18 – 24 May is Mental Health Awareness Week and the Creativity and Wellbeing festival, where organisations are coming together to offer various virtual events focused on culture, creativity, health and wellbeing.
When we asked teachers how we could best support them during the summer term of 2020, one of the most popular answers was with virtual wellbeing sessions. Now more than ever educators will be prioritising student mental health, however it is paramount that adults who care and educate children focus on their own self-care too.
In response to this, A New Direction has launched a new series of Creative Wellbeing at Home virtual events, designed to use creativity to re-store and re-energise. Working with award-winning arts company Nimble Fish, each webinar includes the chance to learn a new arts-based activity for attendees’ own wellbeing, which can also be easily adapted to classrooms, staff meetings, or other settings. On weeks without a live event, we will also be sharing videos featuring an arts-led leadership or wellbeing activity.
In the first session, Greg Klerkx and Sam Holdsworth from Nimble Fish facilitated a webinar with a group of teachers, focusing on creative writing to explore how participants are feeling during the current situation. I attended to see for myself how virtual events such as these can be used to pause, connect, and make space and time for wellbeing.
Check in with yourself
The Creative Wellbeing at Home webinar was a welcome respite in the day, helped at the start with a moment of calm reflection and guided breathing from Sam. It is easy to make excuses about not having the time for a peaceful moment to yourself – but it is amazing how refreshed you can feel from only taking five minutes to pause.
To check in with yourself, all you need to do is sit comfortably with both feet on the floor, a straight back and relaxed shoulders. Close your eyes or look away from the screen. Breathe slowly and deeply, noticing thoughts as they come.
Find out more:
Write the moment
I will use the freewriting tool to begin staff meetings when we return to school. This will encourage an open conversation regarding staff wellbeing. I will also plan for students to have a private writing space
– Creative Wellbeing at Home participant
This session focused on freewriting, which then lead into a prose poem. It is easy to practice yourself anytime and is easily translatable to many classroom (and staff room) environments.
Like me, you may have heard of freewriting as a tool that writers use to overcome writer’s block – but here we used it as a tool to express, be creative and as a prompt to see what is going on with us personally. If you feel sceptical (which I admit, I have felt about freewriting in the past) I’d urge you to give it a go, and you might just surprise yourself!
With a freewrite, it’s important to remember there is no right or wrong. It is free of grammar, punctuation and structure, and is designed to only be seen by one person: you, the writer. After the time limit (which is another key to success) we looked back at our work and circled five key word or phrases. We then reflected on it, noticing what came up more than once, what themes were in our thoughts.
Freewriting would be useful to use with children and young people, or other groups, to express feelings without having to explicitly reveal how the individuals feel - which they might not feel like doing.
Our facilitator, Greg, suggested that one way to share without reading each other’s pieces, is for individuals to write the circled phrases and words on post-it notes and then put them all in the middle of the table for everyone to read. Adding an element of choice and anonymity in this way helps keeps the pressure off.
You can also adapt freewriting to be ‘free drawing’, for those who have barriers to writing, or would simply prefer to draw. Free drawing to music works well for those children who made need some external stimulation to explore feelings.
If you would like some support in starting a staff wellbeing conversation in your school, pages 43-46 of this My Creative School resource has some additional activities for staff meetings.
Want further inspiration on incorporating freewriting into your curriculum? Try these:
How to freewrite
To try freewriting, watch the video above by Nimble Fish – you can find the supporting materials and examples referenced here.
The basic instructions for freewriting which we followed are:
- To start, choose a prompt, we went with: “What I really need right now is...”
For further prompt ideas for children and young people, try looking in story and picture books for inspiration
- Set a time limit. It should always be timed but can be as long or as short as you like. Greg suggests two or three minutes is best. You can do a really short one or extend the time – and young people might need reminding it is not about writing as fast as possible!
- Keep the pen moving. You need to keep writing for the whole of the time limit
- If you get stuck (which you will), just write the last word you wrote over and over, until you get un-stuck
- Remember – you don’t need any grammar or punctuation. ‘What about spelling?’, I hear you ask – it doesn’t matter! You need to just write
- No need to make it a story with a beginning, middle and end. Greg assured us the temptation to do this is normal, but isn’t necessary!
Use freewriting to try prose poetry
“I will introduce the idea of prose poetry and freewriting when transitioning back to school with my pupils.” – Creative Wellbeing at Home participant
We went on to use our freewrite to write prose poetry. This was an excellent way to overcome inhibitions about writing poetry, from thinking you can’t do it (some of us hadn’t written a poem in over a decade!) to finding it hard to summon the words and content. We already had the words, emotions and themes from our freewrite.
After selecting the keys words and phrases, we spent a short time crafting our prose poems. Some of us were brave enough to share, but there was no pressure to do so. It was comforting to hear that we were all feeling similar, and interesting that some of the poems had turned the negative feelings coming through in the freewrite into more positive and forward-thinking ideas.
Working under a short time limit meant the poems were all quite short, while the prose format meant we were not preoccupied with rules. However, the nature of the freewrite leant itself to being able to structure our poems in emotive ways if we chose to do so, such as capitalising words that seemed to jump out, or repeating the words we had been stuck on - and so repeated - in our freewrite. It was a liberating format for writing poems and ideal for wellbeing focused writing – enabling creativity with style and metaphors, while being free enough for us to focus on our personal feelings.
One webinar attendee mentioned that it was rare and lovely to write just for yourself that it almost felt indulgent. Hopefully, now we have all tried this approach and know how easy and quick it can be, we can find the time to do it more often, and it will no longer feel like an indulgence. Wellbeing and being kind to ourselves should be something that becomes part of our routine, and embedded in teaching practice too.
When asked to say a word about how we were feeling at the end of the session, we were ‘calm’, ‘relaxed’, ‘proud’ and ‘inspired.’
Want to have a go? Watch how in our video resource:
For further poetry inspiration for writing poetry check out The Poetry Society. If you are looking for other ways to use reading and writing for student wellbeing, The Literacy Trust has a free resource. Search for more arts wellbeing resources on our LookUp platform.
Interested in attending our virtual wellbeing webinars? Check out future dates and videos posted here on our Creative Wellbeing at Home page.
To take part in other events in the Creativity & Wellbeing festival, visit creativityandwellbeing.org.uk.