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.

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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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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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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Holiday Cookie Poems

Since my first year running poetry workshops at Rebecca School, I've partnered with Cafe Rebecca “a gluten-free café located within the Rebecca School. Through the Café Rebecca program, our Transitions students (ages 15-21) bake, deliver, advertise and run all aspects of a café.  Our student bakers create everything from the logo to the cupcakes.  Everything made in Café Rebecca is gluten-free and nut-free, with vegan options as well.  Café Rebecca’s goal for serving food to the school community is to create a shared experience surrounding homemade food that all students and staff members can enjoy together, taking into consideration all food allergies.” [1]

Our partnership happens around the holidays and involves the workshops creating a poem to go on the Café’s holiday cookie tags as part of the marketing for the  holiday cookie sale. Every year the café packages and sells hundreds of cookies to families, students, and staff.  These packages come with signature tags, one side branding the café and the other with a signature poem.

Pile of three flavored cookies, chocolate, sugar, and oatmeal on a plastic wrapped plate. On top of the plate are two festive tags. One tag shows the front with the Cafe Rebecca logo, the other tag shows the back with the Rebecca School Poetry Workshop’s poem.

Pile of three flavored cookies, chocolate, sugar, and oatmeal on a plastic wrapped plate. On top of the plate are two festive tags. One tag shows the front with the Cafe Rebecca logo, the other tag shows the back with the Rebecca School Poetry Workshop’s poem.

Not every workshop takes on this project. It involves some pretty intense effort: writing on theme, working with space restrictions, and meeting a deadline. Of the eleven workshops I run at the Rebecca School, this year only two workshops took on the project.

So how do we get going on all this work?

I like to start the process right after thanksgiving to ensure that the workshops have a couple of weeks to progress toward the deadline. The deadline is usually the Friday before the winter break, so for example, this year’s 2018 deadline fell on Dec. 14th.

Since the tags are small, we get about sixteen words worth of space. To help the poets visualize this I’ll bring in a sample of the tags, either the blank slate the café is using, an example from the previous year, or both. I’ll also draw sixteen blank spaces up on the white board to give them a further visual for our word count. I often set this up in a standard 4x4 grid, but leave it free for the poets to move around as the piece demands.

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid.

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid.

For the actual writing portion, I give every poet note cards to write one word. Sometimes each poet will get two or three cards (depends on the workshop size), with the expectation that each card will only have one word each on it. I like doing this because it further reinforces the idea that we, as a workshop, don’t have a ton of space to play with. It also ensures that everyone is putting their own ideas down. Part of the fun of this project is seeing what words or phrases each poet associates with “The Holidays” then working together to fit these disparate ideas into a cohesive poem. After every poet is finished writing their word(s) we tape them up in the blank spots on the board.

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid. On these blank lines now are notecards with individual words and some hand written words

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid. On these blank lines now are notecards with individual words and some hand written words

After taping them up we can really get down to editing and creating working drafts. Sometimes the word count makes it so that we have extra space to write in new words, other times we’re exactly at sixteen and have to take some poetic license. The taped note cards allow the editing process to be visceral. Poets can go to the board, take words off, move them around and do what they need to show their vision for the poem. They can, quite literally, break the lines!

School white board with note cards and handwritten words still in that four by four structure but now without the guiding blank lines. The board is broken up with a column to denote which part of the draft the workshop is going to be working on.

School white board with note cards and handwritten words still in that four by four structure but now without the guiding blank lines. The board is broken up with a column to denote which part of the draft the workshop is going to be working on.

 Reflecting a bit more about this partnership, I realize that it informed the growth of my workshops and especially the Sensorimotor Poetry Workshops. This writing and editing technique, based around the social-emotional skills and the necessity of structure to a poem, forms the literacy back bone of that Sensorimotor modality.

This partnership was also the first opportunity I had to showcase the writing that the workshops were doing in the school. Being offered that opportunity when I was still running and managing these groups on top of my Teaching Assistant responsibilities was incredibly confidence boosting. It’s really touching and difficult to word how special it feels to have someone recognize and want to promote the work you’re doing. And, beyond my facilitator ego, to have the school community recognize the work of these poets is equally touching.

Big piece of butcher paper taped to a window. The four by four grid of lines is back with words handwritten in each. Along with these words there are now editing marks such as Xs, arrows, and circles, to denote where parts of the poem are being moved around to or potential placement ideas for words in the poem.

Big piece of butcher paper taped to a window. The four by four grid of lines is back with words handwritten in each. Along with these words there are now editing marks such as Xs, arrows, and circles, to denote where parts of the poem are being moved around to or potential placement ideas for words in the poem.

This long standing partnership is one of my favorite holiday traditions... and eating cookies at the end of it certainly adds to the spirit!

Sources

  1. https://www.rebeccaschool.org/cafe-rebecca/

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Sensory Supports

Working with a population of learners who have a wide array of sensory needs means adapting the classroom space to meet those individual needs. As I reflect on this past semester I wanted to create a little list of some easy sensory supports to include as part of a workshop, or classroom, environment.

 One easy thing is alternative seating like a yoga ball. The bouncing of the yoga ball can help offer input for students to be more attentive and engaged in the lesson. The one difficulty is sometimes everyone wants a turn to sit on the ball, whether it’s right for their sensory system or not, so establishing it as special seat for an individual student right from the get-go is important. 

Tiled classroom with a white board. Black chairs arranged in a half-circle around the white board. In the middle of the chairs is a teal yoga ball intended to be a seat. On the board can be seen some writing.

Tiled classroom with a white board. Black chairs arranged in a half-circle around the white board. In the middle of the chairs is a teal yoga ball intended to be a seat. On the board can be seen some writing.

Another easy tool is a weighted blanket, providing deep pressure to help students remain seated and regulated who might otherwise want to move around to seek sensory input. I’ve found there isn’t as much temptation from other students around these blankets, so it’s a nice, low impact addition to the classroom space.

The student it’s intended for can keep it on their body, take it off when it’s their turn to go to the board and then put it back over them or have a staff put it over them as the other poets take their turns.

 

Teal and dark blue weighted blanket sitting on top of a black chair in a tiled classroom.

Teal and dark blue weighted blanket sitting on top of a black chair in a tiled classroom.

Another, subtler and smaller form of deep pressure are hand squeezes to rhythm. A colleague of mine offers this to a poet in one of the rhythm and movement based workshops I run. It’s a simple tactile cue that helps the poet stay attuned to the group activity while also giving their body a bit of support.

For the workshops that are doing writing on paper rather than the white board I like to offer writing utensils that have different sizes and textures. This way every poet should be able to find a tool that fits comfortably in their hand.

Clear mason jar of writing utensils on a tiled classroom floor. The Jar has plastic ball point pens with both smooth and rough grips, pens with cardboard wrapping, regular sized pencils, and giant pencils.

Clear mason jar of writing utensils on a tiled classroom floor. The Jar has plastic ball point pens with both smooth and rough grips, pens with cardboard wrapping, regular sized pencils, and giant pencils.

These are a few ideas I have, but I’d love to hear what else is out there and what other artists and educators use in their spaces!

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Snowball Dialouge

New article over in Whale Road Literary Review on “Snowball Dialouge” a writing technique I’ve used with students in the Sensorimotor Poetry Workshops.

While this article talks specifically about moments of peer learning in the workshop space, I've also used this as a strategy to help communicate and co-regulate with students in the day-to-day as well.

It's a good back pocket tool for any educator!

Black text on a white background. The top has the masthead for  Whale Road Review  with four lines right aligned indicating an online drop down menu. Below that masthead is the start of the article with “Snowball Dialogue” in bold, black title lettering and the article lettering beginning in paragraph form below.

Black text on a white background. The top has the masthead for Whale Road Review with four lines right aligned indicating an online drop down menu. Below that masthead is the start of the article with “Snowball Dialogue” in bold, black title lettering and the article lettering beginning in paragraph form below.

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Edupreneur: Early Bird

There’s the old saying, "the early bird gets the worm." While the twenty-four hour nature of the world today renders that a bit invalid, in education and the education market that phrase still holds true.

Everyone who works in schools: teachers, administrators, staff, custodians, etc. knows how it feels to get up early. Making the shift from an edupreneur didn’t change my natural (or real) alarm clock as I still find myself waking up before sunrise most days.


Four alarms set on a smart phone at various times: Rebecca School 6am on Tuesdays and Fridays, BX Museum 6:30am Monday and Wednesday, NYRP Workshop 10am on Saturday and Sunday, and Nap 3:15pm on Sunday. A light blue slide shows us that all the alarms are currently turned on.

Four alarms set on a smart phone at various times: Rebecca School 6am on Tuesdays and Fridays, BX Museum 6:30am Monday and Wednesday, NYRP Workshop 10am on Saturday and Sunday, and Nap 3:15pm on Sunday. A light blue slide shows us that all the alarms are currently turned on.


This skill is useful though, not only in terms of time management and efficiency, but in keeping me in the same time frame as my market.

For example:

I know if I send an email in the morning it’ll be answered faster than one sent in the afternoon because so many teachers check their emails as part of prep before school starts.

So if I want to blast out a newsletter with important information or a deal, I'll be creating content at the same time my audience is ready to interact with it.

It’s little tricks like this that allow me to stay ahead and make sure I’m speaking to my intended audience.

Think about what you know about your corner of the education world:

Maybe you're a social worker and know specifics about the timing of parent and caregiver phone calls.

Maybe you have an understanding of the organizational skills and prioritizing of an administrator.


Whatever it is, leverage that time so that you and your customers can make the most of it!

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Edupreneur: Stay in School

A lot of business books and blogs I read when I was starting out on my edupreneurial adventure talked about making your current employer your first customer or client. Like any entrepreneur, edupreneurs can do the same!


Still of Dorie Clark’s  Enrepreneurial You , hardcover edition on a wooden table

Still of Dorie Clark’s Enrepreneurial You, hardcover edition on a wooden table

Anyone in education knows how stingy schools can be with their budgets. And rightfully so! Schools have a lot of expenditures to make sure students needs are met. But that makes it difficult for new contractors and outside work to get a foothold.

You can drop resumes at booths and tables at conferences, make phone calls, send emails, but what if the better answer was right in front of you all along?


Table at the CEC-DADD 2018 conference. Two older Caucasian women look at pamphlets on a red clothed table. A Third middle-aged Caucasian women is seen checking her phone behind the table.

Table at the CEC-DADD 2018 conference. Two older Caucasian women look at pamphlets on a red clothed table. A Third middle-aged Caucasian women is seen checking her phone behind the table.

Rather than cold emailing a school and trying to convince an administration that doesn’t know you or has never worked with you that you’re worth part of their discretionary spending, ask the people who already know you.

Assuming you have a good reputation with them, the administration that knows you is way more likely to hire you! Then, not only do you have money coming in, you also have a reference for future schools and institutions to see when they view your resume or client list.

Somethings to consider:

Show that you’ve developed this idea in order to help. If your service offers something you find lacking or in need of improvement in education, chances are your school could benefit from this service too. The trick is: how can you offer this service without offending an administration you’ve worked closely with?

Is there staff that would speak on your behalf? Testimonials are always good, even with people who know you. Sometimes administration can be pretty removed from the everyday, so having teachers, therapists, and teaching assistants willing to say how interested they are in you and your service can be helpful in securing a contract.

Would you be willing to offer a reduced rate? The first client is an important get and the familiarity with this school can give you some wiggle room to negotiate, but it can also give them that same wiggle room. Make sure you have a bottom line that you won’t go lower than before you start talks!

What can your school do for you that you can’t do on your own? You can take this any direction you want: school culture, professional development, health care, money. One big thing for me was the financing to attend and present at education conferences. Make a list of 5 things that your school can offer you that would help sweeten the deal if the budget really does require them to go lower than you’d like.

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Edupreneur

What’s edupreneurship? Well as I define it: It’s simply being an education entrepreneur.

A lot of time people think this means specifically edtech work, but I would contest that there are a lot of opportunities to start a business that can benefit schools, teachers, students, and all education stakeholders that don’t involve technology at all.

In my edupreneur posts I’ll be sharing tips and tricks I’ve learned in my first year of running Donnie Welch Poetry. A lot of these are things I’ve learned the hard way and wish someone had told me!

I’ll be sharing posts that I hope inspire people to make the leap in edupreneurship!

(Photo by  Julianne Nash ) Donnie Welch, young caucasian male, sits on radiator by the window of a empty classroom. He’s in a red shirt, jeans, and sneakers, sitting with one leg crossed. The gray and white tile floor and white board of the classroom are visible in the foreground.

(Photo by Julianne Nash) Donnie Welch, young caucasian male, sits on radiator by the window of a empty classroom. He’s in a red shirt, jeans, and sneakers, sitting with one leg crossed. The gray and white tile floor and white board of the classroom are visible in the foreground.

Part of what motivated the creation of Donnie Welch Poetry was a desire to advocate for more arts education in neurodiverse learning. Rather than just standing on a literal or digital soap box, I decided that one way I could help get more arts ed in neurodiverse classrooms was to build a business that did exactly that.

I believe that edupreneurship can help drive education reform.

If you believe so too, then I challenge you to start a side hustle that addresses some of the wrongs you see in education.

Picture of stars & constellations from a poetry workshop. Black construction paper taped together with yellow finger paint on them. To the left are two columns of three, then a column of two, then one all the way on the right. The finger painting is different in each, some dots, some swirls and some full hand prints are visible.

Picture of stars & constellations from a poetry workshop. Black construction paper taped together with yellow finger paint on them. To the left are two columns of three, then a column of two, then one all the way on the right. The finger painting is different in each, some dots, some swirls and some full hand prints are visible.

Maybe you have a way to better track district budgets that could save money and get funds allocated to programs that need it?

Maybe you have the curriculum idea that’ll rock the STEM world?

Maybe there’s a way to create fluid partnerships between local musicians and band classes?

Maybe you have something else entirely!?

Whatever skills you have, bring them to the table. The education system needs new ideas and if you don’t do it then who?

Step up. Students need you!

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SXSWedu Panel Picker 2019

Panel Picker is part of the conference selection process for SXSW and SXSWedu.

It's a  voting platform wherein, "Community voting comprises 30% of the selection decision, plus input of the SXSW Staff (30%) and Advisory Board (40%) helps ensure that less well-known voices have as much of a chance of being selected to speak at SXSW EDU as individuals with large online followings. Together these percentages help determine the final content lineup." [https://www.sxswedu.com/news/2018/panelpicker-community-voting-is-open/]

To vote, visit panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote  and make a free account by providing an email and creating a password.

I've submitted Rhythm & Learning with two close colleagues of mine. This workshop will go into greater depth about the poetry workshops than my previous half hour sessions at the conference. This will include on overview of the DIR/Floortime model (the theoretical framework for the sessions) an overview of the workshop structure and process, and end with a model workshop.

Check out our proposal, leave a comment, and an upvote if you like what you see. Also, if you're going to the conference and/or have a proposal feel free to reach out. Hope to see you in Austin!

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Workshopping the Workshop

Today marked the start of a new project with one of the workshops. Rather than building a collaborative poem off of a few lines from each poet, we're writing, revising, and (eventually) publishing full, individual poems.

Image of a poem written in black marker on a school white board. Photo editing has given everything a slight burnt tint. The poem’s title says “Tornado Brain” by Donnie. Parts of the poem are circled in orange, and brown other lines have writing around them in blue and purple ink.

Image of a poem written in black marker on a school white board. Photo editing has given everything a slight burnt tint. The poem’s title says “Tornado Brain” by Donnie. Parts of the poem are circled in orange, and brown other lines have writing around them in blue and purple ink.

Before summer break, every poet wrote a full piece on the prompt Tornado Brain, myself included. In introducing the idea of editing and revising I wanted to use my work rather than make any one post feel picked out. This not only takes away the anxiousness of having a poem critiqued, but it gives me the chance to model, as facilitator, the way to accept and process feedback. It also allows the poets to tackle this new subject as a group and use the collaborating, social skills they have in place from the group writing projects.

The idea of finding something to change was initially off putting to some of the poets and, admittedly, I don't know what I would have done in school if a teacher gave me a lesson saying, "okay, what would you change about this poem I wrote?" Two strategies I found that worked: asking the poets to identify what they like and have them circle it and asking them to make additions to the text.

Circling was a good entry way into the text because once they showed me what they liked they were more equipped to talk about what they didn't. Whether that's because it helped them identify their preferences or because it's socially easier to give someone a compliment sandwich, I'm not sure.  In either case, it helped lead to productive conversations and, as you can tell in the picture, even the circled favorite of one poet proved an area of critique for another.

In asking for additions instead of changes, a couple poets were able to interact with the text and give it a personal sense of completion.  Once the additions were made, it was easier to talk about the full text, including their suggested additions. The explanations for why their additions made sense often highlighted elements of the piece they did or didn't like and served as nice opportunities for myself, other facilitators, and peer poets in the room to interject or agree.

Another technique that seemed to work for this lesson was having  every student use their own color marker at the start. While some overlap eventually happened (best laid plans...) this was nice while it lasted! It not only let me see the work of each individual poet, but it made it easy for them to see what each other thought and, in turn, to respond to each other's comment. Next time I'll try and keep the colors a little more carefully coordinated!

After the success of this, I was hoping the poets would be ready to edit their own pieces, but that was definitely a rushed thought. The poets hesitated and rightfully so. Not only is this something new, but it's something a lot scarier than any reading and/or writing exercise we've done. I think workshops are scary! I just know that the end result is a much better, tighter draft and these poets need to see that pay off before they put themselves out there.

I was focused on having this be a summer project, ending with a summer school publication, but I need to step back and enjoy the process. Next session I'm planning to bring my revisions so that they can see how I've accepted their changes and maybe I'll have them go at it again to get some more practice in and, hopefully, see that it can be a good thing to have other poets read and interact with your work.

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