(the opening of 'Greetings to the Dawn' by Malek Sghiri, translated by Robin Moger, in 'Writing Revolution - Tunis to Damascus' I.B.Tauris, May 2013)
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an oppressed people are right to revolt, provided they do so abroad. However, in an attempt to address a similar malaise amongst teachers of writing at home in the UK, let me re-articulate the NWP vision.
The NWP is a research project about exploring writing, invigorating writing, and strengthening teachers of writing. The method chosen is to create safe writing groups, run by teachers, for teachers. After only 5 years, there are now over 25 NWP groups across the UK involving over 200 teachers and countless pupils, and the numbers are growing - 70 more teachers have joined NWP since this website started in September 2013.
NWP groups provide trusting spaces for teachers to experience, experiment and explore writing with the help of a group leader. No one tells anyone else what to do or how to write; no one leaps to judgement or scolds you for your lack of 'progress'; no one VCOPs or PEEs on you. We learn together - by writing together.
Without an understanding of what it feels like to write - the delights and difficulties involved, the evidence of its personal effects and the positive consequences in classrooms - teachers will remain powerless to argue for an improved and more enlightened approach to writing in schools. Everyone else will tell teachers how to teach writing - often pressing for writing closure before the mind has had time to find its own truth. And at present there is a coalition of powerful forces in the UK, with limited understanding of the writing process, who give advice and apply pressure according to an old paradigm of writing products, structures and their assessment. In effect this paradigm suppresses creativity and thereby, ironically, even holds their own 'standards' down. We need a nobler and more inclusive vision of writing; we need new standards and a new paradigm fit for the 21st century.
So the challenge remains, can a grass-roots movement such as NWP UK, by re-focusing on the processes by which meaningful writing is nurtured, thereby grow expertise, build confidence and restore authority to teachers? Oddly, while the system acknowledges that teachers are the prime agents of change, it does little to tap the wells of creativity within them. In practice, teachers' creativity is frequently either squashed or suppressed - and wasted. Too many teachers place compliance before honest investigation, becoming distrustful of their own instincts. The system seems blind to the irony of this: not only is this over-control to the detriment of teachers' health and happiness, but it also reduces their effectiveness in the classroom. This need not be the case. However, it is unlikely to change unless teachers themselves take action together.
So far, the evidence of NWP UK echoes the findings of 40-year-old NWP US: when writers are more fully engaged and empowered, writing becomes a more pleasurable and meaningful experience in schools - and writers become more independent and produce higher quality writing.
In NWP groups, teachers can talk, write and share freely, and thereby make their own discoveries about the effects of writing together. Temperatures vary and group leaders are sensitive to this. There will be epiphanies. However, in shaping principles and practices collectively, teachers are strengthened, their teaching is re-invigorated, and they are enabled to speak with greater authority about matters which currently seem to be decided by others.
Respect yourself, respect your colleagues, respect your pupils: join an NWP writing group - and spread the word.
NWP outreach director