Celebrating the Success of the 1st National Outdoor Learning Conference! #OLConference23

Words contributed by Jade Berrill, 2023 Conference Co-Organizer. 

Nestled amidst enchanting forests of lodgepole and aspen, beneath majestic pillars of gray limestone, 450 delegates embarked on an immersive journey where the convergence of place and pedagogy unfolded at the National Outdoor Learning Conference.

Spanning multiple days, the conference served as a transformative watershed, channeling three streams of learning: Indigenous Ways of Knowing, Health and Wellbeing, and Environmental and Climate Change Education. With 60 captivating outdoor workshops, participants were immersed in a tapestry of diverse styles, ideas, and landscapes, igniting their thoughts, growth, and sharing within their educational practices.

“The community of outdoor educators is one of the most welcoming and accepting groups of people I have come across in my professional career. It was truly incredible to be able to connect, network, and dream of the possibilities together in person. Thank you to all who opened their hearts, minds, and souls and the dedicated folks who made the conference a reality <3”  – Amy T 

The conference was marked by heartwarming moments, such as the gracious welcome by Elder Treffrey Deerfoot and the resonating voices of Faye, Geraldine, Gitz, and Thomas, who offered profound insights during the Indigenous panel. The eloquent and poignant keynote delivered by Monique Gray Smith urged attendees to be the beacon of light, evoking a deep emotional connection that reverberated through the sessions.


“This was absolutely a life changing and inspiring moment.  Meeting outdoor learning professionals and extraordinary teachers was amazing.” – Brent A

Renowned experts passionately emphasized the significance of outdoor learning for physical, emotional, and social well-being, unveiling pathways to its realization. A remarkable Ted Talk by Cadence Brooks, a 17-year-old who courageously shared her personal journey of mental health and the healing connection to nature, left a lasting impact with its power and grace.

The vibrant voices of youth reverberated throughout the conference, as the student panel from Nakoda Elementary School and the passionate trio of Cadence, Maya, and Kayla from the Canadian Rockies Youth Network showcased the energy and joy that arise when students’ perspectives are heard. These extraordinary moments provided educators with crystal-clear clarity as they witnessed the impassioned opinions and unwavering determination of the young participants.

Numerous practitioners, researchers, and educators delved into the critical subject of environment and climate change, equipping learners with empowering ideas to navigate these complex realities. Despite grappling with weighty topics such as climate change, diversity, equity, inclusion, residential schools, systemic racism, and the oppression of Indigenous peoples, the conference fostered an uplifted and engaged atmosphere, as noted by the conference center staff.

Jacqueline Scott boldly brought “Race in Nature” to the forefront, while Megan Zeni urged educators to wisely invest their time and energy. Matthew Corkum reminded everyone that outdoor learning benefits all individuals and should be accessible to everyone. These captivating TED-style mini keynotes elicited thunderous applause and moved attendees to tears.

This was a place where pedagogy seamlessly intertwined with the surroundings, whether under the sun or amid shower storms, during invigorating group hikes or tranquil forest bathing field trips. Learning took root in workshops, sessions, on the stage, and in every profound moment of connection.

Although this conference was a pilot endeavor, the resounding consensus was that it cannot be a one-off occurrence—a sentiment fervently shared by all. Heartfelt gratitude is extended to the creators, supporters, sponsors, presenters, keynote speakers, volunteers, and participants who wholeheartedly contributed themselves and their pedagogy to this remarkable gathering. It truly marked a convergence of passionate individuals immersed in the realms of outdoor, place-based, and land-based learning, collectively celebrating the profound power and significance of these modalities on the national stage.

“What an inspiring venue and group of people! I feel motivated, energized and full of ideas. The experience was nothing short of amazing. I highly recommend this conference to any practitioner who wants to learn more about how to connect children to the outdoors.  It was well organized, creative and crammed full of positive learning opportunities. I sincerely hope this conference will continue in the coming years!” – Jacob R

Make sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming video of the National Outdoor Learning Conference, showcasing the highlights and captivating moments. Additionally, stay tuned for the release of inspiring TED-style talks that will surely leave you motivated and engaged. If you’re experiencing a sense of FOMO or longing to relive the conference’s transformative atmosphere, transport yourself back by exploring the conference’s dedicated hashtags on Instagram and Twitter. #OLConference23 

And if you’re eager to stay updated on future Outdoor Learning Conference events and professional development opportunities, be sure to subscribe to our general newsletter. Don’t miss out on the exciting journey ahead!

All images can be enlarged by clicking on them. Images credited to: Bryan White, @Natureforall, and @Rusty1122.

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