Carnegie Education

Walking and Talking...

Alina Kalnina-Kalnaraja and Sarah Hindmarsh in the Carnegie School of Education reflect on the pilot walking interviews conducted by the Research Cluster: Teacher Identities and Experiences.

Published on 30 Apr 2024
Picture of six people standing in a circle with the focus on their feet.

Background

Having established a research cluster to explore professional identity in education for staff and students, we began working on an approach to understand this notion better. We started by gathering for a day off campus for collaborative thinking. All individuals in the research cluster valued being away from their usual work environment. It meant that we could create a space for deeper thinking on how to take this research forward.

We began by establishing our collective understanding of professional identity. Based on our professional experiences in primary schools, further education, English for Academic Purposes, and distance learning, we explored the common threads for our views on identity formation and development that correspond with the broader literature. For example, we shared the view that professional identity is relational and not a fixed attribute, as is outlined by Beijaard et al. (2004, p. 108): "its development occurs in an intersubjective field and can be best characterised as an ongoing process, a process of interpreting oneself as a certain kind of person and being recognised as such in a given context".

Pilot Study

To begin our project, we launched a pilot study where we set out to investigate professional identity through the walking interview method. This would enable us to capture our views and lived experiences on what professional identity means to us personally and how it develops and is negotiated amid our everyday lives and commitments outside of our professional settings. We settled on using walking interviews as a research method for this project because of its interactive medium and the scope to capture more than just a singular, correct answer (Evans and Jones, 2011). This method aligned well with our agreed aim to create a research space established on shared values of trust and collaboration.

Our research question: Can the walking interview capture the lived experiences of education professionals and be employed to explore the process of (or influences on) the professional development of educators?

We walked in pairs for an average of thirty minutes around the local area where we hosted our away day and audio-recorded our conversations. To support the natural flow of conversation and ensure we collected similar data across all discussion pairs, we created discussion prompts to use while walking.

Picture of church style building underneath blue skies.

Walking Interview Method In Practice

The walking interview method was piloted as a means to explore something of the personal and professional identities of us as a group of teacher educators. We were familiar with the walking interview or 'go-along', as used in a number of social science disciplines, to facilitate a conversation between participants that can unfold more naturally than in a traditional face to face setting (King and Woodroffe, 2019).

Walking together, shoulder to shoulder, has the potential to build rapport, facilitating a natural flow of conversation as participants meander along pathways, mirroring the flow of conversation (Ross et al 2009, Carpiano 2009). As our conversation moved between topics and moods, we found that it incorporated both the more profound and the mundane. Anderson (2004) describes the rhythm of walking as opening up a rhythm of thinking. What felt significant in our pilot was the ability to converse in a way which opened up some honest exploration of our identities, the values that underpin these, and the influences on them. This felt a more spontaneous and dynamic conversation than might have happened in a more traditional indoor face-to-face interview environment and has been described by Anderson (2004) as a 'collage of collaboration'. Our experience was, as echoed in the literature, that our personal and professional identities are indeed inextricably linked in our lived experience as teacher educators (Leefrink et al 2019).

There is a focus in the geographical literature on the importance and experience of place, which helps us to reflect on the interaction of the walking interview with the location in which it is experienced. Our pilot took place in an urban garden environment, crucially away from campus, and with access to green spaces, which in themselves can feel restorative and calming. There is further scope to explore the meaning of place as we walk and talk, which might be especially beneficial with students new to Leeds Beckett as they orientate to a new place for study.

The benefits of walking interviews are many. Not only do they offer a real means of exploring and deepening an understanding of our lived experience, as a qualitative research method they offer the means to create rich, detailed, and multi-sensory data (King and Woodroffe, 2019). Having conducted a pilot study which enabled us both to reflect on the method of the walking interview and to begin to analyse the themes that emerged in the recorded conversations, there is now the scope to develop this approach to support the professional formation of teacher educators new to their roles and, in the future, teacher education students.

Alina Kalnina-Kalnaraja

Online Learning Tutor / Carnegie School Of Education

Alina works on the Distance Learning PGCE Course at the Carnegie School of Education. She provides advice and guidance on the design and delivery of the teaching materials in the online learning environment and supports students’ self-directed learning.

Sarah Hindmarsh

Course Director / Carnegie School Of Education

Sarah Hindmarsh is Course Director for Undergraduate Primary Education courses, 3-7 and 5-11 at Leeds Beckett. Sarah leads a team of undergraduate tutors and has a specialism in primary science which she teaches in a range of modules.

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