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An ethnographic study of Forest School: relational caring pedagogy in an Irish primary school

Joan, Whelan (2022) An ethnographic study of Forest School: relational caring pedagogy in an Irish primary school. PhD thesis, Dublin City University.

The aim of this ethnography was to explore the potential of Forest School (FS) as relational caring pedagogy, through telling the story of how FS is experienced and understood in Bay School, the first Irish primary school to introduce FS in 2012. FS is a progressive nature-based pedagogy that traces its lineage back to Rousseau. Noddings’ scholarship on a relational ethic of care was integrated with a place-responsive, more- than-human epistemological perspective to conceptually frame the study. The study contributes an innovative perspective on flourishing, wellbeing and caring relationships in the primary school and new knowledge regarding how FS is understood and experienced in Ireland. Data collection took place during the 2019-2020 school year. Methods included field notes collected by me, as participant-observer, during 22 four-hour FS sessions; focus groups with staff and children and documentary data. A national survey of Irish adults interested in FS contextualised the ethnography. The national survey included 63 five-point Likert items, five qualitative items and biographical information. An inductive approach guided the overall analysis, comprising thematic analysis of the qualitative dataset and exploratory factor analysis of the Likert items. Relational caring pedagogy in FS is enabled through extending ‘school’ to include local nature and by fidelity to the principles of FS, towards flourishing for all sentient beings. Pedagogy in FS is more naturalistic, embodied, collaborative and democratic than in the indoor classroom. FS is notable for its novel routines regarding ‘classroom’ management, transitions and assessment. FS provided a distinctive space for children’s social and emotional development, for teachers to explore their professional identities and for nature connection. The FS leader played a key role in supporting this pedagogy. These findings describe potentially transformative pedagogical experiences which challenge the notion of school and help us to (re)define the purpose of education as we grapple with the Anthropocene.
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Date of Award:November 2022
Supervisor(s):Orla, Kelly and Maeve, O'Brien
Subjects:Social Sciences > Education
DCU Faculties and Centres:DCU Faculties and Schools > Institute of Education > School of STEM Education, Innovation, & Global Studies
Research Institutes and Centres > Center for the Advancement of Science Teaching and Learning (CASTeL)
ID Code:27358
Deposited On:18 Nov 2022 14:45 by Orla Kelly . Last Modified 18 Nov 2022 14:45

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Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0


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