We began by recording where each of us was now - as writers and as teachers of writing. We will re-read our words in a year’s time, and discuss whether and how writing together has made a difference to us, both personally and professionally. That is a core activity for NWP as a research project.
I reflected on how uneven my own patterns of writing are: there is always another claim on my time, and, even when I do have the opportunity, I often resist. Committing to a writing group forces me to write, and I know that, without that compulsion and moral support, much of life would remain undiscovered. And writing alongside others - in classrooms or cafes – is strengthening and a real pleasure. The noises off fade away and all I can hear is a furious scribbling - people stirring, shifting, sighing, utterly wrapped in the process of discovering and expressing. And there’s the further pleasure of knowing that, a little later, we’ll share the different directions writing has taken us – or we have taken it – and the different conversations that will generate.
Then we devised and went on a scavenger hunt around the classroom, foyer and grounds of Priory LSST. We looked at our surroundings through six ‘lenses’ – we had to find six specific manifestations of the following:
- Something red
- A sound not made by a human
- A roughness
- A string of 5 or 6 words not written on paper
- Something missing
What fascinated me was how diversely ‘redness’ appeared and the rich meanings it accreted – from saris, paintings, fire alarms, lanyards. Also, in the search for specific examples of more abstract qualities such as ‘roughness’ and ‘comfort’, their opposites hovered like defining shadows in the background.
Finally, we listed things that we had learnt at school – as teachers or pupils – that were on the ‘hidden curriculum’. Then we read Kate Bingham’s poem ‘What I learnt at University’, before writing our own. When people read back, they read about things known, unknown and forbidden. In briefly re-living experience they had re-awoken voices in their writing – oblique, witty, cynical and fresh voices - the voices of adults certainly, but of children too. Such writing has all the intimacy of rehearsal. It looks and sounds and feels like ‘learning’. And is, perhaps, what might also happen in classrooms – in those ‘lessoning’ spaces between one test and another. Empathy with pupils and students is, unsurprisingly, one of teachers’ main findings from spending time writing together.
Tomorrow, 17 November, Jeni and I will share more NWP findings at NATE’s ITE symposium at the British Library. The event is entitled, ‘Communities of Practice – participation and resistance’. The title sounds a note of doubleness and compromise familiar to many in education. But it also reminds me that, at times like these, when inclusive and creative principles seem themselves besieged, professionals and democrats must organise and affirm their agency through collaborative action.
NWP outreach director