentials. For some groups that’s chairs, for others it’s movement ques, and for still others it’s nothing at all!

As one of my workshops is focuses on writing longer and longer texts like sonnets, there wasn’t a great space for the poets to write.

Bringing in a table with chairs or some desks was a possibility, but that always felt like a big transition to have in the middle of a session. The alternative, having the poets lie down or hunch over while writing, is poor form both in terms of posture and mechanics.

Colleen Gabbert, my OT colleague who facilitates this session with me, recommended taping paper to the wall and having the poets stand and write. This little change has made a huge difference!

Not only are their body posture and fine motor work better, but the poets who might otherwise need sensory breaks from sitting are able to engage in the writing activity for longer durations. I imagine because they’re not getting as tired from using only their core to support them or (when they can no longer support themselves) hunching over and losing focus on the group activity.

I’ve noticed that standing also allows a more seamless sensory release. For example, poets can rock or pace if needed while thinking of the next line while. When sitting, the poets had a tendency to stay seated or if they stood up it would be to move quickly around the room or leave altogether for a quick break or support in the hallway.

Some of the poets prefer staying seated and when they do I try to encourage that they use a binder or book to hold the text so that they sit up right. It certainly isn’t perfect (old habits die hard), but for the poets who accept the tool of wall writing it’s helped immensely!

Just a reminder that if things are feeling a bit stilted or stale in your class or sessions, the answer isn’t always a big change. Sometimes all you need is a different perspective (make friends outside your department!) and a couple pieces of tape!

A hand holds a pen to a piece of lined paper taped to a white school wall.

A hand holds a pen to a piece of lined paper taped to a white school wall.

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O, Miami Poetry Festival

I traveled to Miami for the first time at the start of April as part of the O, Miami Poetry Festival. I went with my friend and Rebecca School colleague Raquel to run three days of workshops at Brucie Ball Educational Center, a day school for students with severe disabilities.

The sessions were amazing. Beyond amazing. The students, teachers, and festival staff were all incredibly welcoming and made it such a joy to be working down in sunny south Florida. Rather than write too much here though, I’ll let some professionals tell you more as the sessions got the attention of both the Miami Herald and the local NPR station WLRN.

Visit the links below to hear and read more!

“Workshop Helps Kids Find Language And Poetry Without Words” WLRN Miami / South Florida

“These Students Found Rhythm, Art and Joy Through Poetry” Miami Herald


The word "hope" spelled out in large, capital letters cut from poster paper and suspended in a school library. Inside the letters are butterflies of various colors crafted out of paper.

The word "hope" spelled out in large, capital letters cut from poster paper and suspended in a school library. Inside the letters are butterflies of various colors crafted out of paper.

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Teachers & Writers Publication

It has been a wild couple weeks for me, but wanted to take a second to share that I recently published “Found Poetry & Accessibility” in Teachers & Writers Magazine. The piece offers three ways to use found poetry as an accessible and inclusive entryway into poetry.

Give it a read!

Example of a black out poem. A page from a book about birds has large strokes of black blocking out specific lines of words, images, and design details. The remaining words form a poem and in the bottom left is the picture of a bird.

Example of a black out poem. A page from a book about birds has large strokes of black blocking out specific lines of words, images, and design details. The remaining words form a poem and in the bottom left is the picture of a bird.

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Edupreneur: Cut Your Business Card Clutter

Conferences like SXSWedu are great opportunities to meet and network with other professionals. But with that community building inevitably comes a pile of business cards.

I'm someone who hates clutter. As a writer I already have more than enough notebooks, loose leaf paper, and little ideas scribbled for my home office space. What I don’t need are even more little slips of paper hanging around!

After any conference where I get a the contacts of a bunch of wonderful people I have a strategy for both documenting and communicating with them. It starts by simply typing up cards into a spread sheet. The sheet has columns labeled:

Name

Company

Position

Email

Phone

Website (personal or company's) 

How/ where we met

With the pertinent information running vertically across the cells.

If you want to go an extra measure you could also add a column (or two) that says when you contacted them and whether or not they responded or took action (such as connecting over a media platform) as a result of the email. I choose not to do this, in part because I'm more interested in continuing conversations than quick boosts, so the hope is that my reaching out sets off a thread of emails, a Twitter conversation, phone call, or similar back and forth to build our relationship. 

I send the email as soon as the card is typed up. Going one at a time so I don't procrastinate and let things pile up. Or slip into the habit of saying, “first I’ll do the easy thing and type the cards, then I’ll email,”… and never actually email. I also know, without having to make an extra column or any highlights, who has been contacted when I work at this slower pace.

Pile of business cards, mostly white with colored text and images, on top of a brown wooden desk.

Pile of business cards, mostly white with colored text and images, on top of a brown wooden desk.

Finally, when it's all done, I recycle the cards. As someone who has cards and adds onto the pile of others I know this might seem cruel. "These cost money to make!" and "What if you want to pass it on to someone?" Are two common quips. In answer, I know they cost money and also take time to design, but it makes me feel better and write more efficiently having a clear space and keeping the cards in storage would just add unnecessary clutter.

And if I want to pass on the info, I'd simply send that person an email or text. It's more seamless too, they can copy the email right from their account and send a message or highlight the number on their phone and make a call.

Give it a try next time you come home from an event with a stack of business cards. And if you have any organizing strategies you like please share! 

Oh, and if you do go digital, don’t forget to back-up your spreadsheet!


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Edupreneuer: SXSWedu 2019 Mentor Session

I’m excited to share that the mentor session registrations are open for SXSWedu 2019!

As a mentor at this year’s conference you can sign up for a slot to come and talk to me! What can you talk with me about? Well…

We can chat about working in and providing programming for learners of all abilities.

Or muse over edupreneurship and more specifically, solopreneuership. Especially if you’re coming from New York state or New York City, I’d be happy to chat about my experience navigating all the regulations, paperwork, and payments getting Donnie Welch Poetry legit this year.

Or let’s babble, prattle, and gab about Arts Education! While I focus specifically on inclusive arts education, I’ve made a lot of connections in the broader field that I’d be happy to share and my work as a Teaching Artist at the Bronx Museum has given me insight into that pathway as well. Furthermore, I’d be excited to hear about and support any ventures in community arts partnerships, as that’s some of the most equitable and exciting work happening in arts education right now.

Beyond myself there’s a whole roster of amazing mentors! In particular I’m excited for a chance to chat with: Alexander Kopelman from Children’s Arts Guild an organization I very much admire, Kristin Corliss a special education teacher from DC, and Allison Valchuis who works with the 92nd Street Y here in NYC!

It can seem daunting to carve out time in a already full schedule of workshops and presentations for one-on-one conversations, but keep in mind these are only twelve minute interviews. While that’s admittedly a significant chunk of the thirty minute and twenty minute presentations, it’s possible to partake in a mentor session and politely enter into the back of one of the longer, and often larger, sessions. So (like much of SXSWedu) it’s about building a balanced and flexible schedule that’s comfortable for you.

Oh, and, I know I linked all these amazing mentors, but y’all better not take my spot! Seriously though, there’s so many great leaders, teachers, and thinkers you can meet one-on-one with throughout the festival. The work of these three resonates with me and what I’m hoping to accomplish, but give the mentor list a rundown for yourself and see who on there inspires you!

Seeya down in Austin!

Screenshot from the SXSWeud App with the SXSW logo and a bright yellow background up top. Below that in tiers of information are the details and location to a mentor session with Donnie Welch

Screenshot from the SXSWeud App with the SXSW logo and a bright yellow background up top. Below that in tiers of information are the details and location to a mentor session with Donnie Welch

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Sonnet Challenge

For Valentine’s Day I challenged one of my workshops to write sonnets.

This was my first time teaching a form in any of my workshops. I’ve done haiku scavenger hunts before, but those were more about the experiential nature of haiku than any of the form’s diction and thematic restrictions.

To start this sonnet lesson I explained that some poems have rules, which piqued the attention of a couple poets in the room right away. We’ve been writing together as a group for almost two years now and in that time I’ve pretty much let them free write, the exceptions being group projects like our holiday cookie tags, so this was something new.

I had Sonnet and the numbers one through fourteen listed downward on the board as a visual for everyone to reference. I decided to start with the basic rule, that a sonnet is a poem with fourteen lines. While rhyme and meter play a big role in the Shakespearean Sonnet (which is the form I was basing this introduction on) it didn’t quite feel right to dive into that. I wanted this to be a challenge for the poets, but not overwhelm them. Furthermore, I wanted them to be engaged and intrigued and bogging them down with all the details of form would have dimmed the excitement.

on a white dry erase school board the word Sonnet is written at the top with a vertical stack of numbers 1-14 underneath it. All the writing is in blue.

on a white dry erase school board the word Sonnet is written at the top with a vertical stack of numbers 1-14 underneath it. All the writing is in blue.

Next I talked about the theme, sonnets are about someone or something you really like. I got a lot of “blehs” from this as the thought of writing a love poem, or “love letter” as one of the poets said, was off putting. I told them though that it didn’t have to be addressed to someone, it could simply be fun and addressed to a video game the loved, a show, a book, anything is sonnet worthy.

Once that was established and no one felt like they had to write a love poem, the poets set to work and it was amazing! They tackled the challenge so well! Even the poet who was so opposed to writing “love letters” started with Sonic, but ended with an amazing ode to family, friends, and school.

One note, I started off just letting them free write, but it became quickly apparent that encouraging the poets to number one to fourteen down the side of their paper (like I had up on the board) provided a good frame of reference. Aside from this addition to their papers and occasional encouragement from the teachers and therapists supporting the group not much scaffolding took place.


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University of Alabama Guest Lecture

Earlier this week I had a chance to speak with a group of aspiring theater educators at the University of Alabama about ways to ensure arts education spaces are inclusive and accessible for all learners.

After smoothing out and working around the technical blips that always accompany this sort of a thing, the lecture went well and the students asked a lot of great questions afterwards.

I’ve shared my slides publicly for people to visit. While the information itself is fairly short and really more a guideline for my conversation with the class, I thought it’d be nice to keep the content up for the students to reference and share as well as for anyone else who’s curious! Click the linked title slide below to check out the presentation for yourself!

Title slide of powerpoint presentation.At the top is the title, followed by a center is an image of hand painted stars, yellow finger paint on black construction paper. Below that is the presenter name and information.

Title slide of powerpoint presentation.At the top is the title, followed by a center is an image of hand painted stars, yellow finger paint on black construction paper. Below that is the presenter name and information.

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Class Environment

A big consideration in prepping for the workshops is the class environment, or how things are arranged and set up in the room to best support student learning.

One important component of design for the sessions I run is a circular structure.

I do this because I want the poets to be able to reference one another. The social-emotional and self-expressive aspects of these workshops are just as important as the academic and in order to facilitate these empathic aspects I need to set up the room in a way that promotes communication between poets.

A circle of classrrom chairs, black and one blue, on a tiled floor. In the middle of the circle of chairs is a smaller circle of colored cards. In the foreground is a classroom dry-erase whiteboard.

A circle of classrrom chairs, black and one blue, on a tiled floor. In the middle of the circle of chairs is a smaller circle of colored cards. In the foreground is a classroom dry-erase whiteboard.

For example, in my younger workshops where I use the movement cards I put the circle of cards in the center of the larger seating circle. This gives each poet a kind of performance for their turn and then I still keep an open space for writing on the board, trying to keep it so that the poem is a kind of part of the circle.

I like to keep the room clear as well, nothing but the seating and activity.

It’s important to note as well, that teachers, therapists, and other facilitators are sitting (or standing in the case of other workshops) with the poets. This equanimity in seating is twofold in that it’s a visual representation of the fact that all voices are valued, student voice on the same tier as adult voice, and it allows for seamless 1:1 support. Whether that support is because a therapist is using this session as a group mandate and needs to work in close capacity to fulfill goals or because a poet needs sensory support in a moment of challenge, this set up makes it so that there are no dramatic/run across the room/jump in the middle of the activity/ stop everything situations that arise.

It’s pretty simple, but taking small considerations can make big improvements in peer learning.

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