Interview With Environmental Educator Alysse Kennedy
More than ever we are aware that we need to make changes to protect our environment and Alysse Kennedy is both an inspiration and a leader in integrating these changes into our lives. We chat with her more about her mission to make environmental sustainability accessible and engaging.
IT’S OUR PLEASURE TO INTRODUCE
A modern environmentalist, Alysse is leading the charge to make sustainability easy and engaging and is sharing her passion through education via her eco-lifestyle blog ALYSSEONLIFE. Centered around a mission of keeping our ecosystem alive while still making the most out of our lives on this planet.
Here at CONNECTED we believe that our health and happiness are deeply connected with the health of our planet and the environment and wanted to share Alysse's work with you so that we can all make a difference. This interview is a must read for anyone who is seeking to make a greater impact but isn't sure where to start or what to do next.
WHAT IS THE MISSION OR PURPOSE OF WHAT YOU DO?
I am an educator working with students of all ages and a researcher devoted to everything Environmental and Sustainability Education (ESE). It’s my goal to build an inclusive community that is committed to embedding ESE into all aspects of our daily lives, both personally and professionally, and especially for teachers. I want to make learning about the Earth and eco-friendly choices and habits accessible, relevant and meaningful so that each of us can find our own way to support our local environment - not just nature, but our community within it.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO ENTER THIS FIELD?
I’ve always loved animals, being outdoors and stories and I’ve always had the most fun working with kids. It’s so exciting to work with curious young minds who have questions and passions about so many things! When I made the decision to pursue my teaching degree at OISE (inspired by my older sister, who is a fantastic secondary teacher), I was introduced to this incredible network of faculty and peers who were shaking up how teaching about the environment was typically done. Traditionally in our province’s curriculum, Environmental Education has been housed within the Science curriculum and research tells us that this can be a huge problem because educators who don’t see themselves as “scientists” don’t always feel that they have the experience or knowledge to teach about the environment. But through this community, I realized there truly are unlimited ways to bring in environmental education for every age and through every students’ interests, through interdisciplinary or cross-curricular learning. I feel that meeting learners where their interests already are is the most important aspect of good environmental education programming because you can begin to engage kids in environmental learning by connecting to what they already know and love, so they can lead their own inquiries and take ownership of what they’re reading, exploring and the work they produce to demonstrate what they know. And this ownership is crucial for cultivating important attitudes about science and environmental learning. It’s funny - it’s been more than a decade since Ontario made it mandatory to teach about the environment in every subject and in every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 12 through a policy document called Acting Today, Shaping Tomorrow (2009) - and yet if you ask a lot of teachers or teacher candidates about this, they have no idea it exists or that they have an obligation to teach about the environment! It was this gap that inspired me to pursue my PhD while I began working in elementary schools as I wanted to bring together research with what was actually happening in classrooms on a daily basis. For me this connection between the research side and practice side is the most valuable as it has made me see a lot more of the nuances within ESE because, let’s face it, it’s not a neutral or simple topic! So I see it as extremely critical to teach ourselves how we can do our best to make the world better - and this can get so complicated because we don’t live in a “circular economy" that is setup to be perfectly sustainable. If you’ve ever faced the dilemma of buying a cup of coffee in a compostable cup but then were told that cup needed to be put into the garbage, not compost, you already know what I mean. We have confusing policies and structures in place that can be at odds with innovation, plus a lack of regulation on “greenwashing”, so choosing “green” options can be an uphill battle. We also put a lot of the onus on individual behaviours, when we need collective buy-in from corporations through mandated policies. It’s my mission to make all of this easier to understand and more equitable to engage with through connecting teachers with ways to teach about ESE and promoting practices, organizations and businesses that are on the right track. It’s also crucial that we support local businesses right here in Canada to lower the footprint of what we are bringing into our life, and to celebrate people that are part of our community.
WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF BEAUTY?
To me, beauty is this unshakeable combination of compassion and resilience. This combination stitches a vivacious thread into the backbone of your life and it brings opportunities, excitement and meaning.
The women I admire are graceful people who aren’t above getting their hands dirty or being polite to strangers. That kind of genuine attitude comes from compassion for others but it connects with a respect you have for yourself, and seeing all of us as the human beings that we are - and definitely being able to laugh at ourselves along the way, too.
WHEN DO YOU FEEL YOUR MOST BEAUTIFUL, RADIANT AND CONFIDENT?
I feel the most beautiful when I wake up early, fresh faced and glowing from last night's skincare, wild bedhead on full display, sipping a delicious cup of coffee in bed with my husband while our dog snoozes like a freight train by our feet. There is nothing better than getting to experience a brand new day, especially in the summer, and having these snuggly extra moments to breathe it in before jumping into action makes everything so much sweeter.
WHAT DOES CONNECTION MEAN TO YOU?
It’s two-fold. Interpersonally, it’s finding out what you love and why you love it and then being brave enough to share that passion with other people. It’s a give-and-take, an ebb-and-flow, a relationship between people, between ideas, between stories, and it’s what makes life something to enjoy instead of just endure. Intrapersonally, it’s cultivating that mind-body or head, heart and hand (mind, spirit and action) holistic sensibility that brings some pop and pizzazz to your personal outlook on life. Either way, it would be painfully boring to live without connection!
WHEN IT COMES TO FEELING BEAUTIFUL AND CONFIDENT, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU WISH YOU COULD SHARE WITH YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
All women are beautiful, and you’re more beautiful than you think, but that’s never going to be the most important part of who you are or will be. Don’t pick apart your appearance, or the appearances of others, and don’t literally pick at your skin because that always make things worse.
Surround yourself with role models of all ages so you can see what aging gracefully looks like and learn that it is a privilege to be able to be on this earth long enough to develop well-worn smile lines and crinkly eyes from years of experiencing laughter and love, and from grief and challenge - wear them all like badges of honour.
WHAT ARE THREE MUST-HAVE THINGS IN YOUR PURSE AT ALL TIMES?
A picnic set (cloth napkins and metal cutlery for two for an impromptu, low-waste date night whenever the moment strikes), a Province Apothecary lip balm or Ilia lip oil - any lip product I can swipe on without a mirror - and a teeny notebook and pen that lives tucked into my wallet, ready for notes.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT A CAREER MOMENT THAT YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF?
This past January, I co-coordinated the inaugural Climate Action Summit at OISE (the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) which is University of Toronto’s Faculty of Education. This event brought over 100 faculty, staff and graduate students from across U of T together for a half-day summit to determine how OISE can take climate action across five priority areas. It was the first ever climate action summit to take place at the University of Toronto, and the first ever climate action summit to take place in a Canadian faculty of education. From this event, our Dean appointed a Climate Action Advisory Committee, to which I was selected. This Committee is tasked with developing a Climate Action Plan for the institution. This event fuelled momentum for important climate action work at OISE, which is one of the largest faculties of education across the country, and encouraged situating OISE as a hub for climate action and environmental and sustainability education research moving forward, which is a huge step for the direction of my work and research.
THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO CHAT WITH US! WHERE CAN PEOPLE FIND YOU ONLINE?
Thank you -- please feel free to find me via the website or Instagram!
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