Get outside with Courtney Kiley


The amount of novel work Courtney Kiley has had to do in her 13th year of teaching makes it feel like her first. From understanding a teacher’s side of Schoology to the entire letter of recommendation writing process being online, like her students, Kiley is struggling with schooling amid a pandemic as well. 

 “[Teachers] completely recognize that this is hard for students because this is hard for us.”

Her joy of teaching is still present but her enthusiasm is lower since in-person learning isn’t an option. 

“[In person], I feed off of students’ energy and now I can’t do that as much. On Zoom, it makes it better when kids are unmuted and have their video on so I can hear giggles, laughs, sniffles, and signs of humanity.”

Kiley has long been an avid hiker but has been especially grateful for the outdoors during COVID as she has used hiking and outdoor time as a break from screens and the difficulties of online learning. 

“My family makes a point every weekend to go on a three to six-mile hike; to just be outside and think about things greater than just our lives. It’s healthy to be in nature, to get out of your own head, and to notice things instead of just thinking about your problems all the time. Nature is the one thing that, if anything, has gotten better in the pandemic. When I go out on a walk, sometimes I can completely forget about everything that’s going on in the world because my walks are the same in a pandemic or not. Nature is my religion.”

Kiley has two daughters who participate in family hikes and also attend a school with a nature-based curriculum instead of a full-time, online school. 

“My kids are outside three days a week out on a farm. [Right now] they hike all day or watch sandhill crane migrations. They’re going to start an animal tracking project when it snows. They’re very happy and also very exhausted by the end of the day.”

The effects of outdoor learning vs hours of screen time are noticeable in Kiley’s kids. As an Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher, she knows many students don’t regularly have the opportunity to get outside as part of school but she tries to incorporate outdoor assignments as much as possible in her curriculum so her students can receive the same benefits as her kids do from outdoor learning. 

She has noticed that some students are hesitant to spend time outside because they feel pressure to jump into the deep end of long hikes and extended outdoor time but Kiley reminds people that isn’t the important part of being outside. 

“Just walk around a couple of blocks! It doesn’t have to be some mega-hike, just getting out wherever you live: if you live in the country, great! If you live in a neighborhood like I do, walking around [a couple] blocks is good!” 

When family, friends, and students ask her what nature preserves they should explore in and around Washtenaw County, Kiley tells them Scio Woods, Cherry Hill, and West Lake. She also loves Eberwhite Woods and Nichols Arboretum