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«Wintec, Waikato Institute of Technology, New Zealand Gail Pittaway The spiral of leadership in the teaching of creative writing in New Zealand ...»

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Pittaway Spiral of leadership

Wintec, Waikato Institute of Technology, New Zealand

Gail Pittaway

The spiral of leadership in the teaching of creative writing in New Zealand


Judith Ross’s (2007) business-based model identifies four characteristics of successful

creative leadership. Four academic leaders in creative writing programmes in the New

Zealand tertiary sector have demonstrated some or all of these four qualities of

leadership in creative writing: Robert Neale, Bill Manhire, Albert Wendt and Witi Ihimaera. Each has shown vision, leadership and innovation in teaching and writing;

and each has generated a wave of writing and creative writing research in successive generations of students, participating in—and perpetuating—the spiral of leadership.

Biographical note:

Gail Pittaway is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Media Arts, at Wintec, the Waikato Institute of Technology, in Hamilton, New Zealand. Her research interests include creative writing (poetry, short story and script writing) and the teaching of writing. She has edited two books and has had stories broadcast on National Radio, New Zealand.

Gail is the theatre critic for the Waikato Times and contributes regular live book reviews for the Nine to Noon programme on Radio New Zealand, National. She is a member of the New Zealand Communication Association, Tertiary Writing Network and New Zealand Society of Authors, and has been an executive member of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs since 2004.


Leadership – Creative writing – New Zealand – Manhire – Ihimaera – Neale – Wendt 
 TEXT Special issue, Leadership in writing in the creative arts 1
 (ed.) Donna Lee Brien
 Pittaway Spiral of leadership Te torino haere whakamua, whakamuri. At the same time as the spiral is going out, it is also going in … At the same time as we are going forward, we are returning (Ihimaera 2005).

Introduction Among the many theories and practical guides on the subject of leadership in business, arts or education in the last twenty years (see, for example, DuBrin 1995;

Hackman & Johnson 1996; Page & Zorn 2007), most would agree with Steven Covey’s (1989, 1992) distinction between management as relating to operational routines and leadership as being concerned with a longer term vision. Stoll and Temperley (2009) define leadership as an imaginative and thought-through response to opportunities and to challenges and ‘creative leadership’ as referring to creating the opportunities, conditions and environment for others to be creative. J Donald Walter (1987) believes that leadership is ‘supportive not coercive’, and that a true leader ‘leads others, [but] does not drive them’ and is ‘visionary’ (22). In line with these ideas on leadership, Judith Ross (2007) believes that a leader of a work force or team can significantly influence that team’s capacity to think innovatively. Although business-based, her model serves as a useful formula for identifying leaders in New Zealand’s tertiary creative writing sector and might also serve aspiring great teachers in any academic discipline, as teaching is the focus of this discussion.

Ross identifies four characteristics of successful creative leadership. The first of these is that leaders establish clear goals and then ‘let people find their own way’ to these goals (2007: 3). Her second item of successful creative leadership suggests that leaders monitor their workers’ progress from ‘a distance’ (ibid.: 4) to avoid stifling an individual’s creativity through interference or micro-management. Thirdly, a ‘true’ leader is, in her terms, seen as a facilitator, with his or her influence not limited to internal guidance, but with contacts and networks to help the team succeed externally as well. Finally, good leaders create ‘fruitful idea-generation and idea-evaluation’ (ibid.: 5) as two distinct processes, offering not only both vision and opportunities for that vision to be shared, but also a safe environment for ideas to be challenged and evaluated. These characteristics can be applied to teaching practice in many disciplines in the tertiary sector, but here are specifically related to leadership in teaching in creative writing.

Four academic leaders in creative writing programmes in the New Zealand tertiary sector have demonstrated some or all of these qualities of leadership: Robert Neale, Bill Manhire, Albert Wendt and Witi Ihimaera. Each has shown vision, leadership and innovation in teaching and writing; and each has generated a wave of writing and creative writing research in successive generations of their students. There is not a strong tradition of writing about creative writing practice or pedagogy in New Zealand as this is a relatively new discipline in the tertiary sector. Accordingly, in researching their contributions, an appropriate methodology must be employed. In this case, I am using the sources which are available such as websites and interviews as well as journal articles.

–  –  –

Robert Neale New Zealand has a relatively small population of just over four million people.

Despite this, there are currently over 200 tertiary institutions, most of which offer literacy courses if not full programmes, as they include service industry training (Pittaway 2011: 269). Programmes and courses in creative writing at certificate, diploma, degree and post-graduate level tend to be based in universities or polytechnics, but there are also a number of independent or private writing colleges, both site and online based. Not surprisingly, many established, published writers are associated with many of these institutions, if not partially or fully employed by them.

Massey University, based in Palmerston North in the North Island, enrolled 1,877 students in its official first year, 1964—959 internal and 918 extramural or distance learning students—according to their website (Massey 2011). By December 1992, the University’s total student enrolment was 24,675 students, of whom 9,088 were internal and 15,687 were extramural (ibid.). Although most renowned for its research achievements in agricultural and biological sciences, by the 1990s Massey had the strongest extramural facility in New Zealand and also boasted highly respected schools of Humanities, Business and Social Sciences (ibid.). The English Department at Massey began teaching writing courses to internal and external students in the 1970s.

The course known as 39.106 Writing: Theory and Practice has run at Massey University for more than 20 years. It is founded upon the belief that the overwhelming bulk of the world’s writing is transactional, (i.e. a vehicle for informing, educating, entertaining, edifying, or persuading an audience) having been developed initially for ‘prosaic’ purposes like business and administration and later, creative writing. It has been offered both internally to on site students of the university (10,100 in 1990) and externally to the 15,100 or so extra mural students across the entire country (Laurs & Neale 2001: 225-28).

In 1968 Robert Neale, a British born graduate of Oxford and Michigan universities, was employed to teach in the newly established English department at Massey, and stayed there for thirty years until his retirement in 1999 (Kirk 2010). He served as the University’s Public Orator for twenty years and his contribution to ‘education and the community’ was recognised in January 2011, when he was awarded Membership of the New Zealand Order of Merit (Office of the Governor General 2011). As a lecturer he is said to have ‘made poetry accessible, and was a regular guest on Radio New Zealand National’s Saturday morning programme’ (ibid.), discussing a wide range of writers and literary texts in an informal yet edifying way. He is widely recognised as having pioneered the teaching of writing at university level in New Zealand (ibid.).

With a special interest in English literature and poetry, he was known as a charismatic and motivating teacher, who was generous with his time and support. But it was still a surprise to him when he found out that substantially more people were attending his classes than were listed on the roll (ibid.).

In terms of Ross’s characteristics of leadership, Neale clearly demonstrates the first— establishing ‘clear goals’ and then allowing people to ‘find their own way’—in the 
 TEXT Special issue, Leadership in writing in the creative arts 3
 (ed.) Donna Lee Brien
 Pittaway Spiral of leadership teaching methodology he established for students of writing. His innovative writing course used process writing techniques, transactional case studies and peer reviewing techniques—devices which were so successful they are still in evidence today in the English Programme Guide Book (Broughton 2011) that is used across several disciplines and programmes at Massey University. A combination of grammatical exercise book with collections of exemplars and discussion points, the above invites reading, reflection and evaluation on the part of its student readers, as well as providing practical punctuation and formatting advice and a glossary of relevant terms. Perhaps arising out of this basic teaching workbook, but with additional and enhanced theoretical discussions of meaning and ambiguity, comes Neale’s The Common Writer: Theory and Practice for Writers and Teachers (1992), which stresses that the act of writing shows ‘humanity at its most creative, taking the building blocks (images) of the world and rearranging them into new structures, altering reality as we know it’ (16). This small book includes an historical overview of English language and literature, a useful chapter on the teaching of writing and concludes with exercises for writing and peer review. As an example of Ross’s fourth characteristic of ‘fruitful idea-generation and idea-evaluation’, Neale’s companion anthology, Writers on Writing (1992), is based on the principle that the people most worth listening to about the craft of writing are those who do it best—the writers themselves. As editor, Neale gathered together what great writers—historical, international and contemporary—had written in prose and verse about the problems and techniques, as well as the frustrations and fulfilments, of their craft. Including works from Aristotle to Janet Frame, Neale has selected extracts and essays which explore the process and craft of writing from the point of view of writers themselves.

It serves as a record of writing practice across time and place while also demonstrating entertaining and well-chosen representations of ‘good writing’ (Schuler 2004: 1).

Finally, as a facilitator and supporter of his ‘team’, to apply Ross’s term, Neale’s teaching practice has directly influenced his students both in terms of their individual successes and the growth of the writing discipline locally and nationally. One such student was Dr Lisa Emerson (now an Associate Professor in the School of English and Media Studies at Massey University), who has been a leader in the national peak body, the Tertiary Writing Network in New Zealand, and is herself a pioneer in both teaching writing and in researching it pedagogy. She acknowledges the influence of Neale and colleagues in the introduction to her PhD thesis, stating that their influence gave her ‘a curiosity about language’ which has been the ‘bedrock’ of her studies (Emerson 1999: iii).

There is little other academic evidence of Neale’s leadership apart from the accolades he has received for his contribution to the development of Massey University and the discipline of creative writing in the academy (Office of the Governor General 2011å).

However, his legacy as instigator of the first writing course in New Zealand, which became a component of programmes across disciplines for internal and external students, and which led to the creation of a creative writing major and then programmes at undergraduate and graduate level, is well established. Neale’s leadership in teaching English literature, documenting his ideas of ‘good writing’ and 
 TEXT Special issue, Leadership in writing in the creative arts 4
 (ed.) Donna Lee Brien
 Pittaway Spiral of leadership creating a strong grounding for the teaching of writing offers a strong model of the spiral of leadership; inclusive, informative and inviting reflection.

Bill Manhire If Massey University initiated the first writing course in New Zealand, and Neale the first example of creative leadership in university-based creative writing (in being innovative, supportive and visionary), Victoria University in Wellington claims New Zealand’s ‘oldest and most prestigious creative writing programme’ (IIML website 2011). A small undergraduate creative writing course first offered at Victoria University in 1975 has grown since then into a range of specialised workshops and programmes. Victoria University developed New Zealand’s first Master of Arts in Creative Writing in 1997 followed by the first Doctor of Philosophy in Creative Writing in 2008 (ibid.). In 2000, Glenn Schaeffer, a philanthropist from the USA, offered financial support to further develop the writing programme at Victoria University and the New Zealand headquarters of the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) was launched there in March 2001. At this time, partnerships were developed with a series of American institutions and programmes, and links were established with ‘the Iowa Writers Workshop, the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California Irvine, and the creative writing programme at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ (ibid.).

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