Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Reflections on Beliefs and Practices from New Zealand Outdoor Educators: Consistencies and Conflicts

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Reflections on Beliefs and Practices from New Zealand Outdoor Educators: Consistencies and Conflicts

Article excerpt

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I have found my pedagogical practice to be influenced by shifts in my beliefs and values during my fourteen years working as an educator, eleven of which have been in secondary schools. Consequently, I have become more interested in the relationship between teachers' beliefs, values and pedagogical practices, especially in relation to outdoor education. This area has received little attention in outdoor education research and literature, and according to Fang (1996), has only emerged in general education literature in the last two decades

This article, therefore, examines the complex relationship between teachers' beliefs and practices through reflecting on the thoughts and experiences of a small group of New Zealand outdoor educators. It is based on the findings of a research project carried out in 2007 with four secondary school teachers. These teachers taught in a variety of school contexts, over a range of subjects which all situated learning experiences in a variety of different outdoor environments. The purpose of the project was to examine teacher beliefs about outdoor education and explore the complex relationships between beliefs, values, and self-perceptions of pedagogical practice. Of particular interest was perceived consistency between beliefs and practices and conflicts and tensions which arose when inconsistency was present (see Robertson & Krugley-Smolska, 1997; Taylor & Caldarelli, 2004).

The design and analysis of this project was informed by a critical socio-ecological perspective which sought to identify and interrogate teacher beliefs and practices in regard to their relationship with environmental and social or community issues. Drawing from the traditions of critical theory, this perspective engaged with literature from critical pedagogy theorists such as Kellner (2003), Kincheloe (2007), Giroux (2003), and Freire (1972), critical ecological and place-based theorists such as Bowers (2001a) and Gruenewald (2003), and outdoor and environmental education theorists such as Martin (1999) and Payne (2002). Critical pedagogy advocates strongly for addressing issues of social injustice and inequality through education, but according to the critiques of Bowers (2001a) and Gruenewald (2003), this focus had failed to take into account human relationships with the natural world in a broader ecological manner. In a converse way, Martin's (1999) concept of critical outdoor education sought to examine dominant and exploitive human-nature relationships, but as suggested in the critique of Payne (2002), critical outdoor education distanced itself from the traditional critical theory concerns of social justice and equity. Consequently, a holistic perspective was taken in this research, informed by the projects of both social and ecological justice, which was concerned with the development of appropriate relationships with human and non-human nature. This position sought to gain understanding of the complex relationships between teacher beliefs and practices with specific regard to the environment and community. It consequently influenced the choice of questions put to participants as outlined in the method of inquiry section of this paper.

At this point it is important to clarify constructs of the term outdoor education, as used in this paper. It has been suggested by New Zealand outdoor education academics such as Boyes (2000) and Brown (2006) that there remains semantic confusion over the terms associated with outdoor or adventure education in the New Zealand context. This paper recognises outdoor education as an interdisciplinary field in which meaning is socially constructed. It therefore adopts a broad view of outdoor education, similar to that of Smith, Carlson, Donaldson and Masters (1972) who suggest, "outdoor education means learning in and for the outdoors. It is a means of curriculum extension and enrichment through outdoor experiences" (p. 9). This includes traditional notions of pursuit-based outdoor adventure education but does not exclude outdoor learning experiences such as those undertaken in geography field trips. …

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