Finding her voice through writing
We caught up with Head of St Cuthbert’s Writing Programme and Director of Library Services, Ros Ali, to find out how she helps our students find their voice through creative and media writing.
“Writing harnesses their voices,” says Ros. “No matter what career our girls choose for the future, they need to be able to think creatively to solve problems, and to write with clarity, purpose, style and perspective. Architects, managers, creatives, designers, scientists, entrepreneurs, everyone needs to be able to communicate ideas to their audience, their stakeholders and customers. I focus on supporting the girls to explore their own style, and they learn what makes an effective piece of writing, whether it be creative, commentary, essays, or more functional. This in turns teaches them to find their own unique way of taking others on a journey.”
Ros Ali teaches creative and media writing, and English, across all three levels of NCEA. Class sizes are small to build trust among the girls, to enabling them to share personal stories and experiences to inform their writing.
When asked to define the key element to learning the craft of writing, Ros says that girls need to read as much as possible, to give them a strong foundation to build on with their writing. Fundamentally though, to be an effective writer you need empathy, she says. “Understanding how people’s experiences shape their views, and being able to look at situations from someone else’s perspective enables students to write with more depth and clarity. Learning that not everyone sees the world in the same way builds a better understanding of ourselves, each other’s stories, and the power of art and literature.”
Last year, several committed writers, now the current Year 13 Communications Committee, established a student newspaper, “Margin,” which publishes online every three months, and also a print edition about to launch soon. This initiative” provides opportunities for girls to write for a ‘real’ audience, and to see first-hand what resonates with their peers.” Students from Year 9-13 have been published already this year.
The Year 13 Communications Committee worked with the Year 8 Little Sister editing team, and our St Cuthbert’s Communications and Marketing Department, to help put together the new magazine that has been sent to our Junior School parent community. This is another real-life writing experience that enables girls to see what is involved in putting together a professional publication. It has also given students the opportunity to work with younger girls in the Junior and Middle Schools, and to encourage the development of a community of younger writers.
About Ros Ali
One of New Zealand’s most experienced teachers in creative writing and English, Ros Ali draws on her own life experiences to teach the craft of writing.
Ros grew up in Takapuna, attending the same local primary school as our Principal, Justine Mahon. At the end of secondary school, determined to experience more in life and help families in remote parts of Africa, she started her training for Volunteer Service Abroad. She initially qualified and practised as a nurse, while concurrently studying English Lit. and Psychology at Auckland University. From there, with an MA[Hons] in English, a Diploma in Teaching, and a husband, she left the intensive care wards, and jnstead of travelling to Africa, began her teaching journey. Four children and six grandchildren later, her commitments have been largely to family, teaching and writing. Ros’s three daughters have all attended St Cuthbert’s.
Sharing her passion for writing and literature through teaching is her life’s work. To give further extension to St Cuthbert’s student voices and other young writers around the country, she js involved in the Michael King Writers Centre. She works closely with poet and teacher, Johanna Emeney, running the centre’s “Young Writers Programme” that provides workshops and master classes with key New Zealand writers and creative artists. Over 50 St Cuthbert’s students and alumni have been part of Young Writers so far, and a significant number of our girls have been selected for publication in the programme’s annual literary journal, ‘Signals’.