My Path into Teacher Leadership
LAURA HOLLISTER (firstname.lastname@example.org), Past President of NAGT TED, is a Living Earth, APES, and Geoscience educator at Pitman High School, Turlock, CA.
It's funny how the little choices we make can have such a big influence on our lives.
In the early 1990s when I was taking classes at Modesto Junior College (MJC), my friend Curtiss told me to take a geology class from a fun and interesting professor. That was how I met Garry Hayes, who would become my mentor and my friend. During that class, Garry encouraged me to join his summer geology field trip. He recognized my interest in geology, no doubt from my obsession with the stream table in the old warehouse that was our classroom while the new science building was under construction. I signed up for the four-day field trip to the Cascade Mountains and never looked back.
After that I signed up for every trip I could, including NAGT Far West Section field trips that Garry told the class about. In that way, he introduced me to the National Association of Geoscience Teachers and I joined as a student member. My participation amounted to attending field trips until 1998, when Garry asked me to co-author a field trip into Del Puerto Canyon, California, for the Far West Section Fall Conference. It was a first for me and provided the chance to present to a much more advanced audience than I had before. The experience was simultaneously intimidating and validating and caused a shift in my self-perception from that of a student to a real geologist and member of the geology community.
After completing my geology degree, I worked as an environmental consultant for several years before realizing that I missed teaching geology. I changed paths and began a 19+ year career as a high school geoscience educator. I earned my teaching credential through the San Joaquin County Impact Teacher Credential Program, which allowed me to attend afternoon classes while teaching in a classroom. During this time my husband, whom I met on one of Garry's geology trips, started teaching at his former high school. After completing my credential, I applied and was hired to teach geoscience at the rival to his school.
As the two primary geoscience teachers in the district, we were able to collaborate and develop an incredible high school geoscience curriculum together, sharing ideas, successes, and failures, with only a small pinch of rivalry thrown in. Having a capable and enthusiastic collaborator has been essential to my own growth and success as an educator and I am sure it contributed to being awarded the Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award in 2009 only seven years after I began teaching.
I felt surprised to receive the award because I was just doing what I felt anyone should as a teacher; it would be several years until my impostor syndrome would diminish enough so I could see the award was justified. Additionally, though my administrator was aware I received the award, he did not publicly acknowledge it and so in the relatively small world of my community, it did not feel like a big deal. This became an important lesson in not allowing others to shape my view of myself or diminish my accomplishments.
I continued to volunteer with Garry on geology field trips to the American Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, and my favorite place, Death Valley. Garry was always generous with his time and energy and encouraged me to take an active role in teaching on the trips. In 2007, MJC once again hosted the Far West Section Fall Conference and I was asked, along with my husband Ryan, to create a field trip centered around the lava tubes and volcanism of Lava Beds National Monument. In 2011, returning again from Death Valley, in a conversation during the long, flat, straight drive home up California's Central Valley, Garry encouraged me to join Twitter and I started an account in the van on the highway.
The following year, while browsing my timeline, I saw a tweet from the Arizona Geological Survey advertising a professional development opportunity for teachers. I applied, and in the summer of 2012 I, along with my husband who was also selected, flew to Phoenix to participate in the NASA Triad Teacher Leadership program at ASU. I learned three days before departure that I was pregnant with our son and fatigue and mild nausea had already set in. My participation was not as energetic as is normal for me, but the group was understanding and supportive and we had a great week. During the program I got my first look at the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and experienced my first NGSS lessons, which I brought back to my classroom.
That same year my husband and I were asked once again to collaborate on a field trip when MJC hosted the Far West Section Fall Conference. Over the summer we worked together to create a field trip about the climatology and geology of the Saddlebag Lake Region of the Sierra Nevada immediately northeast of Yosemite National Park. This was one of the most challenging trips I worked on, as my pregnancy had made me extremely tired and I had developed an extremely sensitive sense of smell that left me nauseous at the scent of everything! I was not only nauseous and could not visit the field site due to its high elevation, but I had severe pregnancy-induced brain fog and found it difficult to read and understand geology. As the brain fog dragged on, I worried that my skills as a geologist would be gone forever and I felt very low. Fortunately, the brain fog eventually lifted, and I was able to research and contribute to the descriptions of the incredible geology of the area!
I must have made a good impression in Arizona because the following year my husband and I were two of thirteen participants invited to join the NASA Triad group again, this time at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena. By this time our son was five months old and, unsure about how I would be able to participate, I feared that my professional life was over. Instead, I was encouraged by the organizers to bring my son and my parents so they could watch him during the day, which they did. He was a welcome addition to our evening socializing and the wonderful people at the JPL found me a quiet, private location filled with great spacecraft models so that I could pump milk during the day. It was an incredible feeling to have so much support and realize that I did not have to give up my own professional development.
At JPL I met several members of the Mars Curiosity team and heard from scientists about the decision-making process for the Mars 2020 rover as they negotiated the landing site in the room next to ours. I also met Ed Robeck from the American Geosciences Institute for the first time as we participated together doing space-themed NGSS lessons. Ed and I would run into each other frequently at upcoming conferences and collaborate on a future project. Once again, the NGSS curriculum made its way back to my classroom and inspired me to develop NGSS lessons of my own.
As my school district started the adoption process for NGSS, they signed up to participate in a study implemented by Making Sense of Science, a research branch of WestEd. WestEd is a non-profit research, development and educational service agency headquartered in San Francisco. The study's goal was to increase 4th and 5th grade teachers' Earth Science content knowledge along with NGSS pedagogy and literacy strategies. As WestEd organized the teacher leadership team for the study my school district recommended me as an addition due to my strong geoscience content knowledge. In 2016 I joined the leadership team and over the course of the next four years I learned how to facilitate the professional development program, worked with 4th and 5th grade teachers from several counties in my state, and built strong relationships with teacher leaders from California and Wisconsin. Most significantly I saw that respectful, well-structured professional development could improve teachers' understanding of science and increase their confidence in guiding their students through scientific investigation.
The Making Sense of Science leadership program increased my confidence in my teaching and leadership abilities and got me wondering if there was a way I could make a bigger difference in science education. I began to seek new opportunities and when a position as a science coordinator opened at my county office of education, I applied. Though I did not get the job, the process of updating my resume and interviewing confirmed that I had grown as a teacher and a leader and that I had a lot to offer the broader science education community. It had also put me on the radar of the county STEM coordinator, who nominated me to represent my county in the Delta Sierra Science regional leadership group. This group is a part of the California Science Project, whose goal is to provide science professional development to K-12 teachers throughout California. As a member of this group I have participated in leadership training, worked with K-12 teachers in the region to develop strategies to overcome the challenges of implementing NGSS, and developed and led a professional development session for local teachers at the Super Science Saturday conference in 2020.
These experiences showed me the power of joining and participating in professional societies and networks both for the learning that I received and because of the people I met. In 2016 I began attending more professional conferences and workshops, starting with the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Geoscience Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshop. It was here that I met Cheryl Manning when she facilitated a fun and memorable session on art and science. I didn't know it at the time, but we would work together in the future.
In 2017, I attended the Earth Educator Rendezvous in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After participating in a workshop on active learning and a variety of other sessions I realized how much K-12 and post-secondary educators have to offer each other. I shared my ideas in several discussions at the conference and my husband and I were invited to present a workshop at the next Rendezvous. Later that year I attended the Geologic Society of America meeting in Seattle where my husband was presenting in an education session. We also attended several other education and technical sessions, learning from other scientists and educators and making new connections, and meeting Twitter friends like Callan Bentley in person.
In the spring of 2018, I was asked to consider running for Vice President for the Teacher Education Division (TED) of NAGT. I accepted the nomination and won the election, beginning a three-year tenure as an officer for TED. This allowed me to reach out to the educators of educators by sharing the perspective of a working high school teacher, and to encourage members to continue to teach with empathy, inclusion and kindness at the forefront. In addition, this experience allowed me to collaborate on other important geoscience initiatives and to encourage others to join and share their perspectives and experiences.
The Earth Educator Rendezvous in Lawrence, Kansas, in 2018 brought the opportunity to share some of the pedagogy that K-12 educators are deeply knowledgeable about through the lens of climate change education. Ryan and I developed and facilitated a 3-day workshop on teaching climate change using real world data and imitation ice cores. The workshop was designed to take participants through an NGSS lesson sequence with time to reflect on their experience as a learner as well as time to consider how the lesson design helps students to grapple with ambiguous data and difficult science topics. It was a great success and a lot of fun too. The conference allowed me to continue growing as an educator, meeting with old friends and making new connections. In the fall I began my term as TED Vice President, participating in meetings and discussions about how to support geoscience teachers across the country.
The summer of 2019 I attended the Rendezvous once again. This time I applied and was accepted to participate in the NGSS Tagging Camp. Our goal was to identify and tag GETSI (GEodesy Tools for Societal Issues) teaching materials with NGSS Science and Engineering Practices and Cross Cutting Concepts. During this experience I worked with an amazing group of people involved in different areas of education from across the country. Through our collaboration, my own pedagogical knowledge and understanding of the NGSS deepened. In the fall I joined the NAGT TED Division meeting at GSA through zoom (not realizing how familiar I would become the program in a few years) and at the end of the meeting began my term as TED President. The year would provide me with the chance to share my thoughts about the changing needs in education and help me learn how to organize and run a formal meeting. That year TED Division contributed money to support the plenary speakers at EER and began presenting work on Geoscience Teacher Leader Standards.
Around the same time, I was invited by Callan Bentley, along with my husband, to collaborate on a Travels in Geology piece for Earth Magazine about Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This was a great opportunity to dive deeper into the newly emerging geologic history of the Sierra Nevada Mountains as well as showcase some of the unique geography and human history of the area.
Also in the fall of 2019 Ed Robeck emailed me to ask if I was interested in developing some curriculum around Geoscience Women in Stem as part of the Lyda Hill Philanthropies If/then Initiative. I enthusiastically said yes and immediately began collaborating with Cheryl Manning and Aida Awad to develop a series of lessons based around four amazing women scientists who are part of a cohort being highlights in the If/then Initiative. Ed Roebeck had remembered me from our time together at the NASA training at JPL and invited me to collaborate as part of the team. It was a privilege to work with Cheryl and Aida, talented and engaging educators whom I had met at conferences several times previously.
In December I attended AGU again to participate in the GIFT workshop, technical sessions on geohazards, and meet with colleagues from across the country and around the world. I also attended a workshop, organized by Cheryl Manning, about fostering Geostem Learning Ecosystems which provided the chance to share my thoughts with an amazing group of people interested in Geoscience education. By this time my network had grown considerably, and I was being recognized for my work by people who I admired and looked up to.
As 2020 progressed, the world was shaken by COVID and I went home. This brought new challenges and conferences slowly made the decision to go virtual. For a high school teacher and the mom of a 7-year old, this was both a blessing and a curse. I could attend conferences more easily from home but had to cope with the regular interruptions and needs of a lonely child. At the virtual 2020 Rendezvous, I co-presented the Geoscience Teacher Leader Standards with Suzanne Metlay and Kathy Ellins to share our vision and get feedback from the Geoscience Education community. I also attended several sessions through Zoom and laughed with others as we joined breakout rooms and virtual hangouts to socialize from our own homes, then returning to watch episodes of The Expanse, my binge-watching show of the moment. Despite the unusual circumstances, it was a great conference and as always, I learned a lot.
That summer also brought an invitation to present at GSA in a hazards session. I submitted my abstract and it was accepted, and that fall I presented about teaching geohazards to high school students in a hazards and education session. I saw several familiar faces in the session, met several new people, and learned a lot from other presentations. It was a joy to attend GSA from my own home at lunch in between teaching my high school classes or after our school day had ended.
AGU also went virtual and I presented the Geoscience Women in STEM curriculum at the GIFT workshop for our team. It was well-received and I felt proud to share the team's work and encourage others to use the curriculum to show 6-12 grade students that anyone can be a scientist.
This was also the year I became TED Division Past President, supporting the division in the background and helping to continue our work of helping geoscience educators inspire the next generation. I had moved from student to collaborator to leader and then continued to blend all three roles, always with the goal of increasing geoscience education for all.
There is no perfect road into leadership. My journey has been winding and taken me in directions I could not have predicted. Along the way I have met many wonderful, talented and passionate people and grown in my own understanding of the importance and place geoscience education has in the world, and the urgent need to increase the promotion of geoscience for learners of all ages. It is the hope that the Earth Science Teacher Leader Standards will be an incentive to encourage educators to continue to grow in their own abilities and to encourage that growth in others. Look in the mirror and see your own ability, look at your path and see how far you have come, look at those around you and see who you can encourage. Together, like ripples in a pond, we can spread our love and passion for geoscience to all students, and through them we can change the world.