A fortunate bonus of my attending the Poetry and Story for Growth and Healing workshop was that a person I had planned to interview for my research was also a participant. Charmaine Pollard, a generous and welcoming professional, agreed to discuss key ideas and concerns following the workshop.
Charmaine has developed a series of short courses, one day workshops and groups for adults, young people and children. Recently, Charmaine has been using writing therapy in a school setting which triggered my initial interest. This program is titled ‘Courage to Be Me’ and is aimed at
raising student’s self-esteem, confidence and by providing tools for students to cope with daily pressures of school and home life.
In her experience, offering a ‘taster’ session encouraged students to become acquainted with the idea of working in a small group, writing, sharing writing and discussing issues relevant to students. the most productive size group seems to be 8 or 10 students and Charmaine has found that groups work best when males and females are separated. As a pilot study, a 3 hour writing workshop is offered in a school, together with 2 possible hours of one on one counselling. This provides an opportunity for personal follow up discussions.
Initially, the group was to be held in an identified space that is frequently used for time out, but students vocally expressed their concern about a sense of being ‘punished’. This has been rectified and Charmaine suggested that writing spaces be chosen with care to facilitate group cohesion and rapport.
During the first meeting, Charmaine settles the issue of confidentiality and develops the group learning agreement. This is done through the use of sentence stems that students complete, such as “I feel safe when …” Once established, the group does not accept new members after the second week, with sessions completed in eight weeks.
In terms of selection, students can be recommended by Year Advisors and teachers for concerns such as disengagement, attendance, low self esteem and identity issues. Students are withdrawn from class, and session are ‘carouselled’ between three different periods each week to avoid subject learning loss.
Charmaine shares and celebrates student poetry and writing by displaying completed work on the wall, and starts small with reluctant writers. For example, expectations are that each student completes a minimum of four lines before ideas are compiled into a group poem. She has found, especially with younger male students, that they often prefer discussing issues rather than writing, yet acrostic poetry has been effective, as is writing a ‘resilience recipe’ following discussion on how to respond in a difficult situation.
Positive feedback has been received from teachers and students who have completed the writing workshops, as well as interested students who have heard from friends. Charmaine also participates in ongoing discussions with school leadership teams to monitor changes within the school and specific student cohorts. Within each group, Charmaine conducts a review with students at both the halfway mark and on completion.
Read more at Charmaine Pollard – Changing Perspectives for 16 Years.
Charmaine also suggested the Lapidus organisation that has 20 years of experience in Writing for Wellbeing.