Leaders go back to nature

Walkabouts would benefit educational bosses, says report

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Educational leaders should go "walkabout" like Australian Aborigines in order to fully understand the importance of protecting the environment, a new report recommends.

WWF Scotland's Natural Change programmes - comprising 16 days of "residential wilderness workshops", meetings and mentoring over six months - are claimed to have had a profound effect on participants.

Each programme comprises two week-long residential stays in wilderness areas, four months apart. They are designed for people with "positions of influence in society", and attempt to engender "leadership and social action for an ecologically sustainable future".

A central feature is the "solo", which echoes a long tradition of solitary spiritual searching encompassing the walkabout, Native American "vision quests" and Christ's 40 days in the desert. Participants must find a spot to sit and remain within 10 metres of it from dawn to dusk.

WWF Scotland's report concludes that Natural Change, along with supporting research, shows how "committed leadership for sustainability is not cultivated solely through knowledge and intellect; it is achieved through a deep engagement with an individual's values and sense of identity".

The report acknowledges that the impact is hard to measure, and that commissioning such projects requires funders to be brave and "let go of the common practice of seeking specific predefined outcomes".

One participant, YoungScot chief executive Louise Macdonald, said: "I have a new and profound respect for the earth and our complex relationship with it."

The first programme, in 2008, involved people from theatre, health, architecture, charity and education; the second, in 2010, drew purely from education.

The participants in that programme included: Rosa Murray, professional officer of the General Teaching Council for Scotland; Ken Cunningham, School Leaders Scotland general secretary; Gill Troup, depute principal at the University of the West of Scotland; Sheila Smith, West Lothian Council CPD officer; John Daffurn, East Renfrewshire Council professional officer; Paula Evans, Cosla policy manager; and Alastair Milloy, James Watt College vice-principal for corporate development.


Case study

Roseleen Shanley, a teacher of religious, moral and philosophical studies at Aberdeen's Bucksburn Academy, took part in 2008 and said Natural Change had a "great impact" on her work:

- The school has helped to tidy and improve a number of National Trust for Scotland properties;

- A joint research project with Aberdeen University seeks to establish how student leadership is evolving through environment and sustainability work;

- She helped bring about an outdoor classroom within walking distance of the school.

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