It is a commonly understood, yet often easily forgotten fact that all teachers are language teachers. The same goes for writing: we are always also teachers of writing – whether we realise it or not. Even the students, who are still learning the alphabet or struggling with basic language structures, are at the same time learning how the world is built upon words. Through writing, we can communicate with others and learn to express ourselves and reflect upon our experiences. From emails, job applications or WhatsApp messages to creating stories, letters and diary pages, writing is an essential part of our lives. In addition to being a way of connecting with others, writing can also help us connect with ourselves. Learning to express ourselves through writing can help us deal with difficult emotions. For example, a child can safely process challenges of friendship through writing a fictional story. Still, it seems that many teachers struggle with finding time and methods to support their students’ creative expression.
I work as a project researcher in a project called Creative Expertise (ULA), which aims at bridging the pre-service and in-service teacher education through multidisciplinary collaboration. In addition, I study creative writing as a means for supporting teachers’ professional development. I have discovered that although teachers do acknowledge the importance of supporting creativity, they often feel forced to leave creativity to the background and focus on the subjects’ other contents. This pressure is often related to textbooks, and illustrates the teachers’ fear of being “left behind”. On the other hand, teachers feel that offering different creative assignments could lower the threshold especially for those students who struggle with writing. It is important to learn grammar, but it is just as important to offer students moments of joy and enjoyment through playing with words. For example, in poetry we can forget about rules and simply get playful, finding that we can express our inner thoughts with metaphors, or through freewriting methods, we can let loose and just write whatever comes to our minds, thus releasing tensions and unloading.
Even the most experienced writers are sometimes faced with writers’ block. In my doctoral research, I have interviewed teachers who participated in writing groups or writing studies. The teachers perceive that creative writing practices enabled them to remember how it feels to have a blank paper in front of them, which helped them understand their students better. If the fear of getting started can paralyse adults with perfect grammar skills and years of studies in writing, it can surely feel overwhelming to kids. Therefore, offering prompts, doing warm-ups and creating a relaxed atmosphere can help get in the flow. Also, the first version written in the classroom is often a diamond in the rough: it can be shaped and developed with the help of the teacher and peers.
Writing is often seen as a solitary activity. In my research I have discovered that writing groups and studies offer teachers not only a time and space for writing, but also a change to discuss and share ideas with their peers. Indeed, I believe that professional development at its best is an activity, which includes both personal and social aspects, and takes into account teachers’ individual interests as well as the commonalities of being a teacher. Creative writing may only be a small piece of a larger puzzle, but it is linked to the broader picture of professional development. In order to develop our schools into places where creativity can bloom, we must work together and be brave enough to get creative and share our creative ideas to our colleagues.
Anne works as a project researcher in the project Creative Expertise (ULA) at the Department of Education, University of Finland. Her research interests are creative writing, professional development, creativity, and narrative, arts-based methods. Anne is also a writing instructor and a teacher educator.
Get to know the Creative Expertise (ULA) -project:
Uutta luova asiantuntijuus – uuttaluova.fi https://www.uuttaluova.fi/
Read more about Anne’s research:
Exploring teachers’ stories of writing: a narrative perspective https://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2018.1462790
Anne Martinin luovan kirjoittamisen työpaja syyskuun IKI-kahveilla 8.9. klo 15–17. Klikkaa itsesi mukaan: https://r.jyu.fi/Dcc