This afternoon I presented a workshop along with two of my favorite colleagues and fellow teaching circle members, Pam McCombs and Cindy Guillean. When Bill asked us to put together something “rejuvenating” as an end of semester pick-me-up, I immediately thought about self-care and how important it is to give ourselves permission to consider and respond to our own needs – especially when, as teachers, we are so often responding to the needs of others: students, colleagues, administrators, and so on. Pam and Cindy and I immediately got to work, planning and dreaming and creating: we share a love for creativity – making things with our hands, playing with images, and using mixed media to connect with others. What we came up with was a workshop that invited participants to focus on themselves: their stories, their interests, their talents, completely outside of pedagogical responsibilities.
We set up four stations with different activities: a meditation area where participants could sit on the floor with blankets, pillows, and notebooks and recall times when they experienced peace, love, harmony, balance, self-control, and human understanding; a table for making affirmation jars (these are small jars with positive sayings, quotes, or thoughts on small strips of paper that can be pulled out as needed); an area for sharing school stories and making PEOP’s or mini-zines; and an image/text area where participants could use cut out shapes to create an image or use mirrors or smartphones to take a selfie and then draw their iconic self or make three panel comics. We wanted everyone to have the chance to work in a medium they don’t typically use, and more importantly, we wanted them to think positive thoughts in a safe and supportive space. Hands down, the affirmation jars were a big hit:
One of our participants drew this beautiful portrait – I’m not sure if it was for the iconic self activity or if it might become a PEOP:
At our mid-point, Katie Livingston, a PhD Candidate from Michigan State University who I met at 4C14, came to speak about the importance of self-care and community care. She shared from her personal experience as a queer individual in need of support, and spoke about maintaining boundaries, about giving ourselves permission to acknowledge and respond to our own needs, about saying no (and saying yes), and then brought her own mini-zine that illustrated four ways to practice self-care (which is community care, too, because we are part of a community of teachers).
Katie’s practical advice included 1) being in your own body: give yourself permission to feel what you feel and ugly cry if you have to, 2) logging off: scrolling through everybody else’s Facebook updates about their perfect lives is “hashtag unproductive”, 3) logging in: but sometimes access to a virtual community lets you bring “home” with you and check in as needed, and 4) practicing gratitude: step outside, soak in the sun, and be thankful that you have what you need to survive.
The workshop was so rewarding, even as a presenter: I loved to hear about individual self-care practices (like Erin’s weekly massages and Angela’s stained glass making, which Katie confirmed with excited comments like “yeah! I LOVE that!”), I loved to see the projects that our teachers made (someone made a beautiful cut paper piece of two hands clasped that I wasn’t able to photograph), and I loved the engagement our teachers had with each activity – they were so brave and inventive.
As a college writing teacher, being able to partner with local K-12 teachers (and pre-service teachers) is something I feel privileged to do: sometimes the divide between grade levels (especially high school to college) feels impassable and rather than collaborating, blame is passed down the line in search of a cause for the ill-preparedness of students. The Eastern Michigan Writing Project, through these Saturday seminars and our Summer Invitational Institute, seeks to foster dialogue across levels by focusing on positive language and shared resources: an initiative that I am proud to be involved with. I speak for all of us when I say thanks to all who came out today. Thank you for letting us share our ideas with you. We had a great time.