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It was a cool, crisp Friday evening in February. As many people headed home for a weekend respite, a cohort of nearly two dozen educators made their way from across the state to Chapel Hill, one by one pulling into the parking lot of the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence. There was a STEM lab teacher from Charlotte, an environmental education certified teacher from the Triad, and nationally board certified teachers from Durham and the southeastern shore. While their specialties, home school districts, and experience were different, their goal and vision was unified:

Advocate for excellent science educational opportunities for children in every corner of the Old North State.

Over the next two years, this cohort of dedicated educators and advocates will regularly convene, building skills in leadership, and establishing a network of committed individuals with the common goal of ensuring more widespread, meaningful, and rigorous science instructional experiences for the children of North Carolina.

During this first weekend, participants got to know one another and participated in various team building skills, developing the trust and connections necessary for successful advocacy work. After helping teammates cross flowing rivers of lava with construction paper stepping stones, we participated in a simulation that reinforced that although systemic change can be hard to achieve, it is possible. All it takes is a group of committed leaders with a transformative vision and the unrelenting passion to work tirelessly to achieve it, whatever it takes.

But what makes a leader, and what does transformative leadership look like? Truly great leaders are able to craft and articulate an aspirational vision, set clear goals, inspire and invest others, demonstrate integrity, recognize and celebrate others’ success, and create a stimulating work environment that is focused on the needs and interests of the collective. But how do these pieces fit together, and what elements are the most important for leading transformational change?

Photo for Jess

The responses were as varied as the paths that led us to that science classroom on that February night. One group saw all of the elements as equally important, like spokes on a wheel, to be used cyclically and continuously. Another group saw it as a sandwich, with integrity and inspiration as the bread that bookends the other elements. Yet another team broke the conversation down into things leaders do and things leaders are. Finally, fitting for a room full of science educators and advocates, one group saw effective leadership as a blossoming flower, budding atop a stem of integrity, vision, goals, and communication.

No matter how each group depicted effective leadership, one thing is clear:

Our students deserve a science education that empowers them as learners and leaders, and prepares them for college, careers, and citizenship in the 21st century.

Getting there will take committed, strategic leaders who are champions for all students.

We are the 2016 cohort of the North Carolina Science Leadership Association Fellows.

We are Kenan Fellows, museum educators, and teachers.

We have studied the oceans, written curriculum, and served on advisory boards.

We have led children in building robots, starting a garden, and touching a sting ray.

We know the transformative power of science education, how it can nurture the unique inquisitiveness and curiosity of childhood, and empower citizens to make decisions about public policy and elected officials.

We know the challenges of providing excellent science education to all kids in our state, but we believe firmly in its possibilities.

We are the leaders of today and for tomorrow, and we will not rest until our vision is a reality for all our Tar Heel students.


The North Carolina Science Leadership Association was established in 1989 to support and inform emerging and established science education leaders in North Carolina. The NCSLA Science Leadership Fellows Program is a two-year program covering topics such as the change process, team building, leadership styles, strategic leadership, grant proposal writing, and developing budgets. The program is supported by the NC Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center/Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

Jess Miller

Jess Miller is an educator with 10 years of experience in teaching, curriculum development, and administration.  She is currently an education consultant specializing in data-driven instruction, STEM curriculum and instruction, and teacher coaching.