Quality Outdoor Learning Staff Training Experiences

Picture of Calum


International Primary Teacher and Outdoor Learning Specialist, with over ten years experience. I hold an MSc in Outdoor Education and PGDE in Primary Education.

I’ve been fortunate to be in the position to participate in Outdoor Learning Continual Professional Development (CPD) and have also had the opportunity to deliver CPD. I have helped facilitate study days for my school organisations, given workshops and lectures to University students, and given online presentations.

Elliot et al. (2011) advise that good quality CPD can change the attitudes of teachers and thus create better experiences for learners.

So, what is good quality CPD? Let’s dig into it.


Preparing boxes for my first whole school outdoor learning study day.


Collaborative and flexible approach

Griggs and Ward (2012) report that effective Continual Professional Development (CPD) needs to be reflective and collaborative while centring on teacher experience. Allowing staff members to reflect and share their experiences and knowledge is therefore important, letting them actively lead the CPD. Facilitators should offer activities that determine the needs of the staff and then deliver material that is responsive to these needs (Jess et al., 2016). Teachers may often experience CPD focused on the product rather than the learning process, and, therefore, doesn’t sufficiently address the complexities of the individuals and context (Antencio et al. 2012).


Participant, completing an open literacy task. She was inspired to write a riddle.


Prescriptive or creative approach

Should participants be given a range of resources and lesson plans?  Waite (2010) highlights the perceived lack of available resources as a barrier to implementing outdoor learning. The paper also highlights that teachers often deal with policy changes and, therefore, feel they do not have the time to develop new ideas. Priestly (2010) states that there is sometimes a lack of clarity on what to teach, which can affect the quality of provision. Therefore, providing the teachers with adequate comprehensive resources and lesson plans will support participants interested in these practices but may experience difficulty facilitating changes to their teacher practice.


It’s always nice to catch up with a friend during staff training days.


The first study day that I was involved in organising was fairly prescriptive. It involved staff viewing and taking part in a number of examples of what they can do with their classes in a forest setting and school playground. There was a focus on both achieving literacy and mathematical outcomes. I believed knowledge and confidence were major barriers to the staff’s outdoor learning practice, so I wanted to provide ideas they could copy.

However, Antencio et al. (2012) stated that many teachers who experience CPD are focused on the product rather than the process of learning. Therefore, making workshop content too prescriptive may inhibit participants from creating their own lessons that meet local needs. Priestly (2010) further concludes that teachers relying on prescriptive programmes are less likely to use their expertise and deliver lessons in a rather complex, behaviourist pedagogy.

The third staff training I helped organise for the school involved the staff going off in groups and choosing between open task cards that allowed them more choice and creativity with their learning. On reflection and from participant feedback, this worked for some, but it led to confusion over what to do for others.

I now believe in a balance between providing ideas or templates for lessons and allowing teachers to be creative and develop their own.


Allowing participants to decide the settings of their training, keeps a focus on learning in local contexts that have relevance to them.


School Contexts and CPD

You may have seen that we jumped from my first study day to my third. My second fits best under this heading, as this is when I realised that all four contexts I was providing CPD had access to very differing outdoor environments. Higgins (2006) stated that delivery is dependent on the context of where the outdoor education is taking place.

I, therefore, provided four challenges that participants needed to complete, and they could choose the environment in which they wanted to complete the challenge. It gave the staff concrete tasks that could be differentiated to level but allowed them to adapt the task to their differing environments.

Please see the attached study day description and one task card.


This was, on reflection, the most successful CPD I helped deliver. I therefore believe that knowledge and appreciation of the contexts of the participants should be a very important consideration for CPD providers. It may be beneficial to involve staff members in the CPD design rather than always relying on internal CPD providers or going to other schools with differing contexts to participate in CPD.


I hope you enjoyed this post. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me with your thoughts on quality CPD. I would like to hear about any quality Outdoor Learning CPD you have been involved in.

Delivering the introduction to an outdoor learning workshop for primary education university students.


Related Posts

What Is Outdoor Learning?

Overcoming Challenges and Teaching Outdoors


Reference List

Atencio, M., Jess, M., & Dewar, K. (2012). ‘It is a case of changing your thought  processes, the way you actually teach’: implementing a complex professional learning agenda  in Scottish physical education. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 17(2), 127–144. 

Higgins, P., Nicol., R. and Ross, H. (2006). Teachers’ approaches and attitudes to  engaging with the natural heritage through the curriculum. Scottish Natural Heritage  Commissioned.  

Elliot, D, L., Atencio, M., Campbell, T., and Jess, M. (2011). From PE Experiences to PE Teaching Practices? Insights from Scottish Primary Teachers’ Experiences of PE, Teacher Education, School Entry and Professional Development. Sport, Education and Society, 18 (6), 749-766

Griggs, G and Ward, G. (2012) Physical Education in the UK: disconnections and reconnections, Curriculum Journal, 23:2, 207-229

Jess, M., Keay, J., & Carse, N. (2016). Primary physical education: A complex learning journey for children and teachers. Sport, Education and Society, 21(7), 1018-1035..

Priestley, M. (2010). Schools, teachers, and curriculum change: A balancing act?  Journal of Educational Change, 12(1), 1–23. 

Marsden, E., & Weston, C. (2007). Locating quality physical education in early years pedagogy. Sport, Education and Society, 12(4), 383-398.

Waite, S. (2010). Losing our way? The downward path for outdoor learning for children aged 2–11 years. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 10(2), 111– 126.