Blog - Learning from nature at QMU

Kristina Mountain

Learning from nature at QMU

Kristina Mountain, Lecturer at QMU and Student Counsellor for the Omega Xi Chapter of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International, reflects on how everyday observations of our resident wildlife can enhance our thinking and practice.


"In the Division of Nursing at Queen Margaret University (QMU) we have been in the throes of curriculum re-approval events for several different nursing and paramedic education programmes. As we talked to the different panels virtually it brought back memories. In 2014 Professor Brendan McCormack joined the nursing team at QMU and five years ago the postgraduate team created a unique MSc Person-centred Practice Framework. This was made up of a generic pathway and pathways specifically for different strands of community and public health nursing. This was led by Brendan, bringing his knowledge and expertise on personhood and person-centredness in to the mix. He tasked my colleague, Dr Savina Tropea, to develop the philosophical core of the framework and she gathered the team around her and the conversations started and curriculum development began. As part of this process Savina and I would go for philosophical walks around the campus so I could learn more about personhood and Savina could gain a fuller understanding of community and public health nursing.


As we wandered we started to notice the community that lived in the grounds of the university, made up of a pair of swans, their cygnets, ducks, coots and moorhens – with occasional visits from a flock of geese and predatory gulls. These observations became part of our conversations as we watched the dynamics of an evolving community. We saw the swans work collaboratively to nurture and protect their young as the cygnets became more aware and their perspectives of their world changed. The swans tolerated the ducks, coots and moorhens and the different wildfowl cultures existing together.

It was interesting to see a failing to thrive duckling being taken under the pen’s wing. The only duckling (of thirteen) who could feed with the swans without being pecked.His differences accepted.


As it was summer we would pause and sit on one of the benches, taking time to think and reflect. We would talk about the cygnets and the shared and different ways of being each cygnet experienced and the challenges they faced as they developed and the community was built. As the swans dived down for weeds we watched as the cygnets copied them – and how to preen, explore and call out to each other; huddling together when tired. With this we pondered over the need to dive deep theoretically and share learning, experience, knowledge and research.


The discussion would often focus on how the water rippled around the swans and how this image captured the idea of ripples of change – often small ripples and small changes - but significant nonetheless as communities of learners and practice developed. With this came conversations about effective leadership and facilitation to develop practice in ways that bring together a culture of person-centredness. These wrapped round the person and a person’s personhood whether as the person being cared for (and their family and community), or the practitioner, working with the person’s values and beliefs, shared decision-making, a holistic approach, engaging authentically and being sympathetically present (McCance & McCormack 2019)."

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