You need support. Whether it’s the parent who believes that their child is losing out on “valuable maths time “or the member of admin who has hold of the money strings, you need support. The research supports you, but getting other people on board is key. It can be a little bit of a conundrum too. Having the support of just one of the groups below can help with the others.
Support from your administration is key. They can give the go-ahead for funds; make time in the schedule; they approve your professional development applications, and they are useful to have in your corner when working with parents and colleagues. Prepare your research; gather some examples of where outdoor learning is already happening and make an appointment. Be aware that you might need to sell your ideas to a larger panel of people. You’ve got this.
“But I’ve tried” – Did they say no? Actually the word “no”, or was it a series of non-committal noises, like the old sucking-air-through-the-teeth, to show that they weren’t really sold on the idea? If so, start small and do what you can. Take a maths lesson to the playground. Head out for some nature inspired creative writing… If your students are enjoying learning outdoors, the parents will hear about it. And parents whose children come home excited about their learning are generally an admin pleaser.
In our experience, parents can be influential in the development of an outdoor learning program. If your students love their outdoor learning and they move up to a year group where there isn’t any, the parents will be in.
On the other hand, you might find you have a parent who is frustrated that their child is wasting valuable handwriting time (or maths, or reading, etc). Having that member of admin on board is useful at this point, because they can say the following sentence: “Please read this research, and then come back for a discussion”. They never come back.
Outdoor Learning is not for everyone. You can have amazing support from members of your admin team who would never even dream of taking a class of students outside personally. The phrase, “Yes, I agree that outdoor learning is of value but don’t make me do it” is a thing. Expecting everyone to be on board and making outdoor learning compulsory for every teacher is not the way to go. Students who are learning outdoors with an educator who does not want to be there do not enjoy learning outdoors. Don’t do it.
That being said, there are some ways that you, can use to integrate outdoor learning. Not every example will apply directly to your set-up, you need to assess and go with what works for you.
Example 1: Mine, then yours.
Let’s say you’re a core teacher in a school with two classes per grade level. You are motivated to take learning outside; your grade level colleague is not. Great! Take your class outside for a lesson while the other teacher stays in. Then trade classes and teach the same lesson again. You get to be outside twice and your colleague is happy as a clam next to their indoor heater looking at the snow through a window. You could teach maths outside while unit of inquiry is happening inside. See what works for you. Playing with this kind of flexibility works well, but you’ll need the go-ahead from your admin.
Example 2: Outdoor Learning Integration Teacher
If you are lucky enough to have negotiated some release time for outdoor learning, great! Similar to technology integration, co-teaching with the whole class or taking smaller groups are both possible. This can work particularly well if you have a teacher who likes the idea of outdoor learning, but whose confidence isn’t quite there to go it alone just yet.
Example 3: Half Classes
Again, this is assuming that you have managed to get some release time. Just taking another teacher’s class outside and leaving them with a free period can cause problems with contracted time and fairness in the schedule. Taking half of one class and half of another, giving you a whole class and leaving indoor teachers with half each is a good option. It’s rare that teachers complain about smaller groups, especially when they have the freedom to create those groups in in a way which best suits their indoor teaching needs. E.g. Higher vs. lower reading ability.
This is an irrelevant section. There are not many students who need coaxing into taking learning outdoors (it’s often the teachers that are the problem). That being said, when it’s below 5 degrees and raining sideways, students tend to have a little less get-up-and-go, than if it was 27 degrees and blue skies.
Drop a pebble and watch the ripples
If you’re trying to develop any kind of outdoor learning but are struggling with support, start small and watch what happens. If you start facilitating awesome learning experiences outside with your class and the other class in your grade level is staying inside all of the time, the students will talk. Some will complain and parents will be in… “Why is my kid not getting that exciting thing that her kid is getting?”
What is your administration going to say? “Stop making learning authentic and engaging!” Drop that pebble and watch those ripples.