2020 Honourable Mention for Natural Curiosity's National Edward Burtynsky Award for Teaching Excellence in Environmental Education
Outdoor Educator, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
David Deyette has worked for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) Outdoor Education Centres (MacSkimming & Bill Mason Centre) for over 10 years. In that time, he has transformed the Centres’ educational programs from classic outdoor education style programming to experiential and inquiry-based. With a background rooted in environmental science and a passion for being outdoors, David has dedicated himself to helping elementary and secondary students, parents and teachers to connect with the natural environment. He has done this through various roles as program facilitator for the Canadian Wildlife Federation, his role at the OCDSB Outdoor Education Centres as an outdoor education instructor, as well as through the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, as a teacher for the Forest School Practitioner’s Course (FSPC). David is always looking for ways to encourage student’s curiosity and help them to connect with their environment. He acts as a mentor to many, supporting them in using inquiry-based approaches and in using outdoor spaces as a learning tool.
David’s daily routine is focused around exploration and engaging the curiosity of his students. His approach as an educator is influenced by his background in the sciences, the Better Environmental Education Teaching Learning Expertise & Sharing (BEETLES) belief, the Art of Mentoring value, and the Forest School approach. He uses all of these to create an inquiry-based experience for the students visiting the OCDSB Outdoor Education Centres.
For many students and educational staff who visit the OCDSB Centres, inquiry-based learning is new and unfamiliar. David models to many what inquiry-based activities can look like. David is always growing his teaching practice, trying new stories and using new provocations to peak students' interest.
David has the great benefit of being situated at the 425 acre classroom of the OCDSB Outdoor Education Centres. He constantly seeks opportunities to provide quality experiences for students to connect with the natural environment. He always allows students time to explore and situate themselves in the place that they are exploring. He listens to the questions that emerge from students' explorations to guide his plan for each day. Throughout his teaching days, he gives students many opportunities to experience and to question. David’s practice is based on experiential learning, and he carefully models how to use these experiences in the natural world, enhancing the learning of students and the teaching techniques of other educators.
David integrates environmental inquiry with all strands of the Ontario Curriculum, through integrating journaling, storytelling, math, and drama. One question the Centres receive often is how to integrate outdoor environmental learning into the daily part of a regular school day. David has responded to this by running workshops for educators focusing on incorporating outdoor learning into their classrooms in all subjects and for all ages. He supports schools in using nearby green spaces for learning and links them to resources, helping to connect environmental and outdoor learning to their curriculum units.
David is always growing his knowledge and building relationships with Indigenous knowledge keepers in order to strengthen his understanding of and commitment to Truth and Reconciliation. He continues to learn by attending workshops such as “The Land as our First Teacher” and spending time with Elders within the OCDSB. Through the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, he facilitates the FSPC alongside local knowledge-keepers.
The Weston Family Environmental Leaders of Tomorrow program at the Centres allowed David to work closely with elementary students over a series of overnights, to examine how we can appropriately use our natural resources, practice sustainability, and develop an ongoing relationship with the Land.
Developing these relationships is so important to David that he took the initiative to apply for funding with the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. Raising over $27,000, David developed a Forest School-based program for OCDSB elementary students to experience the centre’s 425 acre outdoor classroom through a series of 8 weekly visits. Many of the OCDSB elementary schools that participated this program were from low socioeconomic status areas within the City of Ottawa and have very little access to natural ecosystems. More than 230 students have attended this program since 2014. Part of the program entailed that the same OCDSB elementary teachers would be supported by David and the Centre's educational team to create nearby-nature visits in green spaces close to their own schools. David acted as a resource to help support these teachers in continuing this program at their schools.
The four branches of environmental inquiry come together in David’s teaching practice by putting the child and their curiosity at the centre of his teaching. David focuses on experiential learning and uses every opportunity to get students outside and engaged in a natural environment. David is committed to continually learning, improving, and challenging himself. He continues to work with educators and parents to help them engage with their children to better help develop a relationship with the Land. To develop a culture of reciprocity with the Earth has been David’s long term commitment for the past 20 years in his environmental science career.
Shifting to Virtual Learning during COVID-19
At the OCDSB Outdoor Education Centres, students immerse themselves in fields, forests, and wetlands for a full day of inquiry-based exploration. But this is considered a field trip, so when all field trips were cancelled, we had to rethink how to reach our goal of helping more students immerse themselves more often in the natural world without actually meeting in the same physical space at the same time. We found ourselves scrambling to become proficient with available technologies and adapt them to our needs. We had to go remote, and it wasn’t clear exactly what that could look like for our Outdoor Education Centres.
We wanted to connect with students, teachers, and family members and guide them in exploring their nearby nature (within walking distance from their homes.) We knew that doing so would foster a greater sense of connectedness to the place they call home. We decided to focus on sharing our passion for nature, leveraging everyone’s natural curiosity, supporting development of observational skills, and encouraging inquiry. We also wanted to invest our time and energy in creating content that would continue to support future visitors and extend our reach to students who would never be able to visit the Centres well into the post-pandemic future. Through a lot of trial and error, we’ve settled on creating a bi-weekly series of phenology-based modules centred around current regional events in the natural world. Each module begins with a video that students, teachers, and parents can easily access through our YouTube channel. We present challenges for students to complete in their neighbourhoods and encourage them to send in questions and comments, which we feature in a follow-up video. When possible, we host live virtual field trips for classes. Response has been overwhelmingly positive, and this approach has enabled us to reach a far broader audience than we could through on-site visits alone.