By Anne Paterson (OBE) – Rural Education Researcher
It has been a month now since I retired from the post of Chief Education Officer in Argyll and Bute. The month has been an extremely busy one for you all and has seen a huge move to online teaching and virtual classrooms. It has been a month where everyone involved in education at all stages has had to change practice and really examine how they ensure children and young people gain the support they need.
Undoubtedly this form of ‘Lockdown’ is very different from what we experienced in the spring and early summer. There is a greater fatigue all round and expectations are different. With all of that in mind I continue to be so impressed by the creativity, innovation, compassion and resilience of so many colleagues across the Northern Alliance. The most important factor for us all is not to feel isolated and alone. The strong connections we make with each other across the Northern Alliance are essential and I am so pleased to retain my connections with colleagues and to share our learning.
I continue to walk with you through social media.
Every day I have a smile at the wonderful examples of how you are caring for and supporting young people. It is so heartening to see how virtual learning is supporting all across our large area. You are doing a good job but I am also able to observe that the cost is high to many of you in relation to your own well-being.
My own anchor has always been the natural world and even during the winter month of January I continued to be affected by the healing process of nature. January has been about walking for me. I took up the challenge of walking/running 50 miles in January for Maggie’s Centres. Those 50 miles have become many more as I realised how important walking was for me and my own well-being.
Walking can be a practice of care, where place becomes therapeutic and restorative. Walking becomes a way of doing nature and entwining the human act of walking with the place. Walking research has also significantly contributed to theories of place, shifting the logic of place as something fixed and known, to understandings of place as an event, in process, and connected to our lives, Massey (20012). Place matters, and the concept of place and people are integral to all of us. People do not only live in a place, but move through, around, and between places, establishing so many connections.
Over the past year I have really appreciated my walks in the natural world and have come to enjoy each one more and more. It has been a time to feel at one with myself and with the natural world around me. More and more as I have become comfortable with myself I have begun to use the time for deep thinking. Thinking about my research, thinking about the place we find ourselves in the world and often thinking of friends and families.
“The quality of human world relationships must first acknowledge that places themselves have something to say” (Grunewald 2013 p 624). Place limits us, defines us and shapes us. Our own sense of space is punctuated by places we stop and the experiences and interactions we have with these places. During walking there is time to think of the spaces and the interactions we can have with the spaces. The longer we stop in these places the greater the roots we form. During lockdown many of the walks are in the same place and I have been looking at ways to interact differently during these walks to keep the creativity fresh and new.
‘Walking with’ has become my focus for so many aspects and I think is so very fitting for my educational research on rural education. I was so delighted when I became aware that ‘walking with’ is an ethnographic methodology and is an option I am exploring for undertaking research and capturing data.
In the past week I have been trying out the ‘walking with’ methodology to create connections with place and people and my own well-being in three different ways.
The first ‘walking with’ was taking one of my usual walks and looking at it through the eyes of a friend. I painted with words and photos the walk for my friend looking for what I know she would be interested in exploring.
A physical walk with a friend (ensuring all social distancing and travel restrictions were adhered to). Our walk was focused on rural education and became a rich source of collective memory and interrogation of some of our practices over the last 30 years.
Was a ‘walk with’ my two university supervisors. Both had recorded a podcast so I was able to listen to these and during my walk take the quality time to really listen to their philosophy on education and the penny dropped of why they are such a good match for me.
Wherever we are be it in an urban or rural place there is the opportunity to walk. O’Mara (2019) and others stress the importance of recognising that walking as an embodied, multi-sensory activity, transcending any false distinction between mind and body. This is absolutely true: and this week on my walks I have felt the sun, rain and wind, the ground beneath my feet squelch and even crunched through the snow.
Walking with someone is easier than we think too and something that is so good for us physically and mentally. One of my daughters walks each lunchtime and uses the time to ‘walk with’ someone via a phone call. Often I walk with her and the time away from desks is good for both of us. As O’Mara (2019) explains, walking generates rhythms in the brain that don’t occur when sitting. This is exactly how I feel when on my walking activities. It can settle my mind, but also sharpens my senses, which can result in conversations and ideas that potentially flow with greater ease.
As we enjoy February, try and think about ‘walking with’ someone to support your wellbeing. Happy to be a ‘walking with’ partner – just drop me a message via Twitter @Garvachy.
As I move forward with my rural education research I am also keen to hear from any of you with an interest in rural education and if you are leading a very small rural primary. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a great month and most of all take care of yourself.
As well as being Chief Education Officer for Argyll and Bute, Anne Paterson was the lead sponsor for the Northern Alliance’s Early Years Network. She has made a huge mark on regional improvement collaborative activity over the years and we would like to take this opportunity to thank her for her support, attentive ear and unique talents. Congratulations are also in order since Anne was recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for her services to education just a few short weeks ago.
Anne’s reference list:
Greenwood (formerly Gruenewald), D (20013) A critical pedagogy of place: from gridlock to parallax, Environmental Education Research, 14:3, 336-348, DOI: 10.1080/13504620802190743
Doreen Massey, For Space. London: Sage, 2012
Shane O’Mara (2019) ‘In Praise of Walking’: the new science of how we walk and why it’s good for us, is rich with evidence of the benefits of walking