Teacher confidence: Why it’s integral to outdoor learning
Is a lack of confidence preventing you from taking the classroom outdoors? We explore why teacher confidence is integral to outdoor learning.
If you were asked to name the biggest obstacle to outdoor learning in schools, what would you say? A lack of outdoor space? The Great British Weather? Squeezing it into the timetable? Perhaps the paperwork — or pushy parents!
These are the answers that come up time and time again when discussing the barriers to taking the curriculum outdoors — but they’re rooted in myths about outdoor learning. Although quality school grounds and wet weather gear are worthy of consideration when developing your school’s outdoor learning provision, it isn’t tiny playgrounds nor rainy days which are holding you back.
It’s a lack of teacher confidence.
Why teacher confidence is fundamental to outdoor learning
If you work at an inner city school with limited outdoor opportunities, you might be feeling sceptical. After all, we know that there are huge inequalities in access to nature across the UK, and the pandemic has only deepened those disparities. Despite this, Natural England reports that the biggest challenges to outdoor learning in schools revolve around a lack of teacher confidence.
At Learning through Landscapes, we know that outdoor space isn’t everything. Of course schools with acres of sprawling grounds are going to have an easier time taking the classroom outdoors — but what good is having all the gear if you have no idea how to use it? Our My School, My Planet project is evidence that guidance, knowledge, and support are far more important than school grounds when it comes to delivering outdoor learning. Our CEO, Carley Sefton, says:
‘Even the smallest, most urban schools can have an outstanding outdoor learning provision, because everything in the school grounds can, and should be used towards making an outdoor classroom.’
We know that getting outside is good for us, and we know the benefits of outdoor learning for improving child development; supporting mental health and wellbeing; and promoting more inclusive learning. However, one in six children still only have lessons outdoors less than once per month — why?
Well, it’s not down to a lack of enthusiasm. More than eight out of ten teachers want to take their classes outside more often, but cite curriculum pressures; health and safety fears; and poor weather as obstacles. The good news is, with the proper training and support, outdoor learning shouldn’t conflict with any of those things.
That’s why teacher confidence is integral to outdoor learning. So, why do teachers lack the confidence to take learning outdoors, and how can we build it?
Why teachers lack the confidence to teach outdoors
1. Misunderstandings about outdoor learning
Many people are under the impression that outdoor learning is an extra-curricular activity that needs to be squeezed into an already packed school day. Thanks to the prevalence of programmes which operate outside of the curriculum, teachers (and parents!) fear that taking the classroom outdoors will have negative impacts on attainment — and their busy timetables!
However, the opposite is actually true. At its heart, outdoor learning is just a way of teaching. It doesn’t need a dedicated programme to be easily integrated into the curriculum. In fact, Learning through Landscapes was founded to support teachers in taking the curriculum outdoors — and we’re not just talking about science and geography.
2. Fears surrounding health and safety risks
When we discuss barriers to taking learning outdoors, health and safety risks are mentioned so frequently that we created an entire page of resources on risk management! Of course excessive paperwork — or the possibility of disciplinary action — is going to prevent a teacher from taking lessons outside. So, what can we do about this?
For schools, duties and responsibilities around health and safety are rigorous. Understandably, this can lead to a risk-averse culture in the workplace — hardly ideal for building teacher confidence. However, we know that the benefits of managed risk far outweigh the consequences, so we need to change the way we think about risk.
At school, that begins with the senior leadership team.
3. A lack of support
If you’re a member of the senior leadership team, it’s your job to ensure that your staff feel supported to do what’s best for their pupils. In fact, good leadership is probably the most crucial factor in building teacher confidence for outdoor learning.
If a teacher is positive that they will be supported in the unlikely event that something goes awry outdoors, that can have amazing effects on their attitude — not only towards teaching outdoors, but towards teaching in general.
It’s common sense: supported teachers are confident teachers!
4. Physical constraints
Although poor school grounds and rainy weather aren’t necessarily obstacles to outdoor learning, it’s only natural that teachers won’t feel confident taking lessons outdoors if they don’t have the tools to manage these conditions.
OK, you can’t control the weather — but you can help teachers build the confidence to get outdoors come rain or shine.
5. A lack of training
Finally, nothing can replace knowledge and experience when it comes to building teacher confidence. Impostor syndrome is rife amongst teachers, leading to significant impacts on teacher wellbeing — and consequently, teacher confidence.
Giving teachers the skills and support they need to feel confident in their roles is invaluable. That’s why training — both for teachers and senior leadership — will always pay off.
Now you’ve gained an understanding of the barriers to teacher confidence in outdoor learning, hopefully you’re starting to think about how you can build teacher confidence in your own educational setting.
We can revolutionise our school grounds, but without a shift in the confidence and attitudes of our educators, we can only go so far. Our Scotland Director, Matt, says:
‘It’s very easy when you start thinking about outdoors to think what about our playground, what about the space we’ve got? […] Actually what we find is it’s much, much more about the people, and it’s about the attitudes and the understanding and confidence that people have. […] The children are the relatively straightforward bit. They like being outside, they respond really well, it’s us adults, so just start thinking about adults.’
The key to teacher confidence is in your hands
We would love to help you unlock it. That’s why we created our foundation training courses for early years, primary, and secondary schools — perfect for building confidence in educators at the start of their outdoor learning journey. During the training day, we will:
- Explore the reasons for taking learning outdoors — plus, how it can benefit both pupils and teachers;
- Try out simple, cost-effective lesson ideas to bring all areas of the curriculum to life;
- Share inspiring ideas from other schools about how to take lessons outdoors across different topics and age groups;
- Begin preparing a lesson to take back to your own school, looking at planning learning outdoors in the long term.
With confidence and planning, every school playground can become a rich and accessible classroom for all teachers. Book Early Years Foundations Outdoors, Primary Foundations Outdoors, or Secondary Foundations Outdoors now, or visit our training page to browse our full range of outdoor learning training courses.