Focusing on Earth Sciences Teacher Leader Standards

KATHERINE K. ELLINS ( is program director for Geoscience Education Research, Office of Broader Impacts, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, and SUZANNE T. METLAY ( is Earth Sciences Education faculty in Teachers College, Western Governors University, Salt Lake City, UT.

While teacher leader standards are well established in K-12 education, none provide guidance specifically for Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) educators. National recognition for excellence in K-12 Earth Sciences education is under development by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) Teacher Education Division (TED). This initiative builds upon and works alongside the state-based and regional Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Awards program adopted by NAGT in 1971 to honor pre-college teachers of Earth Sciences (NAGT OEST, n.d.). Earth Sciences Teacher Leader standards are designed to support the personal goals, professional growth, and career advancement of formal and informal geosciences educators. These criteria may be used to help guide teacher preparation and professional development and should fit comfortably into the broader objectives of the ESS education community.

Earth Sciences Teacher Leader Standards are rooted in the K-12 Framework for Science Education as well as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; National Research Council, 2012; NGSS Lead States, 2013). Soon approaching their tenth anniversary, these products transform how science is taught, elevate ESS to equal status with Life Sciences and Physical Sciences, and add technology/engineering standards. And yet Earth Sciences educators are often still at a loss how to teach core disciplinary content and how best to integrate Earth and space sciences phenomena as exemplars into other science curricula. Adding to the confusion is local diversity – for instance, the number of years of science required for graduation vary from one state to another, leaving it up to schools in states that have adopted or adapted the NGSS to determine the best implementation approach. Some schools offer science courses aligned with the traditional areas of chemistry, physics, biology, and Earth science. Others infuse Earth science content into physics, biology or chemistry, and still other schools offer Earth science as a senior capstone or as a dual enrollment high school-college course.

The need to prepare science teachers to support students in attaining the NGSS Earth Science performance expectations has led to an increasing number of professional development programs for science teachers to learn Earth science content and engage with excellent curricular resources. Beyond this prefatory level, successful implementation of the NGSS also requires Earth science teacher-leaders who have a deep appreciation of the approaches and values that unite Earth scientists and the essential understandings, conceptual skills, and practices that contribute to success discipline (Manduca & Kastens, 2012). This insight served as the impetus for NAGT's Teacher Education Division to develop a set of 10 criteria to encourage and support K-12 educators to move from the role of teacher to that of teacher-leader.

In Teacher Leader Standards, we share the criteria. My Path into Teacher Leadership profiles the path of high school teacher Laura Hollister, whose accomplishments distinguish her as an Earth Sciences teacher-leader. Building on the Earth Sciences Teacher Leader Standards, NAGT TED is developing a national Earth Science Teacher Leadership Award that honors educators who satisfy a minimum number of the leadership criteria. We look forward to publishing an update with award nomination protocols as soon as they are approved.

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