Over the past seven years, NWP has influenced 100s of teachers and 1000s of pupils - through conferences and workshops, but mainly through the professional dedication and determination - and, yes, the agency - of teachers who have decided to write together and, thereby, research and strengthen their own practice. No government funding, no fees, no ring-binders - just professionals telling their own stories in their own words in their own time. And besides feeling creatively restored and good about themselves, these teachers have enabled pupils to occupy their own writing more authentically and more meaningfully, free of formulae, obligatory fronted adverbials or expensive commercial gizmos.
Above all, NWP group leaders across the country, through their enthusiasm, vision and dedication, have been the heroes. What follows is based on the early responses to this month's NWP survey.
Group leaders have assembled 'cores' of 5-10 writing teachers. They have set up regular patterns of meetings, and by trusting and sharing, established momentum. Comfortable venues such as galleries, museums, university rooms and private houses, with a plentiful supply of coffee and cake, have provided space for teachers to network outside the classroom. Off-site meetings facilitate writing and cultivate a richer professional identity. Teachers' circumstances and freedoms differ widely, so finding the time to meet is not easy. (2 hours on a Saturday morning is common.) However, time taken seems to have been more often restorative than draining of teachers' energies. It seems that teachers' writing groups perform a necessary therapeutic function - as well as a pedagogic one.
Great writing ideas are shared, of course, and much of the value seems to be in hearing, with fascination, what other writers have produced, there and then, in response to a common stimulus or idea. This, in turn, deepens teachers' understanding of writing's process and nature - and their own untapped potential - especially when undertaken collaboratively, in a group. How writers listen and respond to each other is vital. This trusting dynamic breeds confidence – and a sense of professional agency. Teachers are beholden only to themselves – and their collected power for change is immense. With increased confidence about the writing process, teachers become more openly empathetic with their students and pupils as writers. This tends to affect how they approach writing in the classroom, helping students and pupils listen to each other's distinctive voices - more than how closely they accommodate conventional structures. In classrooms where NWP teachers introduce writing notebooks and develop response partnership, their pupils engage more readily and meaningfully with writing. This leads to a growth in ‘psycho-sturdiness’ and independence and resilience. It also widens pupils’ linguistic and cultural repertoire. As one teacher put it recently, 'What's not to like?'
NWP groups provide a professional, educational antidote to an overemphasis on writing as tested product. This has to be good for inclusion and creativity in schools. However, it is clear that the 'permission' for such practices is not equally given across all institutions. It seems that more privileged backgrounds benefit disproportionately - almost as if 'you can only have your pudding when you have eaten your greens.' But this does not lead to a healthy diet nor great appetite for writing. A truly national system would have to ensure that all children were allowed to cultivate their own written voices. And that would transform perceptions not just of writing, but of the human condition - the importance of each person having an equal right and duty to declare their witness of the world. And, in my opinion, we would all be the better for it.
So far, NWP has had no funding and scarce resources. It has had to rely entirely on the goodwill of group leaders. Opportunities have been limited for group leaders to be refreshed and supported by sharing each other's practices, or by learning from research into writing and the teaching of writing. Addressing this is important for NWP's future and credibility. Project plans are to establish stronger links with more universities. This would affect the way in which teacher educators supported students and newly qualified teachers to teach writing.
If you're a teacher of writing fed up with just being held to account, and you actually want to exercise your professional responsibility, why not join an NWP writing group? It's free.
PS Since my last blog 4 days ago, the number of petition signatures has increased by over 3,000. If new signatures accumulate at the same rate between now and the deadline of October 19th, there will be over 100,000 signatures. That would mean that a question of 'increased professionalism within education' will be considered for debate in parliament. Whatever you think of the motion, that has to be a force for good.