Poetry for Reflection

“My name is Kirsten Jack and I am a Senior
Lecturer in Adult Nursing here at MMU. So, in the department of Nursing we’ve been
thinking about creative ways of teaching now for a number of years because we decided that
the more traditional forms of teaching, the more didactic, teacher-centred approaches,
just weren’t working when we were trying to engage the students in thinking about their
feelings, about practice, and thinking about their emotions, which is really important
in nursing practice. So, over a number of years we’ve been looking at different approaches.
So, we’ve used collage. We’ve used drawing as a way to discuss how we feel about practice
and we’ve also used literature. So, it was a natural progression really, that we would
then start to think about other forms of reflection. Reflection is a very well used activity in
nursing practice and we have some very formal reflective models, but we were thinking of
ways that we could use that were much more free. So, we started thinking about poetry
and we talked to one of our creative writing colleagues about how we might do that.
The process that we use to encourage students to write their poems, which culminates in
them reading them out to their colleagues in a small group, is that we start by introducing
it very early on. We introduce the idea very early on in the module and we do that because
it is very important that students feel confident and safe, and they feel it is a normal thing
to be thinking about and doing. We also have a website, our Caring Words website (www.caringwords.mmu.ac.uk)
where we have a discussion about poetry on there and we have other students poems on
there. So, it is like a little poetry community where our current students can go on, and
have a look at what other students have written, so they don’t feel so worried that if they
think ‘I can’t write a good poem’ they don’t feel so bad about it. We introduce it, we
keep talking about it and then we have a one hour workshop where we formally discuss the
different sorts of poetry and that was informed by our creative writing lecturer. And we talk
about it in terms of it’s not so much about the end product, so it is not so much about
the poem, because students get very hung up about ‘well does it need to rhythm?’ ‘how
long does it need to be?’ ‘I was no good at poetry at school so I can’t do it now’.
We do emphasis the fact that is about the process they go through, the thinking about
it rather than the actual end product. The students then have some time to go away and
write their poems. Then, we all get together on a second date and we sit in a group, in
a circle, and talk about the poems. And we as lecturers write a poem as well to talk
about our own practice because we are trying to promote a real equal setting where we are
just the same as the other members of the group. I try not to lead the session too much,
so I say it is all about us all discussing practice, we all take a turn in reading out
our poem, and then the important bit I feel is the discussion afterwards. So, we discuss
how we feel and discuss the different issues relating to practice that the poems reveal.
I think there are multiple aims to this process. I think in the first instance, initially it
was about helping students to identify and acknowledge how they feel about practice because
I don’t think that nurses often get an opportunity to think about how they feel. I think it is
difficult for them to explain to others and I think they worry about being perceived as
soft, or they can’t hack it as a nurse if they want to talk about how they feel. So,
I think the initial aim was to explore the feelings about practice. I think other aims,
and we have been doing this process now for a couple of years, I think other aims seem
to have emerged really are around encouraging creativity and imagination. Because we know
that in practice students need to be creative and they need to have some sort of imagination
because the NHS is short of resources. Sometimes we need to think of different ways to deal
with different problems and I think also patients, services users, that we encounter aren’t
always straightforward and black and white, so I think that encouraging a creative way
of thinking helps when students go into practice and have think differently there.
Sometimes it can be a little bit daunting because I never really know what is going
to happen. Some students write such heartfelt and upsetting poems and get upset on the day,
which I think is OK because I think that it can be a very cathartic experience. But I
never quite know what is going to happen. That’s fine because I know that however many
of the students read their poems out, and how don’t, I know that all of the students
are gaining something from that activity because they are learning something about themselves.
Certainly the students who write the poems are learning about themselves and how they
feel, but I think that the other students in the room, even though they might not to
share anything that they have written… there is respect for the student that has written
something. And I know some of the students have felt a little bit embarrassed that they
haven’t brought anything. So, they are learning about themselves, the students who have produced
something are learning about themselves as well, so I think it is worthwhile engaging
in the activity for the development of self-awareness amongst the students, but also the deeper
levels of learning that it encourages. You don’t get this level, I feel, using other
approaches. I think there is something about the use of poetry that really engages the
imagination, that really encourages the expression of emotion that other methods don’t help
with. So, using a reflective model does not get the same level of learning, the same engagement
with the exercise as writing a poem does. Some of our students have said that their
poem… they can use their poem as a prop and they wouldn’t have shared their emotions
the way they did if they were just talking about themselves. But using the poem… it
is almost like they have got something to hide behind. It is like it is not them speaking;
it is their piece of work that is speaking not them. So, they are able to talk in a much
more in depth way than they were before. A lot of our students say to us they hadn’t
thought about the incident, whatever it is, that they talking about in as much depth and
detail until they had written the poem and actually performed it in front of a group.
So, I think it is just such a powerful way of doing things, a powerful way of learning
and reflecting on how we feel as nurses.”

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