Taylor Simon's Story
Updated: Nov 30, 2021
2021 Runner Up for Natural Curiosity's Dr. David Suzuki Award for Excellence in Pre-Service Environmental Education
Environmental education has been the foundation of my teaching practice since I first started my
professional journey. I began working in outdoor education at a wildlife centre where I had the. amazing opportunity to teach students about Ontario native wildlife and the importance of conserving their habitats. I travelled around Ontario to multiple events and fairs teaching children, teenagers and adults about wildlife. I also ran outdoor education programs at the wildlife centre itself where people could see the beautiful animals in person. This experience fostered compassion and empathy for the environment amongst the children I taught at this wildlife centre, and it became my inspiration for teacher’s college.
It was in the Bachelor of Education program at Trent University that I was able to further my learning of Indigenous perspectives and outdoor education through the Enwayaang Institute’s “Indigenous Foundations in Health and Education” certificate, the Indigenous Firekeeping Placement, and the Eco-Mentorship Program. It is through these professional development opportunities where I began to learn the impact of colonization and the importance of implementing Indigenous perspectives in my teaching practice.
COVID-19 has taught me to be flexible and adaptable, and the role technology can play in outdoor
education. It has also become apparent that students require environmental education more than ever, as we are seeing littered disposable PPE, and children are spending more time indoors in front of screens. I am grateful that technology has provided ways to connect with students and has become a venue for environmental education that I had not considered before. One project I completed in Teacher’s College was a virtual classroom that allow students to explore various components of animal habitats in Ontario through a variety of media in the ‘classroom’. I will have the opportunity to use this project with children this summer, as I will be an Outdoor/Nature Specialist at a day camp. When the weather is not in our favour we will have to do camp inside, and technology allows me to do socially distanced environmental education activities.
In my Grade 5/6 placement, I was working with students who experienced challenges learning in the classroom environment. When I taught the Social Studies unit “Interactions of Indigenous Peoples and Europeans Prior to 1713”, I realized that I could use an experiential-based approach to teaching, much like the work I have done in outdoor education. We participated in a fur-trading game that the students absolutely loved, and also helped them connect with the perspectives of the Indigenous communities we were discussing in class. Students were able to make connections between the historical impact of colonization and the impact it has on Indigenous communities today. During these classes, I had several students tell me proudly about their Indigenous heritage and how much they loved learning about their culture. I was honoured that they were able to see themselves in the lesson content.
For the entirety of my last year in Teacher’s College, I was fortunate to have in-person teaching
placements in a Junior Kindergarten class where we had access to the school’s “green classroom”. I embraced the opportunity to have the students learn about the changes in the schoolyard that occurred each season and the importance of caring for the plants and animals we encounter. The young learners were always engaged with learning in the outdoors, and I loved seeing the discoveries they made while we were in the “green classroom”. I would also witness students finding litter to throw away properly indoors to ensure the outdoor classroom would remain a haven for the species that call it home.
During lockdown, I am currently developing outdoor education programming for my summer job,
undertaking professional development opportunities (including mentorship and networking
opportunities with outdoor education professionals, the Project Wet certification program, and online Ornithology classes), and I am anticipating taking my Environmental Education Additional Qualification this summer.
I learned a lot about teaching with an Indigenous lens and the importance of inquiry-based learning from Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition, as it helped me orient myself to land and place-based teaching and the importance of gratitude and reciprocity for the land we occupy. As the book discusses, an Indigenous lens is for anyone and benefits everyone, and I hope to continue working on learning more about Indigenous culture and education as I continue on my journey as an educator. It is also my goal as an educator that I can help learners of all backgrounds understand the importance of an Indigenous lens by facilitating hands-on and experiential learning opportunities in both in the classroom and in outdoor educational settings.