Edward Burtynsky Award: 2020 Winners

Natural Curiosity’s Edward Burtynsky Award is a national award for exemplary Teachers and Early Childhood Educators who integrate environmental inquiry and the importance of Indigenous perspectives into their practice. The Natural Curiosity team would like to sincerely thank all educators who submitted an application. We are honoured to celebrate this year’s winners and their inspiring practices with you.

Learn more about each educator below, follow the link to read their winning submission.

Grand Prize Winner: 
Velvet Lacasse

Alberta Robinet & Adrienne Rinne
Sybille Parry
Miriam Snell


Grand Prize Winner: Velvet Lacasse

Runner-up: Alberta Robinet & Adrienne Rinne

Runner-up: Sybille Parry

Runner-up: Miriam Snell

Velvet Lacasse lives and teaches on the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Wendat. As a non-Indigenous ally, Velvet is committed to actively disrupting colonial pedagogies and supporting Indigenous sovereignty. As one of the founding teachers at The Grove Community School, Velvet is learning about the critical importance of teaching through relationships and centering Indigenous voices, perspectives, knowledge, and stories of resistance through land-based education. 

Velvet was invited to document her environmental justice inquiry in the 2nd Edition of Natural Curiosity. She loves to learn in community, and is actively involved in the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. Velvet facilitates ETFO workshops such as: “LGBTQ Awareness in the Primary Classroom,” “Everyone is Able,” and “Re-Thinking White Privilege.” Velvet collaborated to write an on-line resource and K-8 lesson plans about White Privilege and has published two articles about her work in VOICE magazine (Summer 2020). Velvet continues to write as a part-time student in the Masters of Education in Curriculum and Pedagogy program at OISE. 

Velvet is deeply grateful to all her teachers, students, and relatives for this honour and acknowledgement. She wants to thank Natural Curiosity for encouraging educators to reflect, write, and take action to plant their own “Seeds of Change.”

Adrienne Rinne and Alberta Robinet both completed the Masters of Arts in Child Study and Education program through OISE at the University of Toronto. They are co-teachers of an Outdoor Kindergarten program at Tawingo College in Muskoka, Ontario. Their small class of 16 Kindergarten students, affectionately known as “the K-Pals,” spend their days exploring, learning from, and protecting the forests, rivers, and streams which they are lucky enough to call their “classroom”.

Their kindergarten program emphasizes relationships. It is through relationships with peers of varying ages that their students learn to care for one another and form a community of learners. Within this community, students learn to care for the Earth, developing their earliest relationship with the natural world as one of wonder, awe, and respect. Through the framework of environmental inquiry and uninterrupted outdoor play, K-Pal students come to deeply understand the wonders and joys of the world, as well as the need to preserve this land. They view themselves as part of the natural world; it is their friend, their play space, their classroom. 

Each day is an opportunity for students to discover, build knowledge together, and wonder about the things that are most important to them. K-Pal students guide the school days: what they learn, what they play, what they do. If the question “what is inside a rock?” arises, they make predictions and then gather chisels to test their theories. If students observe fog rolling in over the lake, they spend the morning investigating where fog comes from and where it is going. Adrienne and Alberta believe that the role of the educator is to identify the concepts students are exploring and to make the learning explicit. They then seek out opportunities in the natural world and the community for their students to make further connections and deepen their understanding.  

Each day they learn and grow along with their students in nature. Each day their students remind them to stay curious.

Sybille Parry has been an elementary school teacher for 31 years, most recently at the Island Public/Natural Science school in Toronto (TDSB). Sometimes she paddles to work! Sybille’s immersion in Nature began in her childhood, as her family of recent immigrants explored provincial and national parks all across Canada, and she continued this tradition with her own children. Sybille’s love of Nature, inspired by these experiences, infuses her teaching practice, especially now that she has “come home to the Island” towards the end of her teaching career. 

Sybille had the joy of hearing David Suzuki speak many years ago, and his words have stayed with her: if you influence a child between the ages of 4 and 7, you can influence them for life (Sybille broadened this range to include children of all ages). Sybille’s teaching practice blends inquiry, student voice, wonder, and curriculum, as she prioritizes the natural world on the Island. This might result in the creation of a Field Guide to Schoolyard Trees in partnership with a local organization, CityTrees. It might lead to a cross-grade Design Expo, in which students create a model of a Flood-proof Structure for Island residents to help them prepare for Climate Change. It might be an eco-kids-led Take Back the Tap campaign, inspired by a local cafe. Whatever form it takes, the teaching and learning journey in Sybille’s practice is always built on student inquiry and on fostering voice and agency in the children she teaches.

Looking ahead to the “home stretch” before retirement in a few years, Sybille is asking some new questions: Where do Environmental Education and Indigenous Ways of Knowing intersect? How can she pursue that inquiry in her AQ Specialist course on Environmental Education? What will that look like in her Grade 3/4 class in the Fall? She can’t wait to paddle in and get started!

Miriam Snell has been a teacher at Tamarack West Outdoor School since its inception in 2015. Tamarack is a unique forest school in Toronto’s West End which is suited for spirited children who thrive in the outdoors. As a founding teacher, Miriam has been an integral part of Tamarack’s development. She has always had a love of the outdoors and a deep concern for the health of the Earth, which has led her on a learning journey of understanding the critical role of connectedness.

It is with deep gratitude that Miriam recognizes her father as the one who first fostered her curiosity and wonder about the natural world. Foremost in Miriam’s memory is an early morning paddling trip she took with her dad across a lake. They entered a secluded marsh area and sat in quiet companionship, sharing a pair of binoculars to watch the life around them as the day dawned. Now a parent herself, Miriam enjoys every opportunity to share her love of nature with her children. She and her family have gone on many adventures exploring the wilds of Southern Ontario.

Miriam has been lucky to have had many influential mentors and to have been, herself, an influential mentor to many others. Running her own KinderEnrichment program, Miriam was able to closely observe how children grow and thrive by being active and exploring freely outside. This led her to pursue teaching jobs with Green Thumbs Growing Kids and the PINE Project that would help her better understand how to teach outdoors.

Miriam has found it a sheer pleasure to be now teaching at Tamarack, where she can put all her learning into practice. She is ever deepening her respect, humility, and appreciation for those who have walked the land before us. She is always developing a greater understanding of the value of storytelling, community, and giving back.