Lorna presented a paper which she and I have written together, based on three NWP writing workshops. These focused on why teachers turn to writing groups and what benefits they bring.
Across the world, in prescriptive education systems, teachers have turned to write, read and talk together in order to reclaim creative and critical thought. By immersing themselves in dialogic language processes, they become more empowered to help pupils' learning and well-being.
It also seems that choosing to write together strengthens not only oneself as a writer and teacher of writing, but also grows collective agency - witness not least this conference.
In Australia there is a sense that writing groups might offer a bulwark against the tide of centralised measures which exclude and deprofessionalise teachers. A teacher from the Stella2.0 project provides the following endorsement:
"I came away excited by the realisation that all these English teachers sitting around me at my table … were using writing in their English classrooms to allow their students to explore different worlds and ideas, not just to mimic or memorise standardised templates. I came away feeling hopeful again.”
In Israel too, teacher educators find writing brings to the surface and validates teachers' authentic voices.
'...if I let teachers write about things that concern them in the classroom, if I let them take the stage and describe their practice, we are opening up the group to real dialogue, I am giving the teachers a place which stretches the boundaries in these standards-bound times.'
In the UK context, creative teachers are now being lost to the profession. Yet if we want to prepare our children for complex and uncertain futures, then we need teachers experienced in the cultivation of creativity. Without children's imagination and collaboration, we squander the very resources that will provide answers to future problems. In defence of this argument, Lorna cites 'All Our Futures' (1999):
‘Teachers cannot develop the creative abilities of their pupils if their own creative abilities are suppressed.’
Lorna's presentation, 'Reflecting with my tribe', drew out the pedagogical, creative and therapeutic benefits of belonging to an NWP(UK) teachers' writing group. Teachers attest that time spent in a group's safe space actually increases learning and well-being by restoring creative teachers to themselves, to their professional identities - and to their pupils:
I suddenly realised that [writing] is what I need to do, every day, just a little bit, just to have a bit of space for myself (Wembley NWP)
They (pupils) hear me scribbling things out and they see my face when I get frustrated and I think they kind of go, ‘Oh that’s all right, I’m normal because that’s what Miss is doing’… that has… been a huge benefit [and] had such a powerful effect on them… these were quite disengaged kids. (Sussex NWP)
Creative writing ... it’s a new departure… and it’s reinvigorated my love of teaching. (Bristol NWP)
Many thanks to all NWP group leaders, to Lorna for carrying these UK messages abroad, to Graham Parr and his Monash team for convening and designing the symposium at ARLE, and to Nikki Aharonian for her insights into the politics of these narratives.
NWP outreach director 2009-2019