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Outdoor Learning ≠ Forest School (Part 2)

So where are we up to?

You see, the thing is: Outdoor Learning definitely ≠ Forest School

But… Forest School may = Outdoor Learning!

Teachers are in the best position to work with outdoor learning but they have to start with themselves. If we want children’s learning to change, the teachers’ teaching has to change too. And this means they themselves need to be prepared to change.

 

Outdoor Learning ≠ Forest School


Well sooner or later someone had to say it. (Part 1)

I know it’s not a maths problem.
But it is a problem
…and it does need to be grasped.

Many headteachers say the same. There are just as many of course, who are only too pleased to have ticked the box  – “Outdoor learning? Yes, we’ve got some of that!” Move on to the next thing.

It’s a common problem with “branding” – everything under one name. If it’s called “Forest School,” it must mean outdoor learning, nature, play, all that stuff. But it’s not that simple. Forest School is a wide and variegated beast. Trainings for trainers can be very different and independent practitioners reflect these differences, not only in the quality of their training but also the motivations that brought them to the work in the first place.

Now, I’m all for independence but from a headteachers’ point-of-view, there are attractions to the Forest School “solution” which are problematic for outdoor learning achieving anything like the potential in school settings that the research suggests is possible – and when the Parent Association/Council etc. gets involved it can be even worse!

When the government funding was available for outdoor learning training, the Forest School Level 3 accreditation suited a lot of schools and heads. Often free, it offered a quickly achieved certification. What could be better? When the funding dried up, the momentum in the movement, those who had been convinced by the children and nature discussion, largely remained however. Parents, for example, who saw their children enjoying the ‘wellie-walks’ in the Early Years wondered what had happened to all the fun once they moved into ‘big school.’

There is nothing better for galvanising an agitating parent group than raising money for a ’cause’ – and there is nothing better to raise money for, than a gazebo! Or in ‘school-speak,’ an Outdoor Learning Classroom.

Heads are under pressure 360° – 24/7. We know that. Motivating their parent community, satisfying the outdoor learning (LOtC) requirements, monitoring professional development and demonstrating a committment to school-grounds development can have one, tidy solution: Focus the fund-raising attentions on something with high visibilty, get the raised garden beds in – that means ‘community’ and better still, business community involvement, if one of the big chains donates some permapine logs…and then? Find someone to oversee the show. Anyone?

First things first – Outdoor Learning is not an add-on. The hardest thing, even for highly motivated heads is to have the outdoor learning embedded in their school. Under pressure, it’s often the first cut. Until it is understood as a method not a subject, this will always be so.

When we buy in Forest School ‘experts’ like nature coaches, there is no requirement for the teachers themselves to change their teaching, to allow the children’s work to be more experiential.

Add-ons go first, even value-added add-ons!

The serious nature-based work that is taking place around the world with children and adolescents is as far removed from most of what goes on in our school ‘outdoor learning’ as it is from first rate teaching. If we want to actually make a difference, if we want to really help children, we need to get a lot more definite about how we teach. All the claims for personal development, 21st century skills and empathising with nature, simply can not be achieved by occasionally wandering about the school, collecting different coloured leaves, or the odd expedition to the plastic-lined pond.

There is a great deal more to it than that. The process is hugely important – from the preparation, the way experiences are drawn out and managed, the follow up, the linking that draws it all together – these different aspects all need to build together.

Outdoor learning may equal Forest School. It all depends. (…continued)

 

Resource Junkies!

Are we giving away the very thing that makes us great teachers – the source of much of our satisfaction through our work, and in the end our happiness?

It’s a rare school I visit where the teachers, faced with a new topic to develop and teach, don’t make a favourite teachers’ online resource site their first port-of-call. It seems that instead of creating content themselves in direct response to their children’s needs, they feel more secure with someone else’s lesson plans, ideas and methods.

Is it because they think it’s a tried and tested activity or lesson scheme? Or is it because they have lost the confidence in, maybe even the ability to develop their own content? In my experience it comes down to a lack in their training but even more so, to a lack in their own education – and clearly a combination of the two reasons above. They are far more likely to depend on what they think of as an outside authority – and the resource sites, advertising their content as ‘genuine lessons created by real teachers,’ offers this sense of authority.

Let’s hope the online resource attraction is not simply used as an easy time saver when faced with the pressures of other planning and recording, along with consulting with parents, staff meetings, after school clubs and so on.  There certainly are such increasing pressures. But is the resource site the best place to go?

Our younger teachers are simply not prepared in their training to create content. Their role over the last few years has been to deliver a body of prescribed content stipulated by government curricular bodies. The present trend is toward topic and theme development, along the lines of project teaching – a wonderful return in many ways to the sense of earlier methods of teaching – and dependence on online resources and borrowed lessons is simply not fit for service in a more creative working of lesson content!

Unfortunately, the trend is definitely toward ‘resource site dependence’ and it means that teachers are taking entire ‘topics’ off the internet and plugging them into their term’s planning.

It’s not only children who lose out. Teachers neglect their own creative development.  When this happens, a central key to their own fulfillment through their work is undermined.

No wonder there is so much unhappiness in the teaching profession!

Is Work the Problem After All?

How much happier would you be if you didn’t have to work?

A meta-analysis of 228 studies unexpectedly showed that one particular factor was most important in people achieving their happiness – their work!

Of course, it’s not just work. It’s work that is rewarding and fulfilling. People whose jobs offer them a chance to be autonomous, who feel that their work is meaningful and has real interest are happier people. They are also more productive and more creative.

Because they like to serve their customers and their bosses well, they receive more positive feedback. People who are appreciated are much happier of course.

Although most surveys show that income and happiness  are linked, the correlation is not nearly as strong as we might expect. Money has the greatest effect when there is a shortage of it – the principle of scarcity at work. The more you have the less it affects your sense of happiness.

Our work offers us much more than income. We build a sense of identity; we organise our lives and focus ourselves on hugely important goals all to do with our work. We also build meaningful and lasting friendships which are extremely important in our web of relationships.

But there is even more – Not only are people happier if they are more productive and more creative, we also find that the opposite is also true. If they are happier they become more creative and produce more as well. Everybody wins!

Longitudinal studies also show that 18 year olds who are happy are more financially independent, achieve more and have greater autonomy in their work when retested 10 years or so later. The happy person is more likely to be offered a job, more likely to keep it, but if by chance s/he does lose it, is more likely to be re-employed. When in work, s/he is much more likely to be evaluated positively, allowing for quicker promotion and better opportunities. Research has revealed also that the happier a person is at one point in life, the more income s/he will earn in a later period – in fact 10 times more likely to do so.

The good news is that we can create our own happiness.

What is hugely important in this process has been shown over and over. It begins with you. It is up to you how you see your work. If you believe it as work of genuine value, a career, even a calling – just like teaching truly is – then you can begin the process right now.

Increase your own happiness by positive, enthusiastic and creative engagement with your work. The first step is in the mind. It begins as an act of choice – of the will to make a change.

RESOURCE JUNKIES!

Are we giving away the very thing that makes us great teachers – the source of much of our satisfaction through our work, and in the end our happiness?

It’s a rare school I visit where the younger teachers (i.e. younger than 40!) faced with a new topic to develop and teach, don’t make a favourite teachers’ online resource site their first port-of-call. It seems that instead of creating content themselves in direct response to their children’s needs, they feel more secure with someone else’s lesson plans, ideas and methods.

Is it because they think it’s a tried and tested activity or lesson scheme? Or is it because they have lost the confidence in, maybe even the ability to develop their own content? In my experience it comes down to a lack in their training but even more so, to a lack in their own education – and clearly a combination of the two reasons above. They are far more likely to depend on what they think of as an outside authority – and the resource sites, advertising their content as ‘genuine lessons created by real teachers,’ offers this sense of authority.

Let’s hope the online resource attraction is not simply used as an easy time saver when faced with the pressures of other planning and recording, along with consulting with parents, staff meetings, after school clubs and so on.  There certainly are such increasing pressures. But is the resource site the best place to go?

Our younger teachers are simply not prepared in their training to create content. Their role over the last few years has been to deliver a body of prescribed content stipulated by government curricular bodies. The present trend is toward topic and theme development, along the lines of project teaching – a wonderful return in many ways to the sense of earlier methods of teaching – and dependence on online resources and borrowed lessons is simply not fit for service in a more creative working of lesson content!

Unfortunately, the trend is definitely toward ‘resource site dependence’ and it means that teachers are taking entire ‘topics’ off the internet and plugging them into their term’s planning.

It’s not only children who lose out. Teachers neglect their own creative development.  When this happens, a central key to their own fulfillment through their work is undermined.

No wonder there is so much unhappiness in the teaching profession!

 

10 “SIMPLE” STEPS FOR MOVING YOUR SCHOOL FORWARD WITHOUT SPENDING MONEY

Schools are communities – Social health is everything!
Learning is central – Everything must serve the education.
School is school – Family is family.
We are all part of the world – Look after the real needs of your teachers.
Maintain independence.
Balance is key – Plan the network – Connect the dots.
Parents care about the little things – Whose shoes are they?
Notice where people walk – Let the rest grow wild.
Educate for integrity not product – Plant seeds carefully.
Never forget, they will be the adults – What will they need then?

These are all about intention, about organisation and vision. They don’t cost money but they will create a real ocean swell for positive change. Sometimes, to depend on money to buy your way into progress, leads you away from a better direction.

At this stage, many schools, governors ahd headteachers are convinced of a techno-solution – media investment – now it’s i-pads to solve a learning crisis. How much has already been invested in virtual learning? Constant attention on buying our way out of an arguably manufactured “crisis” means that we do not focus on the real investments we need to make in our primary schools – people.

A “simple interest” solution!

All Those Balls In The Air – Now What?

Outdoor Learning – another ‘extra’, another pressure – another thing to let go…With so many balls in the air, who wants another one, especially one that’s not so easy to keep up?

Thinking of Outdoor Learning (OL) as a subject in itself, as an ‘extra’ to add to an already crammed timetable and bulging work load, only creates more trouble.

OL is not a subject. It’s a method. In fact it’s only part of a method.  It’s part of an experiential -learning method, which has huge potential indoors as well as out. But it’s a special part of that method;

… and understanding how to incorporate the outdoors in simple, inspiring ways,  flowing into all of the children’s learning is essential if we want to maintain and develop the role of OL in our schools. If it is not fully integrated as a method across the school years it will not survive in the face of other demands.

Nor will it happen if we leave it to one or two keen teachers in the Early Years. We need a change of culture and we need to accept that this can only happen through genuine school leadership. These changes of culture don’t come about by themselves.

 

Scratchers & Diggers – A Threatened Species?

“Craig’s work is full of individual ideas and that different way of looking which begins to alter your perspective in a consistent and lasting way.” Steve Biddulph

There is no doubt that being outdoors, running, exploring and playing in natural environments is wonderfully beneficial for children – common sense really - especially given the impact of media saturation and the indoor lifestyles many children have.

But is school the place to have to remedy another problem?

It is difficult enough for children who have not had the opportunities for essential early years’ play development - and the challenges in terms of schooling that this presents, are serious enough. But add to this the fact that so few children have a deep and ongoing relationship with nature and clearly, schools are being expected to manage another situation, not of their making.

The kind of focus and concentration children need for much of their school work depends on a healthy ability to dive deeply into their play; into imaginary worlds where a narrative is improvised and developed, where animals, tress and the rocks can all speak and where anything can become anything else, all in a moment of suggestion.

Without this basis in their development, all sorts of problems arise – not least, adjusting the content and delivery of school ‘work’ to try and engage children better. A key example is to increase the role of screen media, which can only add to, rather than solve the problem. In fact, many children find the use of the smart board boring. Typically, we try to solve this by investing even more in teacher training.

A new emphasis on Outdoor Learning is also a response to our latest understanding of the ‘state of childhood.’  And there are some pretty  wild claims about what it can achieve.  And especially in a school context.

What is sure, is that if there is any benefit, it happens when the children’s experience of Nature is ongoing, regular and deep. More football is not Outdoor Learning!

The question for schools is not simply, “What is a deep experience of Nature for a child?” But more accurately, “What is a deep school-based experience of Nature for a child?” 

It is a little easier for the private sector where the day may run from 8.00am – 6.00pm but in the State primary sector, 9.00am - 3.00pm,  with an expected 23 1/2 hours taught, does not leave much time for genuine play, exploration or outdoor projects. No sooner does a child dive into the play than s/he hears the bell. In fact, you only need to spend a little time in the playgrounds of our schools to see that with the constant whistle blown for children to ‘freeze’ mid-play, in order for the play attendants to deal with something that has arisen, there is almost no opportunity for the kind of experience they really need.

Look around the edges of the playground for evidence of the quiet worker, a little like the almost-extinct-endangered-species, to see how s/he is searching for that hidden, out-of-sight, quiet place to get on with the job. Note the scratchings in the hardened pile of building earth, left behind after ‘building improvements.’ The ‘diggers’ have been at work.

Schools are about school work – teaching & learning. And this is where we have to look to find the connection between the children, their need for play and our teaching.

We have to be sensitive to the ever-changing subtleties of their real play, observing carefully, especially as it is so often fleeting in our pressured school day, forget about the domination of the school playing field by the boys – and use the driving inspirations of that play as critical, experiential elements in the devlopment of our lessons themes.

This is a great list

for school leaders…

…but of course once you see a method in the way you are being managed, if you;re not one of the leaders that is, it can seem a little machiavellian!

Clearly the critical factor is maintaining a positive energy in a school and that always comes down to the teachers, their morale and the atmosphere they create.

There is a clear rule: However we are feeling as teachers and whatever our attitudes, the children will begin to reflect it right back. Whenever I go into a school to help out as a consultant, the atmosphere is the first thing I look for. If I find trouble amongst the children – unhappiness, poor behaviour, unfriendliness and poor play – I know where to look first.

I always start with the teachers. I always find out how they are getting on amongst themselves. Where are the problems? Who is mot getting on with whom? And if I find cliques and ganging up amongst the staff, then that’s where the work is going to begin.

“Keeping teachers happy” is a little glib of course. It’s enough to be able to teach well. That’s where the real satisfation comes from. But this list recognises that there are many things that help a teacher be able to teach well – and many things school leaders can do to provide an environment whee great teaching can and does take place.

So here’s a start. No doubt 10′s just an arbitrary number – I can already add another that is key to finding fulfillment as a teacher and therefore teacher happiness:

Encourage teacher creativity – It is the source of ownership of a teacher’s work and therfore identification with the vocational aspects of the job!

10 ways to keep your teachers happy

from INFORMED EDUCATION

Nothing gives a school purpose and energy like an enthusiastic and motivated staff. However, there are so many things that can wear teachers down and this can put a dampener on any prospect of improvement, let along keeping momentum going. As a leader, there are many sound and simple ways for you to keep teachers motivated, enthusiastic and engaged. Here are a few:

  1. Recognise and celebrate passion. Simply put, nobody gets in to teaching for money or fame. Even if they’re tired, unhappy or bitter, every teacher got in to their job because they were passionate about sharing their love of a subject and about helping young people learn and develop in to wonderful adults. Even at the toughest times it is a good idea to ask your staff to recall their career highs and treasured memories, and demonstrate in your actions that you genuinely want them to have more lessons that they love delivering. The best lessons need to have outstanding learning, and should be enjoyable for students and staff. No student ever got enthused by an unhappy teacher. Even at the moments of greatest frustration with a colleague, remember that they got in to this profession for the right reasons.
  2. Start with the positive, and enthuse. Make it a rule that you notice the wonderful things that are going on in your school. Ask people to tell you about their best lessons that day, week, or term, and really listen to them. Be receptive and enthuse with your words and body language. Show that you are happy for them. Ask what you could do to help them have more moments like that. (Leaders who do this actually feel better about themselves.)
  3. Collaborate. Encourage teachers to work together. Offer training in giving positive, useful, constructive advice. Give them the time, space and resources to jointly plan lessons, observe each other and offer supportive feedback. Encourage everyone to share good ideas on staffroom walls, mailing lists and in online forums.
  4. Give time. Scrutinise every new initiative incredibly carefully, and realise that every five minutes spent on paperwork is five minutes less spent on creating quality learning, assessing student work, and meeting students one-to-one. Every initiative has value, but is it really more important than delivering quality teaching and learning? Is there a way of achieving the same outcomes with a much lower impact on time?
  5. Be pro-actively receptive. Having an open-door policy is a great start, although many people won’t feel brave enough to come to you unless a problem has got pretty big. Get out and about, engage, listen, offer help. Sit down with middle managers and staff and ask how they are doing.
  6. Share the bad times. If there’s something that you know isn’t going to go down too well, make sure you’re seen to be suffering at least as much. About to introduce a new requirement in lessons? Make sure senior leaders have to implement it first, and leave it optional for everyone else for a while. Need to ramp up the performance observations? Invite other staff in to observe and constructively support senior leaders’ teaching before you impose your observations on them.
  7. Recognise the key stress times. Ends of terms, report-writing and exam-marking times are really tough, especially for colleagues with lots of classes. Avoid new initiatives and stresses during these times, and if you can be seen to offer to lend a hand with lessons, planning, and duties at these times it will go down a treat!
  8. Be flexible. You need to be accommodating when staff ask for time off. If a colleague has an outside interest then be as flexible as you can. A decision to refuse someone a day off for their championship cycle race will only show you don’t care about them as a person, and will plant the seed of the idea that they need to leave in order to grow and develop their interests.
  9. Develop their CVs. Offer as many opportunities for growth as you can within the school. If there isn’t an opportunity going, you could offer temporary secondments to middle or senior leaderships roles, or you could try arrange a few placements in other schools where they shadow someone in a role they aspire to. Actively develop opportunities for teachers to work on their CVs, and develop a reputation as a school where the enthusiastic teachers can come and grow.
  10.  Give credit. Never miss any opportunity to praise staff at your school and give them credit for the success of the school. Praise them to parents, in newsletters, to the media and to students. Praise individuals quietly behind their backs, and praise them to their faces.