A phenomenological study of the lived experiences of teachers who implement outdoor/environmental education within a K-12 setting



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Despite significant physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits, outdoor and environmental education (OEE) is not regularly implemented within a K-12 setting. Yet there are some teachers across the United States who have embraced OEE in a thoughtful and innovative way, successfully overcoming noteworthy barriers. The goal of this study was to understand the experiences of these teachers in order to advance the field of OEE. Using a phenomenological approach, I interviewed twelve educators who regularly implement OEE within the context of a typical school day. I analyzed over sixteen hours of interview transcripts as well as participant-submitted photographs. Four main themes (threads) emerged from the phenomenological data, shedding light on how K-12 teachers experience OEE: (1) a navigation of shared agency, (2) a harmony between freedom and structure, (3) a contextualization of integrated learning, and (4) a collective joy and wonder. The detailed participant narratives that highlight these themes will resonate with school districts, administrators, and preservice teaching programs moving towards OEE implementation. The findings from this study add to the preexisting understanding of OEE’s complexities, offering stories, imagination, and a pathway into understanding the lived experiences of educators who teach in, for, and about the outdoors. The phenomenological insights within this dissertation can lead towards OEE as a more prevalent approach to K-12 learning.



Environmental education, Outdoor education, Outdoor educator, Phenomenology, School-based outdoor learning, Schoolyard-enhanced learning