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!

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!

If you enjoyed the read, help me keep content like this free and become a poetry Patron!

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.

If you enjoyed the read, help me keep content like this free and become a poetry Patron!

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.

If you enjoyed the read, help me keep content like this free and become a poetry Patron!