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EENC Member & Award Winner Margot Lester on Completing The NC Environmental Educator Certification Program

Re-published with permission from the NC Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs blog, "Teachable Moments." Find the original story here. Margot is a New to EE Member of EENC and winner of our 2023 Outstanding Partner award for her contributions to the SEEA Equitable Pay and Hiring in Environmental Education publication.

Margot Lester, CEO and owner of The Word Factory marketing agency, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. The Word Factory has been in operation for more than 30 years and provides messaging and strategy consulting and brand journalism services, corporate and individual writing training, and advocacy work for national brands, universities and nonprofits.

Margot is an avid woods walker and beach lover, stormwater geek, interpretative signage nerd and nature writer. “My vocation and avocation came together when I discovered I could teach what I know about communications, writing and advocacy in the context of nature, the environment and climate action. It's still kind of hard to believe how well they dovetail.”

When asked about her favorite part of the program, Margot says she has met terrific people through the program and has made many friends. She also “really loved getting to visit parks and other facilities around the state, like Singletary State Park and Gorges State Park. It not only fed my interest in education and interpretation, but it deepened my connection to my home state and its incredible natural resources.”

Margot notes that one of the certification experiences that stood out for her was the workshop on frog calls with Becky Savage and Karen Clark of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. “Because I was driving all over North Carolina to get my site visits in, I could identify the herps in those areas. My visit to Gorges just happened to coincide with mountain chorus frog season. These little frogs have a seriously limited range in Clay and Cherokee Counties, and I was lucky enough to be staying with a friend right in the middle of their prime habitat. It was so cool to identify what we were hearing and to understand how rare the experience is for most people in the state.”

For her community partnership project, Margot created two nature journaling posters and a set of prompts for the Triangle Land Conservancy’s Williamson Preserve. One poster briefly reviews the benefits of being in nature and invites visitors to refocus their eyes, tune their ears and look for repeating patterns in nature. The other introduces visitors to Project Pando, a volunteer-driven farm that grows native trees that will be given for free to the public.

“The project benefits public health by guiding visitors to slow down and immerse themselves further into nature, which enhances the mental and physical health benefits of being outside. The guided observations also create a connection to the preserve, explaining its role in native tree restoration. The posters inspire hikers who are curious about nature connection and journaling and may even motivate people to hit the trail to explore these activities and discover a new way to engage with the natural world.”

Margot says the certification program changed her approach to teaching. She says that the workshops provided by Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC) on inclusion, cultural sensitivity and accessibility really influenced her teaching. “I now do a people and place acknowledgment before my programs and include resources from a much more diverse group of experts. I plan my outdoor sessions with mobility in mind and try to optimize my materials for accessibility readers. I'm also exploring the possibility of translating my advocacy, climate action and nature journaling content into Spanish.”

The certification had an impact on the way she views environmental issues, too. “Interacting with people at events and trainings made me realize the need for empathy and hope in our communications about environmental and climate issues. Not toxic optimism or glossing over the real issues but sharing the hard parts and then showing tangible acts -- big and small -- that have impact. That's where the hope comes in. Doing my own work on these two topics helped me see the vital role of storytelling and personal narrative to break down barriers, bridge gaps and move people to action.”



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