Community Arts Partnership’s Poetry in Motion Facilitator, Maura Johnston, speaking about working in schools and the Seamus Heaney Awards.

How long have you been working for Community Arts Partnership?

I started working for Community Arts Partnership about 6 years ago. I have been facilitating poetry workshops since the second year of the Seamus Heaney Awards.

How did your facilitation change this year during the Pandemic?

I had to think about two key themes and then record workshops for students. I recorded the workshops as if I was actually in the classroom and I would work through exercises and then pause to give the students time to work on those exercises.

Maura Johnston

I also made a Teacher’s Notebook, it was available online, so that the teachers knew what I was doing, they knew the theory behind what I was doing and it gave them any extra material that they would have needed to use in the classroom.

I was trying to make things as close as possible to what might have happened had I been in the classroom.

Did you have any Face to Face time with the students?

No, that wasn’t possible. I would email the teachers and keep in contact with them and they would send me the poems and I would make recommendations regarding the students’ work.

This way of doing things couldn’t be as profitable as meeting with the students face to face; you can’t see their faces, you can’t see their reactions to information you are giving them, you can’t pick up on interesting responses which allows you to think about what needs to be explained, what needs to be emphasised.

I also missed the opportunity to be surprised by some pupils’ ideas and responses; the unplanned and the unexpected is always a joy.

You seem to be suggesting you missed the direct connection with students?

Yes, I would agree with that. The two teachers I worked with, I had worked with before so they knew a little about the methods I use.

I think quite a few teachers don’t feel completely confident teaching poetry, especially if they don’t write poetry themselves, which is why it is so important to have a poet in the classroom.

Did you think this way of teaching was difficult?

I do think it was harder, obviously, than being the classroom but saying that, it was still possible to make the project happen and to allow students to write poetry.

What is your impression of the project and the Seamus Heaney Award for Achievement?

It is a wonderful project. It gives every student and their school a chance to be represented in terms of the work that they do. And I thought the overall winner this year was outstanding. I think that it is great thing for schools, allowing students to become interested poetry, it allows for the stimulation of young people, and it gets them interested in Seamus Heaney as well, which is a wonderful thing.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.