At the virtual meeting of the ODHE network in June 2020, we heard Professor Helen Langton, Vice Chancellor of the University of Suffolk, give a presentation on the ‘View from the Bridge’, sharing some of what senior leadership teams are addressing as they respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her presentation took us from Hell’s Bridge in Michigan to her own heavenly bridge (aka the Langkawi Sky Bridge), via the traditional ship’s bridge, as the fog begins to clear on some of the initial confusion and uncertainty and institutions begin to determine how they will move into the 2020-21 academic year. At the risk of stretching the bridge analogies, we used Michael Carroll’s assertion that ‘the bridge between information and wisdom is reflection’ to segue into some personal reflection, in the form of Wild Writing. The exercise prompted some positive comments and I was persuaded to pen a brief blog on the process.
My introduction to Wild Writing came through formal study for EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council) accreditation as a Senior Coach Practitioner. Developing a strong reflective practice is central as we focus on being present and mindful for our coachees and also encourage them to become more present and mindful in their own spheres. Reflective writing then becomes a habit of our own practice and also a tool to share, as we each pause and review what we know; increase our self-awareness; and develop our ability for meta-cognition, triple loop learning. We make deeper connections and become more creative! The time spent need not be long, but can provide some rich insights.
A key thread in Professor Langton’s presentation to the group, and through the rest of the meeting’s agenda, was the need to support and sustain staff – ourselves included – as we work through the challenges and change arising from lockdown and whatever will emerge beyond. So for our wild writing exercise, we first took 3 minutes to reflect, individually, on what was emerging for us about how to sustain ourselves during the current period. The ‘rules’, adapted from Goldberg, were:
- Keep your hand moving – write whatever comes to mind
- Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, spelling
- Try to be specific – nouns, verbs, colours, textures
- Go with your first thoughts, don’t censor
- Go for the jugular! If something comes up, let it out
We then privately reviewed our writing, identifying 3 key words and wrote again for a further 2 minutes with these key words as our focus. Typically the exercise might run again for 3 minutes, identify a further 3 words and then write again for another 3 minutes (9 minutes of writing in total), with a final piece being to bring together the 9 or so key words and reflect on what they, together, might signify. Personally, I’m finding that two rounds of writing is enough for me, and whilst not yet a daily practice, I am building a habit of wild writing and finding it very powerful. The questions I reflect on at the end include
- What am I noticing?
- What am I curious about?
- What am I feeling (as opposed to thinking)?
- What does this suggest I do next?
I’m also using wild writing regularly with my coachees. Typical questions that we start with include ‘What’s emerging for you from our conversation about x?’ and ‘What’s challenging for you about this topic? What’s creating that?’. The feedback they give me is that it has unlocked something they were stuck with, has provided some interesting insights and/or has been really liberating – freeing up their thinking. This fits closely with the feedback that we had from the ODHE session.
As we work to support colleagues through the remaining period of lockdown and begin to transition into new sets of working arrangements, you might find Wild Writing a useful addition to your own toolbox.
Goldberg N, 1990, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, Bantam