An exploration of narrative writing as a method for staff development

17th November 2015

Mrs Helen Campbell

Head of School/SENCO

In a school situation there is a vast amount of reporting, particularly for pupils with complex needs. The information can be unwieldy until nuggets of information are synthesized into snap shots about each pupil, referred to as ‘case studies’ by OFSTED, the Department for Education and our Local Authority. They are all case specific, ‘descriptive-analytical accounts’ Bassey (1996) and have become pivotal to us. They are

  • part of a triangulation process that gives validity to the evidence gathered during our OFSTED inspection.
  • used to inform decisions about the funding allocations for individual pupils.
  • Instructions for what works well
  • risk assessments
  • historical accounts of what has been tried
  • accounts of progress

What these documents do not do is free up or transform the thinking of staff.  In 2006 Rita Charon devised a method of reflective writing which she called ‘The Parrallel Chart’ where medical students work collaboratively to create pieces of reflective writing based on their experiences with their patients. It is a form of reflection that develops the ability to think freely and explore the ‘human being … the individual, person, or self who has an identity’ (St. Pierre, 2011).  In doing this, the students become attuned to their words.  The process enabled them to develop a greater awareness about the impact that their interactions had from which they learnt to read their patients more sensitively.

A colleague and I tried this approach to unpick a challenging situation.  It was a shared discourse about what we had noticed, a process of reflexivity requiring us to look at ourselves objectively in order to make sense of entrenched behaviours. We were able to build a deeper understanding of how we relate to others in challenging situations and we felt that we could use one set of experiences to help make sense of another (Schön, 1983).  Perhaps this form of narrative writing could improve our resilience and well being whilst helping us to manage challenging situations more effectively.


Bassey, M. (1999). Case study research in educational settings. Buckingham [England]: Open University Press.

Charon, R. (2006). Narrative medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

St. Pierre, E. (2011). Refusing Human Being In Humanist Qualitative Inquiry. In: N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln, ed., Qualitative Inquiry and Global Crises, 1st ed. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, pp.40 -56.

Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.