Entomophobia, Outdoor reading, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam discuss the benefits and potential problems of giving teachers the power to decide that it’s time to get up and play outside. Is it a risk to learning? Do schools even allow it? Plus, the hosts remember positive experiences they had from play and outside learning.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School Podcast.
Welcome to The School of School Podcast.
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So welcome back to another episode of The School of School podcast. I am here with Adam Gifford. Hi Adam.
And Andy Psarianos. Hello, Andy.
Hello. And I'm Robin. And yes, we are here today. I've been mulling this over as a topic. We've talked about how important nature is and getting outside. And so how about just, what would you call it, unplanned times at school where we just say, "Okay, time for a break. Let's all go outside and play." Do you think that's appropriate? I mean, is that something that kids still do, or what teachers do? Is it just kind of up to the individual, but is it important and is it necessary, and should we be doing it?
I guess my first question would be, are teachers allowed to do it, right? If you're the head teacher in the school and you're sitting there and often you got a window out, you can see the playground. All of a sudden it's like, "Hey, wait a minute, what are all those kids doing in the playground?" Is that your first response? And then what's the teacher doing? Shouldn't they be teaching maths right now? What's that all about? Or is it, "No, great, go out and maybe do something outside"? I don't know. It's a school culture question. I mean, Adam, you're the ex-school leader here. What's your take on that?
Well, I'll put my teacher's hat on in this one. I remember when I first came out here... Oh, sorry, I'm in the UK. When I first came out here from New Zealand, and you'd often get asked the question, what's the biggest difference in school between New Zealand and the UK? And they're largely, they're very similar, similar sort of curriculum, similar setup, similar physical nature of the school, all of those sorts of things. But one of the schools that I learned a massive amount from, and I loved it to bits, was a school called Balmacewen Intermediate School in New Zealand.
And one of the things that was absolutely okay is that if you'd done what you needed to do, the key learning was done for that day, if you decided that you want to take the children outside because it's a nice day, you'd be in the classroom all day or something like that. But you'd done what you'd done. It was absolutely fine. The children knew it existed, the other staff knew it existed, and it wasn't a case... And this goes back to leadership, because those were two of some of the most astute leaders I have ever worked for. So they were the type of leaders that didn't say much, supported you to bits, but were so sharp. So you'd never take the mick, or there's no one that I worked in…
You are the professional, you decide, but if you get it wrong, we'll know. That sort of, but in a supportive way. And that worked. And so you could see other people outside, and you might be tempted as a teacher, "Oh yeah. Wouldn't it be great?" Because what often happened is if there was more than one class, you'd let them join. You'd join a game. You do those sorts of things. And I remember coming over here, I think I've told the story before, it was about having no shoes in the UK. But I remember taking a class out because we'd done what we needed to do. The children worked really hard. I was absolutely confident that the learning that needed to have taken place there was right, and go for a run round. How can that not be a good thing? How can that not be something that that's celebrated all round and is good for you?
But I got the very distinct feeling, coming back to what you said, Andy, is it allowed? Well, whilst it might not be written down on paper, if you get asked the question, "I didn't think you had PE today, did you?" And you get a quizzical look, that would suggest that a kind of free flow sort of impromptu runaround was something that, no, we should be spending that time better by a well-planned lesson. You could have done more, I don't know, whatever, fill the gap. But I would argue, and I stopped doing it by the way. I stopped doing it because it didn't feel right in the culture of the schools that I've worked in here. But when I look back on it, I don't think there was one iota of time that was detrimental to those children in New Zealand.
That is... Yeah, I have a feeling if we asked our own children and asked students in the classroom if that kind of free play is allowed or happens much anymore, and my guess would be no for exactly the reasons you just stated. And also I think everything's kind of structured that way where you have a certain PE time, and so different classes are allotted time outside at certain times of the week. And my guess is that if you just shake that up a bit by taking your class outside, there will be, not necessarily consequences, but like you said Adam, just that feeling like, oh, I misstepped here. Maybe I shouldn't be doing that. Which is such a shame.
I'm thinking, is it coming from, is it a cultural thing? Because I don't think there's any... What would Ofsted say if they came over and a bunch of kids were running around in a playground instead of being in an English lesson?
Tell you one thing right now, Andy, if I had Ofsted in, I probably wouldn't do that, so I'm just going to put my cards on the table straight away.
Yeah, okay. No, but...
But taking your point, because I think there's always an argument. So for example, if someone in that class that I took outside was struggling with reading or was struggling with something, there's always an argument that should be prioritised over going and doing something like that. Which I think you can look at it within, we've got half an hour, so what should we do within that half hour? But I think you've got to make that judgement , but it comes back to the culture, I think, that's established in the school.
And that's what I'm talking about at that school that I was working at in New Zealand, is that there were very high academic standards, but also there was an absolute culture of not leaving anyone behind. Everyone wanted to be the best teacher. That was the first thing. We wanted to be the absolute best teacher of the whole school. We wanted every child now, like all of those things that you aspire to, but I have worked in schools where that's not always the case. Not everyone, they might be happy doing what they're doing. And so I think that when those decisions are made around that, it's legit. We know at the top of the tree that if there was something that needed to be done to support the children academically, you wouldn't go outside. Simple as that, or you wouldn't do something else.
So I don't know that this is the case for a lot of people, but I know that for me, it's certainly true. So if I've got a lot of work to do, that usually something that requires ultimate concentration, let's say writing something. It's really ultra focused kind of stuff. If I'm just in my normal environment, I don't kind of tend to be all that productive really, because it'll be like, oh, well while I'm here, I don't know, I'll put these dishes away or... It's this form of procrastination I suppose. But if I go in an environment that I'm not really familiar with, or just foreign, all of a sudden my productivity goes up orders of magnitude. It could be as simple as going to sit in a park with my laptop, which I do sometimes.
Or heaven forbid I admit to this, but sometimes I stand in my swimming pool. I have a little swimming pool out back. It's like literally, it's like an immersion pool. You couldn't fit... Five people in that pool would be very uncomfortable, five adults. So I just stand in it, and I just... Because now I'm just in a different environment, just being outside and having that flexibility to change my environment, sitting in a restaurant, I can be so much more productive. But the minute it starts becoming too familiar, it turns into that other thing where I get almost stifled.
So let's say you have an academic lesson and it requires the students to read and then to discuss what they've read. Okay, let's just say that that's your lesson. Why couldn't you go out in the back of the school? Maybe you have a nice back of the school. Let's find some nice shady spots. Maybe you got a tree we can all sit underneath, and let's do the lesson there. What would be wrong with that? Doesn't have to be a runaround. It could just be that we're going to sit underneath this big old oak tree here and we're going to read this book together and discuss it. Or would that be frowned upon?
Yeah, no, I think that that's right. But I do think that sometimes, again, and I know we've mentioned this in a different podcast, is it's that ability to make that decision knowing that that's actually going to be beneficial for your children. So it comes back to something you've said in a previous podcast, and it's being really clear about, what do we want them to learn? We want them to learn this. Is this environment going to support that? Yes, it is. Well then how can anyone make an argument against it? If it's kind of, no, we're not going to do any learning at all and we're just going to go there and chill out and just see what happens and have a bit of a conversation. Yeah, well if you do that too often, yeah, that's going to be detrimental because children need to learn. They need that guidance.
But I think that that's what it comes back to. If we are not taking something away from it. Or the flip side, I've worked in a school where the school was being built around us. And you've got big diggers and drills outside. Well, if I'm doing something on a Wednesday and it's around, I don't know, creative writing for argument's sake, and on that Monday morning, the pneumatic drill's literally outside your window busting through the concrete outside, maybe I say, "Right, forget maths this morning, team, we're going to just watch this and I want you to talk to your next door neighbours about it. Feel it, do all that sort of stuff. And we're going to do some writing. And that's what we're going to do afterwards, but I need you to feel it. Are you scared at the moment? He's not going to come through the wall."
So those sorts of things, or going out to watch it. But I think that that's probably braver, and I'm not sure that I'll be doing that in my first year teaching because, I don't know, that might be a touch too brave. But if it comes back, I always think that whatever you do in the classroom, if you can justify how that better supports children's learning, it's quite difficult for people to tell you it's wrong.
Oh, see, now you've made me think about me when I was young going to school, and I think it was grade six, so I would've been 10 or 11. And my teacher, I may have mentioned this on a podcast before, but he used to read science fiction to us every day. So I probably "read", I'll use the quotes for that, the air quotes, probably six or seven science fiction books that year, which we all thoroughly look forward to during the day. And he did it daily, as long as our other lessons had been finished. And the other thing he would do... Actually, he did three things. That was one. The other was we played Facto, which was like bingo only for maths. It was knowing your multiplication tables. And at the end of the year, the people that won, I guess, the big prize, he had something for them. So we really loved that. And I think we learned at the same time.
And then the last thing was, if we accomplished what was needed to be accomplished during the day, he would take us outside and usually it involved something like kickball. And we did that multiple times a week, not maybe every day, but this had nothing to do with PE. That was just the way he had organised the classroom. No one ever said anything to us. But the fact that I remember those three things about that year, obviously it left a lasting impression. Did I feel like I learned anything that year? I actually felt like I learned quite a bit. And yet there seemed to be, it was a different approach than I'd ever had with any of my other teachers. And it worked. And maybe it wouldn't work for every class, but for our class it did. And see, I haven't forgotten it all these years later. So who's to say? But could he do that nowadays? Could a teacher do that nowadays? I don't know. I mean, I really don't think they could without getting some kind of feedback, and possibly questionable feedback or negative feedback about doing that.
I think there are schools where that would be welcome now. And I think there are schools where that would be, it's kind of like we have this great divide. It's like the political divide, this very right, very left kind of viewpoints. And you have schools that you've got this idea of things like forest schools and outdoor schools where they take full advantage of learning outdoors and using these, called non-traditional learning environments, aka not in the classroom. And they embrace that. There are schools that pride themselves on doing that. And then you've got other schools, some of which we've talked about in other podcasts, where they almost need to take a military kind of approach to the learning environment because they're dealing with other types of issues. In some schools, if you took all the kids outside, half of them would disappear, right? There are schools like that. I mean, so maybe in that school, that's maybe not the best. Like, "Hey, let's go walk around the field over there and collect things and then come back for science class and evaluate them." Half the kids wouldn't come back.
But yeah, there's certainly topics where being outdoors I think is even better. I think anything creative, it's stimulating to be outside of the classroom. And it's interesting to me, Robin, that these are the things, you have these memories from these, they were significant to you. They're emotive memories that you have. You can describe them, you can describe how you felt at the time. You remember it sort of almost as nostalgic. And I think we probably all have had moments like that. And surely we want to build those experiences in the kids and have that positive experience with school. I can think of things like that. They aren't magical. It's not some kind of euphoric moment.
But I remember being, I must have been in grade four, and were doing art, which is just part of the thing. And the teacher said, "Let's go outside. Let's just go outside on the street and find whatever you're interested in and then draw it." Okay. It's just like this harmless kind of thing. And we all did, we all found different things. And being a boy, I drew this really cool car that was on the street. Somebody else drew a tree or a flower or whatever it was, depending on their interest. But here I am, how many years later, and I still remember that. I probably can't remember any other event from that school, that year, but I remember that one. And it was a positive learning experience for me. And maybe what I learned wasn't even part of the curriculum. Maybe I can't even really express what I learned. Maybe what I learned was that school doesn't have to be a horrible place.
Yeah, sure. But I think all I was going to say off the back of that is, and I imagine this was true for both of those experience, Robin and Andy, is that you spend a lot of time with 30 children. And I think it's really important, and I know this might sound stupid, but you've got to get to know those children. You've got to absolutely get to know what they tick. And I think one of the lovely things, and it happens as you've been teaching for a while, and you might have a bit more time to consider some things, as you make decisions what's best for that cohort. And you consider their learning at all times. And like I said, I think that what you have to come back to is if you can't justify the learning or something that's going to contribute to better learning, then maybe don't do it, because it's just nice or fun or those sorts of things. Because yeah, school should be nice and fun, but we're in the business of learning.
So I think that's really important. We put that at the forefront. But I think that those experiences that you talked about, Robin, I mean, fostering a natural curiosity about those sorts of things can lead to all sorts of other learning. "Oh, did you know this in science? Oh, did you even know this about this in English? Oh, did you know that?" And for Andy, I mean, I think that if you take someone out of the environment, well that feels like a treat immediately. And not only that, you are given choice. I'm not telling you to draw an apple. This is on you what you like, I'm interested in what you want to draw. And it's those sorts of things that I think that, I don't know. I doubt that either of those two things would've been accidental with the teachers. Because in your case, Andy, I doubt any teacher would take out however many children just out onto the street if they knew that it was going to go horribly wrong, and kids were going to run off and all that sort of stuff.
But I just think that was one of the treats, and I don't know, sort of when I got to that level at my teaching, when you got to know the children at a level that you thought, I can do this and I can do that, and I think this is going to work, for never all, but the majority when I make these decisions, and I think it's going to help their learning here. And if a head teacher has come say to me, "Adam, what are you doing?" Then I think that I'd be in a position to be able to justify it. Majority of the time. There were sometimes some sunny days on a Friday afternoon in New Zealand that warranted a bit of a run round. But I think that's the key. I think that's the really important part is know your kids, and you'll do whatever it takes for them to learn and be curious and to enjoy school.
And the health benefits too. It's different. And Andy brought up forest schools. I mean, not everyone's going to a forest school, but again, it's different than looking on the whiteboard at these real life things versus just getting out to experience it, because just the movement and the being outside, whether it be nature or on a street, it's going to benefit the kids. There's no question.
Just being one with nature. I'm amazed even with my own kids and how afraid they are of things like insects. And it's like, what is wrong with you kids? We used to play with bugs when I was a kid because that's was like, we didn't have anything else to play. We used to torment ants and stuff and try to get them to do what we wanted them to do. And because it was kind of fun. And I look at my kids and they see, I don't know, one of those pill bugs or whatever they're called, the little, you know what I mean? Walking across-
Roll ups. Yeah.
Yeah, the little roll up things, walking around the house and they're scared of it. And it's like, what? Woodlouse, I think some people call them, right? Why are you scared of that? That's just the most harmless thing in the world, but they're just afraid of nature. Just kind of weird to me.
Yeah. It's because they looked up online and they probably found out there's some poisonous woodlouse out there that they're supposed to be scared of.
Yeah, that's right.
Yeah. We need to get them outside more and off of Google.
The New Zealand man-eating woodlouse.
Get your kids outside. I don't know, it just seems like it almost should... I think some schools should make more of an effort to not only have planned school excursions, but actually just go outside and make use of the space.
All right. Well until next time, we'll see you again. Thanks everyone.
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