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Incorporating lessons outdoors can increase happiness for teachers

A study found students were also more engaged and willing to learn

Photo (c) Antonio_Diaz - Getty Images
Previous studies have shown how powerful spending time outside can be for improving mental health, and now researchers have discovered teachers can benefit from some fresh air.

According to a new study conducted by researchers from Swansea University, incorporating outdoor lessons for just one or two hours per week can make teachers happier and more satisfied with their jobs.

“Initially, some teachers had reservations about transferring the classroom outdoors but once outdoor learning was embedded within the curriculum, they spoke of improved job satisfaction and personal wellbeing,” said researcher Emily Marchant, PhD. “This is a really important finding given the current concerns around teacher retention rates.”

Getting a breath of fresh air

The researchers evaluated both teachers and students at three schools in south Wales that had recently implemented a new curriculum that required lessons to be taught outside for one hour each week.

Teachers were interviewed, while children between the ages of nine and 11 were put into focus groups to assess their attitudes and feelings towards the outdoor learning. Responses were recorded both before the new curriculum began and after it was put in place.

Overall, spending just one hour per week outside was beneficial for both students and teachers, even if the teachers were a little apprehensive at the start. Educators reported their students producing better learning outcomes, and improved memory skills of the lessons they had outside, while they also appreciated the time outside of the classroom.

“We found that the pupils felt a sense of freedom when outside the restricting walls of the classroom,” said Marchant. “They felt more able to express themselves, and enjoyed being able to move about more too. They also said they felt more engaged and were more positive about the learning experiences.”

While some teachers felt that being outside was an even greater distraction to some students than being in the classroom, and they felt more pressure to meet curriculum goals than usual, they viewed the outdoor lessons as a positive opportunity for students to experience a change of scenery and engage in the material in a new way.

“Overall, our findings highlight the potential of outdoor learning as a curriculum tool in improving school engagement and the health, well-being, and education outcomes of children,” said Marchant.

Job stressors and pressures

With a record number of teachers leaving their jobs in recent years, researchers have begun to explore why so many of these professionals are feeling dissatisfied with their career choice.

While job-related stress is a big factor, a recent study found that many teachers are feeling overworked and undervalued. Researchers say that many educators also lack a suitable work/life balance, and this has led many to leave their jobs after 10 years.

“The general response from government is that teaching will be improved by reducing workload, removing unnecessary tasks and increasing pay,” the authors wrote. “This may help, and our study does continue the discourse that workload is key. However, it also indicates that part of the problem lies within the culture of teaching, the constant scrutiny, the need to perform, and hyper-critical management. Reducing workload will not address these cultural issues.”

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