Individual teacher comfort outside is key for successful outdoor teaching/learning experiences. Teachers' hesitation toward teaching outside might be a result of many things:
- Weather temperature, snow, rain, etc.
- First-timers fear
- Not sure how to manage a group in an open space
What to do
- Afraid to say "I don't know" or lack plant identification knowledge
- Not sure what to do "out there"
Lack of administration support
- Focused on other areas/ideas
- Don't understand the value of teaching outside
Feel there isn't time
- Don't see how standards correlate to outdoor lessons
- Stressed with indoor schedules/routines
One of the biggest difference-makers is to be supportive and encouraging to other teachers. But the bottom line is understanding their biggest concerns and then thinking of solutions. Knowing what hinders or motivates teachers is the key to getting others to use the outdoors. Remember with all teaching strategies, some teachers will engage and others will not. Don't get discouraged. Feel free to contact School Forest staff for more ideas or strategies to help your school start teaching outside.
Some ideas to motivate others:
- Set up a workshop with School Forest Staff. These site-specific workshops can focus on getting teachers outside, outdoor lessons, research on why it's important, or whatever topic you think would be most useful for staff.
- Find volunteers who are willing to accompany teachers outdoors. This can help boost confidence for teachers who might feel less control outdoors than they do in a traditional classroom.
- Create grab-and-go activities or activity stations with all the necessary lesson plans and materials, so teachers can easily plan them into their curriculum. Straight-forward, simple lessons can be helpful for teachers new to outdoor teaching.
- Plan events for just teachers in their School Forest, such as a scavenger hunt, staff strolls in the woods, a staff meeting in a forest gathering spot, or a weekly walk/jog/snowshoe in the forest. Such activities will allow teachers to become more familiar with the site and increase comfort.
- Ask the administration to support and promote outdoor teaching and curriculum development to increase teacher buy-in.
- Know the research behind teaching outside and how it increases motivation, knowledge base, and test scores.
- Have a School Forest supply closet that is open to all teachers that includes clothing and materials to help alleviate concerns over weather: gaiters, bug spray, sunscreen, hats, mud boots, warm gloves, etc.
- Write a trail guide and map to assist educators. Do it yourself, make it a project for students, or hire a writer. Mark specific features on the map such as plants, animal homes, or geological features.
- Post photos or videos of your students learning outside for other teachers to see. Use your school's teacher web portal or post in a communal space such as in the teacher's lounge.