To realize California public education’s vision of fostering an environmentally literate citizenry, students will require a strong foundation in environmental education, especially during their elementary years. Yet, many students are not exposed to the foundational knowledge and authentic experiential learning necessary to develop environmental literacy. Although they are not widespread, collaborative partnerships between K-12 teachers and local environmental educators offer unique experiential learning opportunities for students that are usually beyond the means of a single classroom teacher to provide. This qualitative study explored the essential characteristics of sustained partnership activities between formal K-12 teachers and informal environmental educators in a rural Northern California county known to have an active environmental educator network. Semi-structured individual interviews with 12 environmental educators and four elementary teachers, along with two observations involving collaborative meetings and outreach programs, were conducted. Emergent findings indicated that most long-standing partnerships are relational rather than contractual, built upon mutual respect, empathy for teachers, and strong beliefs about environmental education. Effective outreach programs are therefore designed to be as accommodating and accessible as possible for teachers. It was discovered that engagement is predominately initiated by the teachers out of their desire to access resources and offer unique experiential activities afforded through the partnerships. These findings support the conclusion that most environmental education partnerships are teacher-driven and sustained as a result of the positive experiences, accessibility, and rewarding outcomes achieved. This study also found that environmental educators are highly knowledgeable professionals in their respective fields and skilled in the unique student-centered pedagogical approaches necessary for facilitating outdoor inquiry and learning for students as well as teachers. Furthermore, they credited much of their continued professional learning and growth to the environmental educator network. Thereby concluding that partnership activities produce opportunities for dynamic communities of learning and knowledge sharing involving teachers, students, environmental educators, and the community. Moreover, the existence of an effectual environmental educator network strengthens outreach programs and their collective impact across the region. By its very nature, experiential environmental education crosses the boundaries of formal and informal learning, thus central figures are exposed to, and learn from each other’s practices.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Learning technologies; Environmental education; Business and education; Partnership

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Davis, Kay D.;