Primary teacher and liaison between staff, administration, and parent council at the High Park Alternative School in Toronto, ON, Kelly shares her journey as an environmental educator bringing her students outside and bringing a long-term, cross-curricular, creative project into the classroom.
With fifteen years of experience as an educator, Kelly’s work in environmental education began formally a few years ago through her professional learning community. A few summers ago, she participated in the Natural Curiosity Online Coaching Group for Primary Learners with coach Velvet Lacasse. This group led to her bringing the Natural Curiosity framework and other outdoor learning practices to her community at the High Park Alternative School in Toronto and building more outdoor and environmental-based learning opportunities into her classroom. Kelly finds it grounding to focus on connecting with and building their relationships with nature and getting outside to do something purposeful.
When asked about her teaching philosophy, Kelly describes her work as grounded in openness, curiosity, and reciprocity with her students, her colleagues, the land, and practices that are new to her. She sees herself as on a continuous learning journey and aims to continuously build her practice of bringing teachings and resources from BIPOC educators and ways of knowing into all aspects of her practice. This includes being actively involved in her school’s practices of accountability and prioritizing her own learning through professional development and community connections.
In 2022, Kelly and her class participated in a project through Learning for Sustainable Futures and Deep Blue CleanUp that asked students to repurpose plastic waste collected from Lake Ontario to create an Eco-Art Exhibit that brought attention and presented ways of remediating the plastic pollution problem. Using collected plastic waste, her Grade 1 students collaborated with their Grade 6/7 learning buddies and community artists to create an installation of a turtle. They chose to make a turtle to represent the ways in which plastic harms wildlife and to acknowledge their roles as settlers on Turtle Island and in contributing to plastic pollution and climate change. This project referenced Jonathon London and Joseph Bruchac’s book Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons, which, through poetry and illustrations by Thomas Locker, shares the Indigenous teachings of the lunar cycle and changing seasons through the 13 shells on the turtle's back. Throughout the year the students worked on constructing their installation and accompanying poem and learned about plastic pollution through cross-curricular and creative lenses. The installation was then on display at the Toronto Zoo during Plastic Free July and will be displayed at the school for all students to experience. Reflecting on this project, Kelly describes how impactful it was to see her students connected to a long-term, creative project - they understood the importance of it and her hope is that it helps them to make connections to small, everyday moments in their lives.
When asked what she would like to share with new educators or those starting their work in environmental education, Kelly recommends tapping into the resources and professional learning community, including the Learning for Sustainable Futures newsletter, the Outdoor Learning Store, and Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: A Resource for Educators. She shares that it can feel hard to find the time to start getting students outside, but by steadily incorporating it into everyday practice and giving students time to adjust to being outside, the practice can become a part of everyday learning. Kelly highlights again that seeing her practice a learning journey and continually returning to being open and saying yes to opportunities helps her to build with intention.