Guidelines for Excellence – Trying to Capture Our Collective Wisdom

What does it mean to be environmentally literate? What makes great environmental education instructional materials so good? What should be kept in mind as new programs are developed at a nature center? Providing some guidance so that environmental educators can more easily address these questions, and many more, is at the core of NAAEE’s National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education.


Over the years, it has been our privileged to work with thousands of practitioners around the globe to create a series of publications that try to capture some of our best thinking or collective wisdom about quality environmental education. These publications or guidelines describe some of the key characteristics of balanced, scientifically accurate, and comprehensive environmental education programs and materials. 


From the very beginning, there was a strong desire to ensure that each set of guidelines reflected a widely shared understanding of environmental education and environmental education practice. For each publication, a 10- to 12-person writing team was formed, which was comprised of environmental education professionals from a variety of backgrounds and organizational affiliations. The writing teams took on the challenge of turning ideas about quality, gleaned from environmental education practice and research literature, into detailed outlines. The outlines and successive drafts of the guidelines were circulated widely through a process of review and comment. Short articles announcing the availability of each draft and inviting participation in the review process were published in newsletters. Presentations were made at state, provincial, regional, national, and international meetings to publicize the effort and encourage participation. Any interested individual or organization wishing to participate in the process was encouraged to do so. Efforts to publicize the project and the availability of review drafts were made continuously throughout the development process.


Revisions to the drafts were made based on an analysis of comments from literally thousands of individuals and organizations. As comments were received, they were entered verbatim into a master database. This allowed the writing team to consider each comment individually and within the context offered by the draft document. Changes were made in the successive drafts based on an analysis of these comments. Where conflicting views could not be reconciled, revisions were made, in most instances, to reflect the preponderance of opinions expressed. Review comments were used not only to test and revise the basic framework for the individual set of guidelines, but also to develop every detail of the final documents from overall structure to examples, and glossary terms to references. It should be noted that although the vast majority of comments were from North America, comments were received from individuals from over 30 countries.


In developing the guidelines, a concerted effort was made to tap into the collective wisdom of thousands of researchers and practitioners. The guidelines provide guidance—they have always been envisioned as living documents that are meant to be adapted to the myriad of settings where environmental education takes place. We sincerely offer them as a set of tools that can be used to help us improve what we do and, ultimately, to foster environmental literacy.

Note: Much of this blog post was adapted from Simmons, B., Bhagwanji, Y. & Ribe, R. (2013) Promoting excellence in environmental education. In Monroe, M. & Krazney, M. (eds.) Across the Spectrum: Resources for Environmental Educators. North American Association for Environmental Education.