Bespoke poetry workshops for schools & colleges

Working with teachers and NGOs, I’ve used poetry performances, creative-writing or public-speaking training to address aspects of the school curriculum in Citizenship, Literature, Drama and RE.

I’ve also provided workshops and performances at colleges, universities and in conference seminars designed to train youth workers and volunteers. 

Citizenship Education
  • The bardic theme of speaking truth to the king appeals immediately to the Citizenship curriculum and can be combined with workshops on taking action and finding your voice in the community. So, at James Allen Girls Preparatory School we looked at what it meant to be a bard today. I performed the ‘Lifestyle Store’ sketch from my CD. The teachers then harnessed the enthusiasm that had been awoken in the pupils, to get them writing letters and engaging with campaigns about the issues they cared about. They started to reflect on their own values.
  • Talking to the boys at Eton in their frock coats, about poetry and broadcasting during a careers event, and then going to the East End to work with a year 10 group (of 400 children!) in a school in which 35 languages are spoken, provided some interesting reflections on notable differences and surprising similarities between children as they seek to find a compass to help them make choices about their lives. Stories help in this process.
  • Working for 2 years in schools and youth departments for Action Aid and the Commonwealth Institute was a great introduction to the power of the arts in the arena of social action. A bard seeks to stand at the heart of the needs of his community. He or she is not aspiring to be an entertaining cultural accessory.

    I represented Action Aid UK at a conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh and presented the ‘Get Global’ education pack which I had been helping to trial with teachers in the UK. It was a tool to encourage teachers to develop participative projects for social action with pupils. The model was based on the way Action Aid works with communities in many countries.

    Later in Pakistan I attended the Action Aid conference in Karachi entitled ‘Art & Social Transformation’ which provided great inspiration. I witnessed how the fact of encouraging people’s artistic practice had empowered whole communities – from forced labourers to fishermen – to articulate their need for fairer treatment. One of the ‘Forum Theatre‘ plays acted beneath the palm trees, motivated a government official the next day to intervene on their behalf the next day at work.

    Art can be powerful in the struggle against poverty.

    At the Commonwealth Institute Schools & Youth Department, we ran an event for Commonwealth Day with the Secretary General of the Commonwealth and the 400 yr 10 students mentioned above.

    We encouraged them to research and to speak about issues in global citizenship and then to plan their own project. It was wonderful to see how pupils who had at first responded with a shrug to the questions raised, soon became engaged. Over the 6 weeks we there many of them became capable of standing up in front of hundreds of people and a world leader to air their views in a coherent and confident way.

    As often happens, this was a process that impacted one of the most ‘rebellious’ pupils, the most. She, who had been initially banned by her teacher from taking part in the project because of poor behaviour (but was returned to the project on my request) produced a stunning and committed performance which had all her peers, teachers (and most of all herself) looking at her very differently. The artistic process empowers individuals to discover their own strengths and values.

Post Graduate Training
  • For older students such as those in the second year of the MA Course at Central St Martins, I’ve provided, for the last 3 years, a narrative skills workshop that helps them sell their designs to the world, by becoming more able to articulate the values that have informed their design.
  • One of my most intriguing educational commissions though, was in Transylvannia, for the World Youth Alliance Summer School. I was asked, ‘Do you think you could help teach young Eastern European lawyers to access literature as a source of inspiration for their human rights work at the UN?’ How could one not say ‘Yes’ and then see what happened? We had a marvelous time. There was a wonderfully erudite professor from Poland who provided a course on Philosophy Through Poetry, and there was a West End Theatre Director who succeed in getting the entire team to put on play in a medieval barn for the town of Tirgu Mores. We had 2 weeks, we pulled it off and we even sold all the seats!

    For the course, I performed some of my poem sets and theatre pieces and we interrogated the principles that govern my work and teaching at the Bard School.

    We focused on the use of the artistic process to reveal the complexity of the human person.
    Human rights exist to protect the dignity of the human person. This worth can often be seen in works of art, that witness to the extraordinary beauty and tragedy of much human existence. When this dignity becomes invisible because of oppression and injustice, a voice is needed once again to raise itself above the din of vulgarity, indifference or deception.

    As Solzhenitsyn stated – ‘All forms of violence require the protection of the lie’.

Primary Schools – Drama, Poetry, Literacy and RE
  • 3 years of teaching Drama, Poetry and Religion at Rosecroft Preparatory School with Yr 2 to Yr 6 (1990 to 1993) taught me a great deal about the revelatory insights that children have when given space and encouragement to make connections at a deep level. Poetry classes in the gymnasium were popular, as was dancing to Mozart’s requiem. Which was an improvisation that produced some great story-making.

    We won 3 awards at a National Independent Schools Drama Competition for a medieval play I directed with Yr 6. The adjudicator said ‘This play contained real theatre – never will I forget the look on the face of God as she watched Satan fall’. For God, we chose the smallest but most poised child in the school, who wore a glorious gold and crimson, green and purple sari, whose trimmings were echoed in the costumes of all the angels. The result was a testament to the children’s dedication to the development of the subtext, which brought the ancient text fully alive.

    The bards had to know how to entertain everyone from the peasant to the king, so theatrical skills were very important.

Other Educational Work
  • Larmenier and Sacred Heart, Brook Green for Yr 3 to Yr 6 where I contributed performances and workshops for their Literary Festival 2010.
  • At Chalgrove Primary School, Barnet in 2008 the focus was on telling stories and encouraging them to write.
  • At St Joseph’s School, Gravesend, from Yr 2 to Yr 6, we looked at words as blessings and also listened to songs in foreign languages, to see what was conveyed by the atmosphere. They drew pictures that the songs inspired and wrote about what they had drawn. It is amazing how much is communicated by the spirit of a language and how children are sensitive to this. Time after time the pictures depicted the themes of the songs without the children knowing what they were. The ancient bards had to be skilled in many types of music in order to speak to the soul.

To explore how your educational project or course could be enhanced by involving a bard, then please do call Sarah de Nordwall on 07849 641 899 or email