Finding your place as an outdoor educator can be a challenge at first. You may not immediately see the connections between the outdoors and the subjects you teach. You may also be curious about which pedagogical frameworks and approaches will make sense for your classroom.

This is where an organization like Take Me Outside can make a critical difference. Take Me Outside (TMO) is a Canadian education organization dedicated to getting students and educators engaged with outdoor learning. What is wonderful about TMO is the various events, professional learning sessions, and materials it offers educators in a variety of contexts.

I highly recommend any and every educator to explore TMO’s website to see the full range of resources and activities they have organized for educators. The work is inspiring and fulsome.

I had the unique opportunity of joining TMO for their annual conference this year. Jade, a team member with boundless energy and passion for outdoor learning, invited me to present on the topic of student well-being at the conference months before the event took place. She had found a blog post that a colleague and I had co-authored about inclusion and belonging in the outdoors, and was interested in having us share our work.

To be honest, I was surprised and a little intimidated by the offer: as someone that doesn’t actually work in an outdoor education department or taken their outdoor education additional qualification course, I felt a bit underprepared. And against all of my rational thoughts – I agreed.

What I did not expect was the journey of learning I would undertake to write the presentation. And I certainly did not imagine how transformative a conference could be when I arrived.

The Journey

Presenting and facilitating professional learning isn’t something new for me, but researching and writing an entire presentation for hundreds – in an area I felt like I had very little expertise – is a whole new ballgame. I listened to countless audiobooks about the outdoors, read academic papers and reports, took a wellness course, and even signed up for an Outdoor Learning AQ (which I ended up dropping when I realized it was not actually meeting my needs). Imposter syndrome was in full effect, and I used every opportunity to connect my learning to this conference presentation.

One surprise I had along the way was how much I enjoyed the process of preparation. I learned things so seemingly unrelated from my regular sandbox of English literacy and language learning, which was motivating and exciting. The personal wellness course I took with an incredible Toronto studio, SAOR, introduced me to a whole body of knowledge. Eventually, all the learning and reading started to intersect with my day-to-day work.

I re-wrote and re-published our original blog, presented at my board’s early years conference, and continued experimenting with different ideas in my writing. What started as a gracious invitation to share ideas turned into a full blown passion project that changed the trajectory of my professional growth.

a clothesline contains clothespins with different letters that correspond to cards that are clipped to the clothesline.
So many amazing presenters sharing the way they take learning outdoors, especially in the area of literacy.

The Conference

The Take Me Outside Conference exceeded my expectations. The event took place at the spectacular Banff Centre in Alberta, nestled high in the mountains with unreal views, access to trails, and wonderful food. I took full advantage of my local’s professional learning pathways to get the release time for the event.

Outdoor educators are among the friendliest, open-minded, and joyful group of people you will meet. While I ended up attending the conference on my own, I had no problem making new friends and connecting with other educators across the country.

The learning was as inspiring as the scenery that surrounded the conference centre. Workshops on the pillars of well-being, the environment and climate change, and Indigenous learning took place outdoors in the forests and seemingly unrelenting sunshine we were met with that entire week.

I learned the story and thinking behind Elder Albert Marshall and Louise Zimanyi’s wondrous picture book, “Walking Together”. Dr. Chuk Odenigbe gave a deeply insightful and beautiful talk on the issues of environmental racism, and nature as place of therapy and despair.

As one of the final presenters, there was an element of excitement and anxiety that accompanied me over the days of the conference. I fussed over my presentation, rehearsed, and took long walks. By the time I was up – I realized I had absolutely nothing to worry about. I was in front of one of the most warm, welcoming, and supportive groups of professionals I think I will ever meet. I had so many kind words of encouragement from my new friends, and hundreds of smiles from my fellow educators. We talked about the importance of holding space for each other and the students we teach, and how cultural responsiveness can be a starting point for fostering connections between diverse students and the outdoors.

hundreds of people gather in a circle at the base of a mountain. The sky overhead is cloudy.
A glorious closing drum circle at the end of the conference.

The Aftermath

I left the conference with so many feelings of excitement, connectedness, and insights about learning from the land. I have new goals for my teaching practice, and a whole new perspective on what it takes to build educator capacity on critical topics related to land based learning and play. I feel like I am right at the beginning.


2 thoughts on “Experiencing Outdoor Learning at Take Me Outside 2024 Conference

  1. It was a pleasure to have you as a keynote Colleen – it’s so amazing to see the backstory of energy, preparation and dedication you committed in order to share with us. It came across so slick, polished and effortless it is nice to know you are human and it took actual effort 😉

    It is also so wonderful to hear the impact the conference had on you as a participant and how welcomed you felt. That is exactly the kind of atmosphere we were trying to cultivate – and you’re right, outdoor educators are the best, most friendly bunch indeed!

    We have had so much positive feedback from your talk and it was the greatest pleasure to host you. We hope you come again and bring friends.

  2. Thanks so much for your kind words Jade! You are an absolute force and I look forward to continuing my journey with TMO!

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