By Becky Swain, Head of Learning and Participation, Arvon
In Teresa Cremin’s first post for this blog a fortnight ago she asked, ‘Do teachers see themselves as writers?’ It is one of the many questions that we are exploring for a residential this week with sixteen primary and secondary teachers at our Totleigh Barton Arvon Centre in Devon. The group have been looking at whether by becoming better writers themselves, they might become even better teachers of writing.
Totleigh Barton is famously out of the way, along winding lanes, past signs outside the village of Sheepwash reminding those travelling here to ‘Try your Brakes.’ Our group have travelled here from across Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset, from schools in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. Between the busy spring and summer terms, and with countless new changes to education policy afoot, there might have been a hundred or more reasons that could conspire against our teachers making it here, but here they are.
We were welcomed on Monday by centre staff reminding us that this was our home for the week and simply that, ‘we are all writers.’ Add no Wi-Fi connection or mobile phone signal, and within a matter of hours everyone has seized a chance to step away from the pressured routine and bustling working life to seek time and space to immerse themselves in the creative process and the craft of writing.
As we enter day three the group have been connecting with personal stories of their own, experimenting with words and experiencing all the nervous fits and starts that writing can entail. They’ve been engaging with other writer-teachers through workshops and, since communal cooking is key to the Arvon experience, through lively discussions while chopping onions. Each teacher has begun reflecting on their writing process with published writers Steve Voake and Alicia Stubbersfield, and receiving critical feedback on their own work in one-to-one tutorials.
We are joined this week by the project research team, who are observing the whole process of an Arvon residential. Having heard teachers report that, ‘Going on an Arvon courses transforms what you do in the classroom,’ it is exciting to begin to articulate the key ingredients of the process, and how it might help teachers and writers develop the most effective ways to inspire pupils to become even more engaged, creative and confident writers.
Tonight our guest author is Narinder Dhami, who will give a reading and take questions on her books, her previous experience as a teacher and her life as a writer. The week will continue with conversation and reflection on the pedagogy of the teaching of writing and a final sharing of writing produced during the week.
So what happens next? Following the residential week, the project continues back in school. With full support from head teachers, we’ll be introducing our teachers to a professional writer who they will work with throughout the summer term to co-plan and design a project for pupils focused on narrative writing. The teachers and writers will also teach lessons together. The project places teachers and writers as co-mentors and learning partners – with writers offering insights into their craft and teachers offering perspectives on learning, pedagogy, their own school contexts and the needs of students.
Being here reminds me that Arvon is a place for contemplation, challenge, and going beyond what you thought you were capable of achieving.
But, for the moment it’s time to focus on our writing….time to get back to my latest draft.
Head of Learning and Participation