Four Tips for Running a Poets-in-School Program

 While researching and writing the issue #5 feature on poets in schools, I heard a lot of information from my interviewees that I thought would make great advice for a burgeoning school or community program. I even considered structuring the article in the vain of "10 things you MUST know or your projet will FAIL", a format that I've always heard web marketers are crazy about. But I'm a rational man. And to me ten pieces of advice sounds more like an overlong family dinner than a good read. 
Nevertheless, I jotted down a few. Here they are for you!
Four (Not Ten) Tips for Poets-in-Schools Programs
#1 – Budget to have some paid administrative time. This may not be feasible at the very start, but everyone who I spoke to with a stable program all had someone dedicated, usually part-time, to contacting schools, coordinating with poets, writing cheques, etc. Teachers often struggle under the weight of their course loads, and having a little difficulty connecting with a program coordinator who has no time to coordinate could be enough to turn them away. This is a concept that marketers know well: the bigger the perceived obstacles to obtaining a good or service, the smaller the desire to obtain.
The amount needn't be huge. Chris Gilpin admits that if he were to add up all the hours he puts into the job in a month, the pay probably would be less than minimum wage. But it supplements his income enough that he can pursue the project because it matters to him, and benefits the community.
Sheri-D Wilson confirms that Word Travels “really became something” in its sixth year, partly because a dedicated administrator other than herself was brought on board.
#2 – Tie into another program to benefit from cross-promotion. Everyone I spoke to to whom this applies affirmed that many of their bookings come from the exposure they receive as a result of their weekly or monthly or yearly events.
#3 – If you don't have an existing relationship that is an “in”, develop one. Dave Silverberg in Toronto told me he made contact with his alma mater at the very start, and it has translated to regular engagements. Nothing is better than word of mouth, of course, but it's not something you generate at will. It's therefore important that poets can provide teachers with easily accessed references to serve as social proof, as Vancouver's WordPlay did from the start. Says Dawn Knight, “once one teacher hosts us, we use them as a reference, and there's nothing teachers like better than hearing from another teacher that something was really fun for their kids.”

#4 – Ask for more money. Learn which schools generally have more funding than others, and quote accordingly, Sheri-D Wilson says. If it is too much for them, “ask what their budget is,” she suggests. “'What's your budget' is a good place to start. Then, 'can we stretch that budget by this much?'” Sound mercenary to you? Artists gotta eat too. And the more you support yourself with your art, the more you support others with your art.

What I really like about this subject is that the point of it is to get children exposed to spoken word as an accessible, expansive, stimulating medium that has the potential to make a great impact in their lives.

What do you think? Have any other great advice on how the spoken word community can "think of the children"?

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