In his introductory lecture, John Yandell focused on a prerequisite for the responsible professional life: recognising and responding to the human consciousness of our pupils. The power of collaboratively exploring the inner life goes far beyond current test structures and curricular demands. John reminded us of James Britton's words (Language for Life 1974) on the need for informed dialogue within the secondary English department: a teacher should ‘have an awareness of his (sic) own use of language and understanding how the nature of the verbal exchange between himself and his pupils can affect the quality of learning.’
This echoes Holbrook’s claim that, in a commodified education culture in schools dominated by managerialism and measurable outcomes, English is the ‘custodian subject of the inner life ... We cannot separate knowledge from the knower.’ Teachers demonstrate ‘creative responsibility to their living’ by, for example, writing alongside their pupils. ‘People seek authenticity within themselves; ... they know their own fulfilment is bound up with the well-being of others; ... everyone has a ‘formative principle’ within themselves – they gain by creative effort.’
At the Bedford NWP group on March 4, and again at Cardiff Metropolitan University on March 20, NWP workshops explored the power of collaborative creative writing. Discoveries were made. And the biggest surprise for many was to find that they themselves became conduits for those visions, voices and values which arrived ‘slant’ (Emily Dickinson’s phrase) through their writing. Furthermore, in the talk which preceded and followed the writing, there was more sensitive attention to the personal , and a growing sense of how imaginative writing could help us understand ourselves, the world and our conversation with it.
Such collaborative experiences help any teacher who wishes to translate their writing classroom into a community of enquiry.
I am delighted that the 200th teacher has just applied online to join an NWP (UK) writing group. Many teachers belong to the 20 + NWP writing groups around the UK. These groups continue to contribute to teacher and pupil well-being, to advance pedagogic debate, and to collect evidence of how meaningful writing may be developed in schools.
David Holbrook: Education, Nihilism and Survival. Darton, Longman and Todd, 1977. (pp 44-59)
Department for Education and Science: Language for Life. HMSO 1974 (15.31)
NWP outreach director