Association for Environmental & Outdoor education

Our mission is to advance the impact of environmental and outdoor education in California

environmental educator certification program 

Congratulations to the 2020-2021 EE Certification Graduates! Many thanks to this inaugural cohort for contributing their EE expertise and helping us to shape this program. Click here to see a list of California's certified environmental educators, including images of their final action project presentations and links to publicly accessed materials, if applicable. 

The program application period for the 2021-2022 Environmental Educator Certification Program (EECP) is now closed. If you are interested in achieving certification as an Environmental Educator, please complete this form to be added to our interest list. We will reach out next spring when the 2022-2023 application period opens. 

EECP Info Sessions

Are you interested in becoming certified as an environmental educator but aren't sure if this is the right next step for you?

If you were unable to attend an info session, but want access to the content, the session on 5/20 was recorded. You can access the recording here

Program Scholarships 

For the 2021-2022 Environmental Educator Certification Program, four partial scholarships (tuition assistance offered at 50%) are available for individuals that identify as a member of a community that has historically and systemically been marginalized in the field of Environmental Education (EE). Two of the scholarships are specifically designated for individuals that identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC). You can apply for a program scholarship here.


The Environmental Educator Certification Program (EECP) draws together stewards and educators of the environment into a structured and effective initiative. Certification is a public declaration that a certain individual meets a stringent level of requirements and has a specific set of skills. People we rely upon for their knowledge – such as medical assistants, plumbers, firefighters, legal aides – have certification processes within their respective fields. The benefit of an established certification process extends to the individual, the public, and the field itself. Having the EECP enhances the legitimacy of the profession by building a uniform foundation in effectively teaching about the environment. Additionally, through participation in the certification program, educators will expand their professional networks, make important connections across the state, and better understand the full spectrum of environmental education careers available. Click here to access the program flyer. 

The environmentally literate Californian

The air, water, land, and organisms of this planet make human life possible. It is imperative that society works toward growing a citizenry of environmentally literate individuals. Californians who are thoughtful, critical, and interested in learning about nature and how it functions can make informed decisions that improve the quality of life in their communities. They are able to assess values, evaluate issues, predict consequences, and make positive changes in the world around them. An environmentally literate person understands ecological systems and how natural processes are interconnected and actively works for sustainable outcomes, considering the impact of their actions today and in the future, and expresses themselves as citizens of their community, country, and planet through voting, civic action, service, and conscientious choices. A world full of environmentally literate individuals can ultimately lead to healthy communities and societies committed to sustainable habits fueled by creative alternatives and a common respect for the resources that sustain us.

In the high tech, fast-paced world in which we live, the role of the environmental educator is increasingly important. The role of an environmental educator is to support the development of environmentally literate citizens. Environmental educators do not tell their audience what to think, but rather guide them in understanding the world around them. They reveal the wonders of this planet and the processes behind it to their students. Environmental educators share the joy of nature, and humanity’s place in it. An environmental educator demonstrates place-based best practices in teaching about the environment in an inclusive, experiential, and engaging manner. While we commend and celebrate environmental education in all formats, AEOE believes that environmental education is best optimized in outdoor settings, where students can experience natural systems firsthand. This program has been designed to reflect our commitment to outdoor learning.

Who should get certified?

Anyone who currently teaches about the environment could benefit from becoming a certified environmental educator. You may consider yourself a formal, non-formal, or informal educator, working in public or private sectors of education. Examples of professions that may be interested in the certification include, but are not limited to, PreK-12th grade school teachers, nature center employees, state park interpreters, naturalists, community educators, college professors, and instructors at residential environmental or outdoor science schools.  

This program is designed for educators with some experience; that is, the EECP should not be your first foray into environmental education, nor do we expect that you are a seasoned veteran. Program participants will need to have completed at least two seasons or semesters of relevant teaching experience prior to starting the program and are eager to enhance their professional experience and refine their craft.

The process of certification allows the individual environmental educator to further their understanding of key environmental topics and improve their craft. As candidates go through the certification process, you will find opportunities for personal growth and learning while building professional contacts through shared experiences. Reflecting on your practice, stretching into new comfort zones, learning new skills, developing interdisciplinary thinking, and learning with others will support you in becoming a better educator in whatever role you hold or aspire to achieve. As part of a group of motivated individuals, networking with other environmental educators around the state can also lead to new and exciting employment opportunities. Upon certification, candidates will be recognized for their accomplishments and hence, will experience increased marketability. Certified environmental educators will be viewed as rising leaders in the profession and will be better equipped to make a positive impact in their communities. 

Requirements for Certification 

To obtain EE certification, candidates must successfully participate in all program elements and demonstrate competency in the themes outlined below, in addition to completion of a Final Action Project to be presented at AEOE’s spring statewide conference. 

Candidate criteria

In order to be accepted into the program, EECP candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Have completed at least two semesters/seasons of relevant teaching experience
  • Live and work in California
  • Have reliable internet access and access to a computer/tablet
  • Ability to devote an average of 2-4 hours/week to online meetings and program requirements
  • Be actively working in the field of EE (note: given the reality of how deeply COVID-19 has impacted our field, the active employment requirement is flexible for the 2021-2022 program year; that said, if not actively employed, some program elements will need to be creatively addressed to complete as evidence of and reflection on current practice is required)

 Prior to beginning the EECP program, candidates must:

  • complete an application
  • pay the $25 non-refundable application fee

If accepted, candidates must:

  • complete a self-assessment, and 
  • pay the required program fee (chosen voluntarily: $300 at assisted rate, $350 at regular rate, or $400 at a contributor rate)

Program Elements

  • Cohort Participation: Each participant will select the Monday (3rd Monday of the month from 7-8:30 PM) or Tuesday (3rd Tuesday of the month from 4-5:30 PM) cohort, comprising approximately 20-25 members. Meetings will occur once/month over Zoom.
  • Conference Attendance: Attendance at both the fall regional conference (hopefully offered in-person during fall 2021!) and spring statewide conference attendance – at which final action projects are presented – is required. Conference registration is paid separately and scholarships are available for those who need financial assistance. 
  • Engagement in Online Learning Community: Group discussions, chat, and digital submission of assignments. 
  • Completion of Independent & Group Assignments: Examples of assignments include reflections on articles and videos; evidence of completion of learning modules (e.g. online learning modules developed by NAAEE); an exploration of your bioregion; personal reflection on your practices related to social and emotional learning (SEL) and equitable and inclusive teaching practices; lesson plan review and submission; final action project presentation planning, presentation, and report.
  • Independent Professional Development: Individually selected PD or training sanctioned by AEOE (completed recently or over the program year).
  • Final Action Project: The program culminates with a final action project that provides a summary of the skills and knowledge gained and positively impacts the candidate’s community. These projects will be presented at the spring statewide conference. 
  • Mentorship: Each participant will be matched with a mentor in the field of EE with whom they will meet on a monthly basis virtually in small groups to set professional learning goals and discuss the culminating final project. 

Content: The EECP content is based on NAAEE’s Guidelines for Excellence, with supplementary components based on California’s ecology and the diverse needs of our state.

Professional Learning Units

AEOE is partnering with San Joaquin Teacher's College to offer 8 Professional Learning Credits (PLCs) upon receipt of certification. These units can be purchased separately. Click here for more information

Description of a Certified Environmental Educator in California

While environmental educators come with a variety of backgrounds and work in a variety of settings, there is a core set of characteristics that all environmental educators should possess. The requirements of the certification program are designed to assess and ensure that all candidates demonstrate aptitude in the following areas:  

  • Continually strives to improve their skills and knowledge 
  • Has an awareness of significant events in EE history, current and historical environmental issues, and EE resources within the state of California 
  • Teaches and communicates effectively (using research-based best practices) with a diverse audience – for example, with participants who: come from a variety of socio-economic and racial/ethic backgrounds, have a range of experience and comfort in the outdoors, are of varying ages and developmental levels, etc.
  • Exhibits the skills and ability to critically analyze current environmental issues 
  • Distinguishes between education and advocacy
  • Demonstrates leadership, professionalism, and collaboration in the EE community 
  • Takes actionable steps to improve their community

The characteristics of a certified environmental educator were formulated by the EECP Steering Committee and derived in part from the Core Competencies published by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Click here to learn more about the program, including operational policies such as recertification and reciprocity with other states


“While enrolled in AEOE’s Environmental Educator Certification Program, our staff developed the skills, experience, and self-confidence needed to use their own voice and creative ideas to help us reach new audiences and bring fresh perspectives to our curriculum. As a small organization this has been an incredibly helpful and cost-effective way to train our staff in contemporary and relevant naturalist techniques and pedagogy.”

– EECP Participant Supervisor

"I learned so much that can be applied to my work and was able to build long lasting networks that I will continue to build."

– EECP Participant

"The personalized, independent, self-designed project was a HUGE part of my positive experience and I think it helps elevate this certificate program to the point of allowing people to harness momentum to improve their respective work places, so the ripple effect is amazing to think about. I also want to acknowledge the work done to make this an equitable experience and encourage folks to continue cultivating patience and grace while striving to always move the cultural norm, little by little."

– EECP Participant

"A lot of the content was so geared toward personal growth as well as professional growth, that I felt kind of blown away by how useful and inspiring I found so much of the material! ... Overall, I feel empowered to be more of a leader in my work and now have a network of people with whom I feel I can easily collaborate."

– EECP Participant


One of the unique components of the program is the small-group mentorship offered to all participants. At the beginning of the program, EECP participants are placed in small groups with a mentor who serves as a leader in the field of EE in California. Participants are involved in the selection process and are paired with a leader who has experiences, knowledge, and connections that will benefit them in their careers. Mentors are carefully selected to include leaders with a range of EE settings, geographic dispersement, and multiple identities (gender, race, ethnicity, etc.). They are leaders who demonstrate professionalism, integrity, and accessibility and strive to be inclusive, encouraging, and respectful of EECP candidates.

Mentors for the 2021-2022 year include:

  • Candice Dickens-Russell
  • Celeste Royer
  • Chelle Temple-King
  • Chris Whitesides
  • Eaton Dunkelberger
  • Heather Molloy
  • Marie Bacher
  • Robyn Stone

Many thanks to the following mentors for supporting the 2020-2021 pilot year:

  • Celeste Royer
  • Heather Molloy
  • Jennifer Ortega
  • Kurt Holland
  • Marie Bacher
  • Nate Ivy

Please contact AEOE's Executive Director Estrella Risinger if you are interested in serving as a future mentor. 

EECP Steering Committee

This program would not be possible without the support of the EECP Steering Committee, comprised of individuals from a variety of EE settings who worked for more than two years to develop the program's content and structure. Thank you to the following individuals for offering their time and expertise:

  • Emily Jacobs, National Association for Interpretation
  • Estrella Risinger, NatureBridge
  • Greg Ira, UC California Naturalist
  • Jennifer Ortega, Humboldt State University, NAAEE Guidelines trainer (and EE certificate holder from CO)
  • Reed Schneider, NatureBridge, AEOE Board President & Chair
  • Shannon Gordon, California Department of Education
  • Tracey Weiss, Exploring New Horizons, AEOE Board Vice President


Mailing Address: 2066 N. Capitol Ave., Suite 3028, San Jose, CA 95132

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