NatGeo Certification Journey

The views expressed in this post are my own and are in no way endorsed by or affiliated with National Geographic.

In over ten years of teaching and thousands of hours of professional development, my journey to become a National Geographic Certified Educator was one of the most creative professional development experiences I have ever had.

National Geographic is undoubtedly one of the most respected and intelligent companies in the world. As a young girl, I would spend hours digging through National Geographic magazines stored in my grandparents’ corner curio cabinet. I can distinctly recall the cover of the July 1992 issue featuring a baby mountain lion cub being held by her mother (Vol. 182, No.1). My imagination would churn out potential scenarios of the days ahead when I’d become a world-traveling zoologist, saving mountain lions and other big cats from poachers and environmental encroachment. I even wrote a 64-page story (every page had an illustration), broken into three different “chronicles” and “sagas” as I called them- entitled “Aspen the Zoologist.”

Ultimately, I did not become a zoologist. I became an English teacher instead, which makes sense when you look at my 3rd-grade-year-old self’s dedication to writing such a lengthy treatise. Although I am now solely a zoologist at heart, this does not diminish the impact that National Geographic has had on my career. It has empowered me to bring that same creative explorer mindset to my classroom that I discovered as a young girl. My journey through the certification process helped me realize that I am still, many years later, that very same curious explorer and storyteller flipping through those magazines. The explorer mindset is the very foundation of my creative capacity and empowerment as an educational leader.

My experience was professionally life-changing. So, here are 5 reasons why YOU too should become a National Geographic Certified Educator:

1.Multi-disciplinary. Not a geography or science teacher? No worries! The National Geographic Learning Framework transcends all disciplines. In fact, it is designed to be interdisciplinary in nature. The learning framework and infrastructure is open enough that it can be used with any discipline centered on inquiry and change-agency.

2. Creativity & the Art of Storytelling. The capstone project requires that the candidate shares the story of the certification journey and the impact the journey had on the students. This process develops an educator’s storytelling skills. Prior to the National Geographic Certified Educator course, I had never taught digital storytelling. Not only did I teach this important form of media literacy to my students; I also learned so much about how to tell a story through digital means such as Adobe Spark. We made a tremendous impact locally by collecting stories of a local natural disaster, the 1977 Johnstown Flood, and preserving narratives of the human journey in original digital stories.

Check out my capstone video here:

Capstone Video

3. Authenticity & Purpose. What the students learn, and the projects themselves can be applied to better the human journey and our natural world. With my capstone project, the students collected qualitative data and created digital stories for an authentic audience. Their stories are now a digital exhibit for the Johnstown Flood Museum.

4. Student-centered inquiry and deep-thinking.It promotes inquiry and deep-thinking for our students. They were able to visit various scales and perspectives from the National Geographic Learning Framework as they research and presented their projects. The local newspaper covered our project, and the story was picked up by the Associated Press. This chain of events showed the students how far the impact of their project had travelled, even into major city newspapers across the country such as Pittsburgh, Chicago and Seattle!

JAHA 1977 Johnstown Flood Digital Exhibit:


5. An unparalleled professional learning community. As an educator, your professional learning community expands worldwide, and opportunities are abound. Resources are at your fingertips, and the discussion forum provides collegiality with other educators and is a treasure trove of instructional resources. Since I’ve become a NatGeo certified educator, I have been a volunteer judge for their Geochallenge program and I’ve been selected to attend The National Geographic Institute this summer in Jackson, Wyoming. My classrooms have also recently participated in the NatGeo Explorer Classroom Challenge: The Human Journey.

All of this has happened along my journey, and I’ve only been certified since December 2018! If you’re looking for an empowered, creative classroom, this certification is certainly for you!