SXSWedu 2018

March 4th

My trip to Austin started with a delay at JFK. However, it wasn’t all bad. The passengers were mainly people traveling to the conference so I was able to meet teachers and administrators from NYC schools, an education activist, and the Founding Executive Director and Dream Director of a company from Connecticut called Workspace Education who I actually sat next to on the flight down.

Once I finally landed, I checked out The Lion & The Pirate open mic at Malvern Books. This is an inclusive open mic organized by Pen 2 Paper an arts branch of the advocacy group Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.

 

I was only able to catch the tail end of the event because of my flight delay, but what I saw was a really powerful community of writers and musicians sharing some funny, touching, and moving work.

I ended the night with SXSWedu’s early bird social. This is a pretty low key event for attendees who are in time to get their badges on Sunday night. As someone who is more introverted by nature, I find this event a nice time to warm up my networking skills before the conference really kicks off.

March 5th

I started at the keynote “Stories of Schooling & Getting Schooled” hosted by the Moth’s Micaela Blei and featuring stories from three teachers: Chris De La Cruz, Crystal Duckert, and Tim Manley. The session brought a nice energy to kick off the conference and as Micaela Blei said, “we want to open the conference with teacher voices.”

 

After the keynote I spent time exploring the PBS Teacher’s lounge. This was one of the sponsored hang out spots throughout the conference offering coffee, snacks, refreshment, and more colloquial programming. For example, on my first visit to the lounge it was a conversation on media literacy led by a member of the PBS media team. PBS was also giving out T-shirts with their retro logo and I definitely waited in line for one.

My first breakout session of the day was, “Create a Generation of Super-Students with Fitness” led by Dr. Elsie Traveras from Massachusetts General Hospital and Kathleen Tullie, the founder of the BOKS program. It was an interesting run down of how practice can couple with research. BOKS is a before school movement program that offers a, “free physical activity program that improves our children physically, mentally and socially by strengthening their minds and bodies through movement.”[1] After the success of the program in area schools, Dr. Traveras became intrigued and conducted a three year study to prove that, “before-school exercise has a direct effect not only on a student’s academic performance, but on their mental and physical well-being.”[2]

I floated around the expo hall, where all the vendors are located, and was pleasantly surprised to see 826 National represented. 826 is a non-profit providing youth with creative writing opportunities. They have seven chapters throughout the country that, “[offer] five core programs: after-school tutoring, field trips, workshops, Young Authors’ Book Project, and in-school programs — all free of charge — for students, classes, and schools.”[3] At the national level, the organization has now complied the resources of their seven chapters into one online location that’s free for teachers to access! If you want to sign up yourself then go to www.826Digital.com 

One of the best sessions I went to all conference happened this afternoon. I attended a panel entitled “Art as a Pathway to Health & Wellness.” The session was hosted by Head Starter Network and consisted of Jeanette Betancourt of the Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street), Lee Francis of Native Realities a publisher who, “strive[s] to give you the most original and authentic representations of Native and Indigenous peoples through stories and texts that educate and entertain children, youth and adults,” [4]Melissa Menzer from the National Endowment for the Arts, and Jane Park Woo from the Clinton Foundation.

It was a fascinating discussion on the role art can play in human development and how it scientifically impacts our emotional and physical health. I learned the term “neuroasthetics” which is, “a new field of research emerging at the intersection of psychological aesthetics, neuroscience and human evolution. The main objective of neuroaesthetics is to characterize the neurobiological foundations and evolutionary history of the cognitive and affective processes involved in aesthetic experiences and artistic and other creative activities.” [5] I had never heard of the term before and now I keep digging into it as it seems so central to the work I’m doing in the poetry workshops.

 

March 6th

Spent the morning prepping and getting ready for my presentation “I’ve Got Rhythm: Poetry in Autism Education.”

 Donnie Welch a young white male with brown hair, a beard, and glasses stands on a red carpet with a blue banner for SXSWedu 2018 behind him. The blue banner his SXSWedu 2018 and the event details in white-yellow hued text. Welch is wearing tan dress shoes, blue pants and a paisley shirt.

Donnie Welch a young white male with brown hair, a beard, and glasses stands on a red carpet with a blue banner for SXSWedu 2018 behind him. The blue banner his SXSWedu 2018 and the event details in white-yellow hued text. Welch is wearing tan dress shoes, blue pants and a paisley shirt.

 

The session went really well and was definitely a step up from anything I had previously done as a speaker or presenter; as evidenced by my being given a clicker for slide changes!

For real though, people in the audience were receptive and interested. I had educators, parents, and administrators coming up to pick my brain later, and after the conference received a tweet from a librarian who made use of the information I shared as soon as she got back to work.

After my session and a lunch break, I checked out the talk, “Fellowships Are the Next Big Youth Extracurricular” led by Yerba Buena Center for the Art’s Jonathan Moscone. He shared stories from the Youth Fellows program YBCA runs, “a yearlong paid fellowship for high schoolers that places them at the intersection of art and activism.” [6] It’s a fascinating initiative that places youth in the driving seat of art and change in their own neighborhoods.

One of the highlighted projects paired young artists and designers with a neon glass company so that they could create new lights for their local bodegas. The lights would depict fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food rather than the alcohol neons that storefronts are given promotionally. The Youth Fellows were responsible for budgeting this project, forging connections with the stores in their community, and completing the creative piece as well. Really cool stuff!

I ended the day in the Startup Spotlight, a space that is mainly for edtech startups hoping to find funders and/or new users. I usually don’t spend too much time in these spaces, but my friends from Workspace, who I met back on the plane in JFK, were there to talk about their organization and I wanted to give them some support. You can find out about the cool work their doing with community driven, alternative education by visiting http://workspaceeducation.org/

March 7th

I gave myself the morning to explore Lady Bird Lake and the Barton Springs Greenbelt. These are part of a really gorgeous urban park network that offers amazing natural scenery and views of the Austin skyline. The Barton Springs Greenbelt alone has over twelve miles of hiking trails![7]

 In the foreground is a fairly wide dirt path with a metal bench, one person running, and two people walking together. Beside the path is a river. The path is covered in trees, some green with leaves others with small purple/pink buds. In the background is a bridge and beyond that are skyscrapers in the Austin, TX skyline.

In the foreground is a fairly wide dirt path with a metal bench, one person running, and two people walking together. Beside the path is a river. The path is covered in trees, some green with leaves others with small purple/pink buds. In the background is a bridge and beyond that are skyscrapers in the Austin, TX skyline.

After a couple hours hiking and enjoying the warm weather I returned to the conference to hear a featured conversation: “National Arts Networks & Stories of Impact.” This was a conversation between the Kennedy Center’s Mario Rossero and Hakim Bellamy a Citizen Artist Fellow with the Kennedy Center and the inaugural Poet Laureate of Albuquerque, NM. While much of the session involved stories directly related to the Kennedy Center’s work,  Rossero and Bellamy both brought a wealth of experience, albeit slightly different perspectives, so their conversation had real wisdom about building community through arts programming in schools.

I spent the rest of the day popping in and out of some of the more informal, quirky, and hands-on sessions like “Make a Food Computer” and “Virtual Voyaging Through California State Parks” which offered ways to blend ecology, technology, and outdoor education.

March 8th

The last day is always fascinating because downtown Austin transforms itself in preparation for the main SXSW music and film festival which begins the following week.

Much like the city, I decided to prepare for the future, and attended a Panel Picker 2019 meetup to receive some insight into what the programming committee is looking for in next year’s conference.

Then, before my afternoon flight home, I caught the first of the three closing keynotes: “Who Has the Right to Education” by Dr. Alaa Murabit. This was an amazing investigation into the root causes of inequality in education, especially in relation to women’s education, and suggested points of entry for teachers to start instilling change in their own classrooms and schools.

 

I left Austin (my flight delayed again, but only a half-hour this time!) ready to push myself as an educator and help my students achieve more and dream bigger.  This conference is always a blast. I find it especially inspiring because of its bend toward innovation. SXSWedu is a space that accepts, welcomes, and showcases new ideas in the field rather than rehashing the same researched notions. It draws a crowd of practitioners who are willing to experiment in order to improve their efficacy as teachers and classroom leaders. This cohort is the community I always seek out when attending other conferences, so it’s a motivating feeling to be with spend a week, learning and discovering, alongside forward moving, forward thinking teachers and educators..

 

Sources

[1] https://www.bokskids.org/

[2] SXSWedu 2018 Program guide

[3] https://826national.org/about/

[4] https://www.nativerealities.com/pages/about-us

[5] https://neuroaesthetics.net/neuroaesthetics/

[6] SXSWedu 2018 Program Guide

[7] https://austinot.com/austin-greenbelt-guide

Justice Leauge Teachers

 I've been included in the Justice League Teachers, a "guide to sessions led by working preK-12 classroom teachers whose not-so-secret identities put them on the front lines of conversations about social change at SXSW EDU 2018." It's a really humbling list to be associated with as these educators are doing truly inspiring work.

Thanks to guest blogger Mike Kleba for the write up! Read the blog by clicking here

 

 

Keeping Workshop Notes

I’ve recently been invited to present at education conferences and poetry festivals. This Include's SXSWedu, Split this Rock, and Berklee's ABLE Assembly.

 Screenshot of flyer for Berklee College’s ABLE Assembly. Woman in yellow jacket and black dress speaks to an auditorium full of people sitting and listening attentively, some taking notes others just watching.

Screenshot of flyer for Berklee College’s ABLE Assembly. Woman in yellow jacket and black dress speaks to an auditorium full of people sitting and listening attentively, some taking notes others just watching.

It’s amazing and I’m incredibly excited, but preparing for these session makes me wonder: how do I stay present in the work?

With these presentations looming over me, it’s easy to over analyze sessions. A common inner monologue I have running is: “Okay, is there any part of this I can use in a speech? How can I frame this?”

I don’t want to start seeing these groups as case studies. They’re workshops full of incredibly talented and creative young writers. I want to keep myself and my curriculum flexible rather than worry about the potential talking points and video clips (I make a point to film all the sessions).

However it’s a difficult balance.

One thing I've done to offset this feeling is keep a journal. After every day of workshops I write short reflections: the highs and lows, anything of note, anything I need to try for next time, etc. while it's still fresh in mind.

I call them workshop notes (hence the name of this blog) playing on the session notes that OT, Speech, PT, Mental Health, and other therapists make after they see a student.

Knowing ahead of time that I've blocked off time in my schedule to reflect gives me the freedom to stay flexible and present during a session. I can't recommend this enough for anyone doing work in Arts Education. It's an easy enough practice, it's only as time intensive as you want to make it, and it's helped me keep track of the work I've done, making it easier to look back and, as result, look ahead without losing focus on the present

Activities for Daily Living

I penned "Activities for Daily Living" shortly after returning from a conference where I was disappointed with the direction leaders in special education and autism education in particular were taking the field. It's a short piece advocating for more arts education for neurodiverse learners.

Give it a read up on the Solstice Literary Magazine blog!

https://solsticelitmag.org/blog/neurodiverse-students-need-creative-arts/

19th International CEC-DADD Conference on Autism, Intellectual Disability, and Developmental Disabilities

 

I was accepted to give a poster presentation entitled “No Gravity in My Poetry: Poetry Workshops as Social Emotional Literacy Learning” at 19th International CEC-DADD Conference on Autism, Intellectual Disability, and Developmental Disabilities.

 Donnie Welch, young caucasian male, stands in front of an academic poster title “No Gravity in My Poetry: Social Emotional Literacy Learning” He smiling and in a green turtle neck. Red conference lanyard around his neck. Images of students have been censored out using “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” monkey emojis.

Donnie Welch, young caucasian male, stands in front of an academic poster title “No Gravity in My Poetry: Social Emotional Literacy Learning” He smiling and in a green turtle neck. Red conference lanyard around his neck. Images of students have been censored out using “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” monkey emojis.

 It was a fascinating four days! Below are some brief, journal reflections from my time!

Tuesday

Flew away from the snow in NYC to a 72 degree Tampa day.

It felt nice to relax and settle in so that I didn’t have to balance my travel with the first day activities.

I unpacked, went up to the fitness center (which was on the top floor with a gorgeous view of the coast) then explored around for dinner.

Every restaurant around had a wait time! I ended up back at the Sheraton’s Mainstay Tavern which surprised me with its craft beer selection and really delicious food. I had a Grouper sandwich, apparently a must have dish in this part of the state according to my kindly lyft driver, and a salad with a house made raspberry vinaigrette. Not a bad start!

 

Wednesday

Registered nice and early!

 Conference Materials for the CEC-DADD 2018 conference. At top is a red lanyard with a sponsors name on it, the name is blurred by a twist in the lanyard. Below the red lanyard is the program written in blue and pink text on a white, laminated booklet. At the bottom of the booklet is a picture of an island/beach sunset. To the right of this picture is a badge with “Donald Welch” on it and rainbow “presenter” ribbon attached.

Conference Materials for the CEC-DADD 2018 conference. At top is a red lanyard with a sponsors name on it, the name is blurred by a twist in the lanyard. Below the red lanyard is the program written in blue and pink text on a white, laminated booklet. At the bottom of the booklet is a picture of an island/beach sunset. To the right of this picture is a badge with “Donald Welch” on it and rainbow “presenter” ribbon attached.

 

There was a sponsored luncheon between the pre-conference training sessions. Since those cost extra and were on topics I wasn’t too interested in I skipped those, giving me the morning to myself. I spent it preparing for my poster, figuring out what sessions I wanted to attend for the conference, and exploring Sand Key Park next door to the resort.

Got my poster safe and sound with the help of a young concierge named Brent. A big relief to have it in my room and know it arrived!

The Opening session was a nice reflection of education legislation and changes in Florida. While it was a little state specific, it was still cool to hear about the progress places are making around the country. It was also interesting to learn about some of the innovative post-secondary institutions that are popping like the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities. In fact, post secondary and transitions would prove to be a pretty large theme of the conference with quite a few posters and spoken presentations geared around that piece of education.

After the opening came the first round of posters. I was glad to have the opportunity to be a spectator before I put mine up the next morning. It gave me a chance to listen to conversations and see the way people with more experience handled themselves and talked people through their presentations in a timely manner.

In this session I met Dr. Christopher Denning from Umass Boston who was presenting “Piloting a Physical Activity Program for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” He was really kind, listening to my rookie concerns about my presentation the next morning and then pointing me in the direction of some movement research that might be helpful for my workshops!

 Academic poster form Umass Boston. The title and subtitle blocked out by a light glare. The Umass Boston logo and color scheme, blue and white, are employed throughout. The lettering and charts are black on a white background.

Academic poster form Umass Boston. The title and subtitle blocked out by a light glare. The Umass Boston logo and color scheme, blue and white, are employed throughout. The lettering and charts are black on a white background.

 

Thursday

Big Day!

I had my poster up in the morning sessions and it was a fun, new experience. I really enjoyed the conversational tone of the presentation format and found that the hour and half block went by fast. I had a steady flow of people popping in and out to chat and listen.

There was also a camaraderie with the other poster presenters that I didn’t necessarily expect. I had my neighbor presenters stopping in to chat and hear about my work and I did the same for them. Even though our work and perspectives were different, the whole vibe was a cordial, supportive, and helped take the edge off any nerves I had.

After my session I stopped into the DADD Online Journal publication session where editor Dr. Stanley Zucker went over publishing in the DADD's online journal. As one of the people in the session who had no previous experience with academic publication, Dr. Zucker used my work as a walk-through example for turning a poster into a paper. While the process itself was for the benefit of the group, I found it personally, really beneficial as a I continue to draft my submission together.

I then attended an amazing session facilitated by Dr. Elizabeth Harkins with Christine Scholma and Rebecca Kammes there in person and Dr. Gloria Nules and Dr. Rhonda Black video chatting in from Hawaii. Their presentation, “How to Navigate the Sexuality Dance: Inclusive Sexuality in the Current Political Landscape,” was an informative presentation complete with actionable ideas for teachers, professors, family therapists, and really anyone working with students. “I say all the scary words first,” was my favorite piece of plain-spoken advice from Christine Scholma.

 Worksheet typed up in black ink on a white paper. Around the given, typed, information are handwritten notes in blue ink. Some of theses handwritten notes are circled or have arrows to help relate back to specific points in the typed information on the worksheet.

Worksheet typed up in black ink on a white paper. Around the given, typed, information are handwritten notes in blue ink. Some of theses handwritten notes are circled or have arrows to help relate back to specific points in the typed information on the worksheet.

 Before lunch, I stopped in on a session led by Dianne Zager of the new Shrub Oak International School. The presentation “A Model for Transition Programming for High School Students with Autism” gave a rundown of various transitions models, offered ways they can be used together for greater success, and included a pretty robust discussion period with the attendees.

The last sessions of the day ended at 4:30 leaving a lot of downtime to get dinner, relax, and explore around the resort. I wish there was more late night programming, but as someone much younger than the average attendee, perhaps I’m in the minority on that opinion. I know many attendees brought families along and probably appreciated the time to have a vacation with them.

 

Friday

There’s this great scene in the documentary Woodstock where a person who attended the festival recalls Jimi Hendrix’s performance on the last day and says something to the effect of, “I was so tired I remember just wondering when he would stop.” This always stays with me. It could be the most ground breaking performance (like a re-imagining of the Star Spangled Banner) but at a certain point the energy just fades.

I often feel this way at big conferences, to no fault of the organizers or presenters!

I spent most of the morning poster session enjoying the continental breakfast, checking in for my flight, downloading my boarding pass, then taking care of odds and ends for my travel home.

I attended a panel “Perspectives on Publishing Pre-Tenure: Advice from Experts in the Field,” that was (quite clearly) more for early career academics, but I still gleaned some good writing tips and listening to a group of people discuss their craft and writing habits was a nice, non-intensive activity on the last day.

Dr. Elizabeth Harkins was leading another session with Dr. Gloria Niles video chatting in again, this one entitled, “Challenging Heteronormativity: Intersectionality of Gender, Sexuality, and Disability.” I enjoyed the first so much I decided to stop in and wasn’t disappointed!

After another catered lunch (tacos!) I sat in on “The Science of Mindful Breathing” presented by Dr Amrita Chaturvedi, Dr. Nikki Murdick and Dr. Kristine Larson and learned some new breathing techniques, namely alternate nostril breathing, which, while easy enough to perform, but can be quite the head rush!

The closing keynote was delivered by Robert Pio Hajjar, a self-advocate and author who offered his, “ I can, YOU can,” motivational speech as final call to action for the event.

 Black and white photo of a large, hotel, ballroom. In the foreground, a table with a pen and conference booklet, you can’t quite make out what it says. Beyond that are people sitting in chairs at round tables and listening to a closing keynote given by an older , male caucasian speaker at a podium.

Black and white photo of a large, hotel, ballroom. In the foreground, a table with a pen and conference booklet, you can’t quite make out what it says. Beyond that are people sitting in chairs at round tables and listening to a closing keynote given by an older , male caucasian speaker at a podium.

 All in all it was a great time! More academic and research geared than I’m used to, but it was interesting to be among that section of the industry for a while and see the work people are doing in the field.

Involving Other Adults

One of the hardest parts of running a group is getting the other adults, whether therapists, paras, TAs, or parents, involved in the activity. The most successful sessions I run are when the adults attending are just as invested as the students.

It’s a careful balance to strike. Ultimately student engagement and involvement is always the goal, but getting the adults to buy-in enhances the experience and helps achieve student goals.

Below are a couple tips I have for helping get the adults in the room excited about attending your groups and keeping that energy going for all your sessions.

Find people who are genuinely interested: Kids know when someone is faking. The best thing to do is find colleagues who you think might have a stake in your group and ask them if they’d be interested in being the go to person with a student. In my case, maybe there’s a para who is also a slam poet, a TA with an English degree, or a Speech therapist who has an interest in abstraction in language. Reach out to those individuals as you set up your schedule and see if you can build your groups with their support in mind.

Bring engaging material: As much as I love Shel Silverstein, if he was the only poet I taught it would not only bore students and do them a disservice, but it would cause most adults involved in the group to tune out. People like variety, so offer it to them. Furthermore, bring material you're excited about teaching, that kind of enthusiasm will rub off.

Offer your reading list: This is specifically for groups that involve parents, if they see their kids enjoying material they’ve never heard of, offer them a bit of your knowledge. A little kindness goes a long way.

Keep the activities challenging: When I set up movement based games I like to make them challenging (not impossible or difficult, this distinction is important) so that both the students and adults have an opportunity to support one another. This creates opportunities for parents to step-up and help their kid, students to teach a new move to a teacher, and other small moments where the dynamics are refreshed and the pressure is taken off the young-old split.

Just Ask: Make a point to ask people to get involved when you see them on the periphery. You don't have to call them out or stop mid-session to do it. Be polite and talk to them before or after the group. Very rarely will people say no. Remember, this is your session, you’re in charge.

Welcome!

In 2015 I turned down a fellowship from The New York City Teaching Fellows. This included a paid master’s degree and my own classroom, but I opted instead to stay a TA and run a weekly poetry workshop with eight students in the library of the Rebecca School.

The Ultimate Crusaders was the name that first group of eight students gave itself after a summer spent in a hot, street level, resource space. Since that first summer in the library, the workshops have grown to every floor on Rebecca School. And in the past two years the workshops have published books comprised entirely of student writing and artwork.

 

 All red cover with pops of darker and lighter red made to look like comic book action bubbles. Title “Ultimate Crusaders Vol. 2” in bold white lettering and in smaller white letter along the book’s spine.

All red cover with pops of darker and lighter red made to look like comic book action bubbles. Title “Ultimate Crusaders Vol. 2” in bold white lettering and in smaller white letter along the book’s spine.

The New York Restoration Project took notice of the workshops and with their support I teamed up with the West 150th Block Association to run weekly summer workshops in the Lucille McClarey Wicked Friendship Garden entitled Poetry in Bloom. This was the first time I brought the workshops into the community and it was an exciting change of pace that I’m happy to say will continue to happen!

 Vibrant teal flyer with “Poetry in Bloom” in all white lettering. Background has images, sketches, and line drawings of various flowers. Information about the event is in an all teal box, written in white lettering. In the bottom left are organization logos.

Vibrant teal flyer with “Poetry in Bloom” in all white lettering. Background has images, sketches, and line drawings of various flowers. Information about the event is in an all teal box, written in white lettering. In the bottom left are organization logos.

Workshop Notes is an evolving blog that educators anywhere are welcome to use. It is, in essence, short hand observations, stories, lessons, and reflections from my workshops.

There is no definitive curriculum or pedagogy out there for teaching poetry and creative writing in special education classrooms. So I’ve decided to try my hand at developing one and figure I should take some notes along the way.

Thanks for following. I hope you enjoy the ride!