Polar Educators International (PEI) is a volunteer-based organization designed to build collaborative relationships between educators and polar researchers. Founded in 2012, PEI was created out of the networks formed during the International Polar Year 2007–2008. This paper explores PEI’s first five years (2012–17) of successes, challenges and opportunities that have led to the creation of an organization with over 1,500 members. Using a ‘level of participation’ framework for communities of practice, we examine the evolution of this educator-researcher network and focus on two key questions: 1) who has PEI reached and served over this time?, and 2) what are barriers to participation? Barriers include sustained engagement with researchers and establishing value within institutional frameworks that generally undervalue activities referred to as ‘education and outreach’ (EOC). EOC activities continue to be perceived as extra-curricular in both educator and researcher communities. Working to deepen collaboration with polar researchers and targeting a greater diversity of PEI’s membership to fill core leadership functions should be future areas of focus for PEI as it looks to continue to shape polar EOC. Advancing and enhancing polar EOC extends well beyond PEI and should be a priority for the broader polar science and education communities.