College of Education and Behavior Sciences; Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
University of Northern Colorado
Type of Resources
Place of Publication
University of Northern Colorado
The worldwide school closures due to the Coronavirus (COVID)-19 pandemic that began in the spring of 2020 caused a disruption to educational systems (Bao et al., 2020; Engzell et al., 2021; Masonbrink & Hurley, 2020; Munir, 2021; United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, 2020). The pandemic created a dilemma in which school leaders around the world and in the United States had to make challenging decisions about how to open schools in the fall of 2020 and how to best educate students (Honein et al., 2021). The majority of school leaders choose to reopen schools in the fall of 2020 by using online platforms to teach remotely (Burbio Research Group, 2020). This model presented challenges of learning loss, inequities in education, and mental health challenges for students (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021a; National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2022; Spector, 2022; UN News, 2020). Contrary to an online approach to opening schools, a small number of school leaders elected to reopen school by utilizing outdoor classrooms (Moyer, 2020; Nierenberg, 2020). I conducted case study research at one K-8 private independent school in a Mountain West state that utilized outdoor classrooms when reopening school for in person learning during the 2020-2021 school year. The purpose of this study was to learn more about the experiences of teachers, students, and school leaders at one school that utilized outdoor classrooms during the 2020-2021 school year. There were 15 teacher participants and 84 student participants in grades first through eighth. The findings indicated that student and teacher participant groups perceived that utilizing outdoor classrooms was a challenging experience, yet it was an overall positive experience. Some of the aspects that made it challenging were the weather and managing supplies. One of the aspects that made the experience more positive was the teaching and learning in an outdoor setting. A second theme from the findings was that teacher and student participants expressed an appreciation for having a connection with nature through the experience as well as an appreciation for having more open space as part of the learning environment. The third theme from the student and teacher data was that teachers perceived that the experience of utilizing outdoor classrooms helped students and teachers develop certain soft skills. The theme from the data on school leadership was that school leaders used a teacher-centered approach during the time period when the school was implementing and utilizing outdoor classrooms. School leaders used a mix of a top-down and bottom-up approach to leadership. School leaders supported teachers throughout the process with emotional support and needed physical resources. All these data and themes have been used to develop a case study to learn more about the experiences of participants who utilized outdoor classrooms as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020-2021 school year.
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