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Mentoring and the ‘production of space’: Research, practice and geographical futures

Lauren Hammond, Grace Healy, Steve Puttick and Nicola Walshe

Mentoring matters in, and for, geography education. Mentoring is critically important for inducting teachers of geography into teaching as a profession, and more broadly into the schools and communities that they serve. Mentoring is also invaluable for supporting the progression and development of experienced teachers, researchers and teacher educators throughout their careers. In our forthcoming (February 2022) edited collection Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School a wide range of geography educators – working in a variety of different settings – come together to explore mentoring (Healy et al., 2022). In this blog we have distilled their insights to offer a summary of arguments developed further in the book. We begin by critically examining the relationship between mentoring and the ‘production of space’, before exploring the relationships between geography and sustainability to consider the potential of mentoring for producing more just and inclusive futures in, and through, geography education.

Since we submitted this book for publication, the socio-political landscape of teacher education in England – the national policy context in which we all work – continues to be a space of contestation and debate. In Taylor and Healy’s (2021, n.p.) words, ‘teacher education has been shaped by neo-liberal political agendas that dispute the role of the university within the knowledge base for teaching, while supporting the advancement of the private sector within a teacher education ‘market’’. The recent Market Review of ITT (DfE, 2021) has resulted in significant concerns being raised about the role of the state in (decision-making about) Initial Teacher Education (ITE), including  – but not limited to – the role of disciplines (e.g., geography or history) in ITE (Hardman, 2021). For example, in their response to the Market Review consultation, the Geographical Association (2021) express that they are:

concerned by the level of prescription and limits to academic agency within the report’s recommendations, which risk undermining a critically-engaged professional ITE environment that allows for subject/phase-specific development of geography teachers. Longer-term, this would have significant implications for the status and professionalism of geography teaching.

Concerns raised by the Geographical Association and others across the sector (see for example, CCT, 2021; NASBTT, 2021; UCET, 2021) build upon pre-existing concerns about ITE policy. Particularly that the ITT Core Content Framework (CCF) (DfE, 2019) is framed by selective reading of a narrow research base which has the potential to remove prospective teachers of geography from the ‘reservoirs’ (Bernstein, 2000) of knowledge and expertise that exist in, and are supported by, disciplines in universities. Put another way, they contribute to what Taylor and Healy (2021, n.p.) term a space of ‘deeply contested policy-making’, with some universities considering the ethical and professional implications of continuing to support teacher education in this landscape (see for example, responses from UCL, 2021; University of Oxford, 2021). 

Stepping back from the particular challenges facing ITE in England, Morgan (2022) situates ITE amid fundamental intersecting crises facing the Earth as our shared home. These crises include, but are not limited to, the CV-19 pandemic, anthropogenically induced ecological and climate crises, and systemic and everyday injustices faced by people in different spaces because of their intersectional identities. Here, active consideration of the affective and embodied nature of community, and the disciplines of geography and education (and the relationships between them) is of critical importance.

Community in geography education is multifaceted, and we use it to foreground:  the communities we work within and serve (hooks, 2003); the colleagues we work with in schools, universities, or other educational spaces; and the disciplinary communities we draw upon and contribute to (Kinder, 2022). These communities enable us – in different ways and at different times – to: seek support; to engage in critical discussion, practitioner inquiry and research; to challenge one-another’s thinking and (potentially) to develop shared philosophies and practices; and to advocate for change where needed. Mentoring in geography education has a vital role in introducing beginning teachers to these communities, nurturing professional development, and in collectively addressing global, and local, challenges in, and through, geography education.

We draw upon Lefebvre’s (1991) work on the ‘production of space’ to frame our examination of mentoring. This is because ‘social space is a social product’ (p.26), and through mentoring and teaching mentors actively (re)produce the kinds of futures they want for their students, their mentees and for the world. Applied to geography education, the production of space offers a valuable and ambitious view of mentors’ agency: 

Freedom and liberatory politics cannot be pursued, we may conclude, without active human agents individually or collectively producing new spaces and spatio-temporalities, making and remaking places materially as well as in a different image, and producing a new second nature and thereby revolutionising their socio-ecological and environmental relations.

(Harvey 2009, p.259)

 

Mentors can, and do, shape presents and futures as agents in communities and the world. Through actively engaging with different ideas and theories about geography and education, teachers of geography become more informed in their practice and thinking about the presents and futures they want to shape in, and through, education. These are ambitious aims, and involve active consideration of the relationships between mentoring and geographical futures.

Framing his chapter around the question ‘what sort of mentoring for what sort of geography education?’ Morgan argues that ‘there is an urgent need for mentors to engage colleagues in sustained conversations about the theory and practice of geography education’ (Morgan, 2022, p.46). This profound question recognises the significance of mentoring to teachers’ professional growth and well-being, and also offers a typology of ways in which mentoring might be conceptualised and understood. This typology (Table one) offers mentors a way to critically consider the nature of their mentoring and the possible impacts on the mentee, and more widely on geography education and the children and young people they teach. 

Type of mentor/ingWhat is this mentor/ing like?
Evidence-based learningFocussed on effective geography teaching, and demonstrable results. Risks ignoring profound and underpinning questions about the purpose of (geographical) education.
Reflective knowledgeThe teacher is central – with the beginning teacher encouraged to critically reflect upon their teaching, and to make changes based on their reflections. Risks knowledge and debate  about geography education being sidelined. 
Teachers as activistsDraws on radical and progressive ideals about education, and positions the school as a site of social change, with the teacher positioned as a transformative intellectual.
The knowledge-focussed mentorFocussed on the debates about the place of, and politics around, the ‘place’ of knowledge in schooling.
The networked teacher-mentorIdentities are shaped, and teaching informed, through social networks and negotiations.
Table one: Adapted version of Morgan’s (2022) typology of mentoring for geography teachers

As we argue when concluding the book, Morgan’s question and typology is beneficial to supporting mentors in truly engaging with the question ‘what kinds of futures do you hope your mentoring will produce?’ (Hammond et al., 2022). We argue that this question allows mentors to take a metaphorical step-back from their practice, and to consider how the ideas of justice, agency and voice can be used by mentors to support and inform their practice. Here, we propose that by actively considering justice in, and for, geography education, mentors and beginning teachers can be supported in (re)producing more just educational spaces and systems. For example, in challenging injustices, othering and exclusionary practices to enable and empower teachers of geography both in their everyday work and also their development as professionals. This includes actively considering how people and places are represented in curricula and teaching, and empowering students through pedagogy. It also involves actively considering barriers teachers of geography might face – including those related to their identities when engaging with ‘communities of practice’ (Lave and Wegner, 1991), and ultimately in achieving their career aspirations.

Another important future envisioned by chapter authors in the book concerns sustainability, for ‘one is born into history, one isn’t born into a void’ (Brand, 2001, p.82 quoted in Yusoff, 2018, p.27). The revision of the geography National Curriculum presented in the 2014 Programme of Study for Key Stage 3 (DfE, 2014) removed sustainable development and climate change from the Geography National Curriculum in England. Whilst not all schools are legally obliged to follow the national curriculum, and teachers conceptualised as ‘curriculum makers’ (Lambert and Morgan, 2010) exert their agency as they navigate decisions about what to teach – the national curriculum is important. For example, affecting; the content of published teaching resources and the focus of accountability regimes; how geography is taught; assessment foci and processes; and also potentially areas of focus during ITE.

Current curriculum policy is one aspect of the time-space in which we exist. There is certainly no curriculum void! For us, a key role of mentoring is empowering beginning teachers to critically engage with what to teach and their representation of the world and the people who call it home (Ahmed et al., 2022). In the present time-space, this includes active consideration of how they teach children about the intersecting crises facing the Earth, and how we might empower children as active agents in their own lives, communities and the world. As Healy and Walshe (2022) argue, mentors can become more intentional as they navigate the professional landscape that shapes their mentoring, becoming policy actors (rather than policy subjects). 

Whilst Healy and Walshe (2022) focus on critical engagement with educational policy that conceptualises and affects the practice of mentoring, in this blog we now shine a light on the intentionality of critical engagement with a more complex and wide-reaching set of policy, including geography curriculum discourse and policies concerning the future of the Earth. Combined with active scholarship, this is fundamental to ensuring beginning geography teachers are better placed to question the decisions that others have made when they engage with curriculum policies, debates and textbooks (Healy, 2022). For example, by drawing on the work of Haraway (2016) beginning teachers can support students in (re)examining the relationships between people and the Earth. As Haraway contends, ‘human beings are with and of the earth, and the other biotic and abiotic powers of the earth are the main story’, with how human beings live and die matters, not just to other people, but ‘also to the many critters across taxa which and whom we have subjected to exterminations, extinctions, genocides, and prospects of futurelessness’ (p.59). Drawing on Haraway’s work can support children in thinking about their connections to the Earth, and the decisions they make in their lives and futures.

In conclusion…

In this blog, we have examined how mentoring in geography can (re)produce spaces, practices and systems to help co-create more just communities and tomorrows for mentees. Through the example of sustainability, we have considered how through scholarship and moves to act as ‘policy actors’ mentors can also support beginning teachers in navigating the complexities of teaching geography in ways that critically engage with policy at a range of scales. We are conscious that these are highly ambitious aims, and we hope that the wide ranging, questioning and provocative contributions in Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School makes connections between the practical challenges facing mentors and the reservoirs of vibrant geographical thought that might inspire more expansive and hopeful futures. We have argued these futures ought to foreground concern with sustainability in ways that critically engage with intersectional injustices and contribute to geography’s essential contribution to education in the 21st century.   

Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School will be published on 28th February 2022 and you can read more about the book here: https://www.routledge.com/Mentoring-Geography-Teachers-in-the-Secondary-School-A-Practical-Guide/Healy-Hammond-Puttick-Walshe/p/book/9780367743222

References

Ahmed, F. Hammond, L. Nichols, S-A. Puttick, S. and Searle, A. (2022) Planning in geography education: A conversation between university-based tutors and school-based mentors in Initial Teacher Education. G. Healy, L. Hammond, S. Puttick and N. Walshe (eds), Mentoring Geography Teachers in the Secondary School. Abingdon: Routledge, pp.156-172.

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One reply on “Mentoring and the ‘production of space’: Research, practice and geographical futures”

Thanks for this interesting analysis, and look forward to reading the collection. Your review points towards something that has largely been missing in discussions of geography teachers’ work – the role of the state in defining the meaning of schooling and curriculum. As the Market Review suggests, a new phase of this regulation is being proposed..

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