1. Key Communicators
Any area--state or community--has a group of opinion leaders, who are asked questions about any item of interest in that area whether it's about the price of gasoline or the value of social studies education. These opinion leaders are likely to answer those questions, but one wonders whether they are prepared to deliver an accurate message about social studies.
Keep in mind that opinion leaders are not always what might be called the "most important people" in a community. They may be the president of the bank or the mayor; however, they may also be a soccer coach or others actively involved in your community. Opinion leaders (Key Communicators) are determined by how many people they influence--they have people power, not necessarily position power.
Try these steps to make opinion leaders work for you!
- Pull together a small group of colleagues and brainstorm the names of opinion leaders in your area. Start with a manageable number of people; you can always add more.
- Send a letter to those individuals, inviting them to an initial meeting of your Key Communicator group. Follow up with a phone call to encourage their participation.
- At the meeting indicate that you believe they are leaders in your area, that they communicate with many other people, and that you hope to gain their understanding of the importance of social studies education so they can communicate about it. Indicate that the more citizens know about social studies education, the more they can support local education. The bottom line is that students will benefit.
- Then, ask whether they have any questions about social studies, and distribute any appropriate handout materials. Urge them to share this information, and ask them to contact you with any questions they may have during the year.
You may want to create a quarterly e-mail for your Key Communicators to keep in touch with them. If possible, have an annual meeting to update these people and keep in touch.
Some schools and school districts have Key Communicators. If your district does, seek the opportunity to communicate with that group regarding social studies.
2. See for Yourself Programs
There's no better way to shape attitudes than to give people the chance to see things for themselves. This is interpersonal communication at its most effective. This is especially important in overcoming the attitude that social studies education is what it was 30 years ago when today's adults were in school.
A Social Studies Student for a Day program could be an effective "See for Yourself" activity for this campaign. Consider these steps:
- Brainstorm the names of key leaders in your state or community. Develop a short list. Then develop a list of schools where social studies education is effective, and match each leader to a school. Make sure to explain the program to principals or other school administrators and obtain support.
- Have someone from the school contact the leader and invite him or her to spend a day at the school as a student in various social studies classes. Explain that you believe social studies education is essential in creating effective citizens and you would like the leader to have a first hand opportunity to see what is happening in today's social studies classroom.
- At the end of the day, set aside some time to sit down with the leader and respond to any questions he or she may have. Also, offer some materials on social studies.
Keep in touch with that leader, whether it's inviting him or her to a school awards assembly, having lunch together, or sending an occasional letter.
Some educators who use Student for a Day programs, make sure that a test is being given by the students to the visitors on the day the leader attends class. Consider that to show first hand what a student is expected to learn. Or bring in a leader at a time when students are reporting on extensive projects such as History Day, are involved in a We the People competition, a mock trial or an effective class simulation accompanied by relevant debriefings to show student learning.
3. What's Right with Social Studies
All of us have opportunities almost every day to promote social studies education. Since we are recognized as educators, people are likely to ask us questions about schools and social studies in the supermarket checkout line, at the new youth recreation center, at the gym or spa, at a sporting event, at school functions, at churches, mosques, synagogues, etc. Each question is an opportunity to build greater awareness of the importance of social studies education and our successes. The concern is whether we are ready to speak up for social studies and take advantage of that opportunity.
Here's an idea for councils or a small group of NCSS members to try. Bring together colleagues and brainstorm three items:
- Successes of students in social studies, such as awards received and civic leadership conferences/trips attended;
- Accomplishments of social studies educators, such as teacher award winners, national/state leadership positions held, and media recognition for a social studies teacher;
- Contributions social studies students make to the school or community, such as researching and writing a history of the region.
When completed, list your successes on a card, laminate that card, and provide copies to local social studies educators or members of your council. Encourage people to carry this card and use it as a resource to speak up for social studies successes at every opportunity.
Send this list to people who need to know about social studies, such as school board members, local elected officials, state legislators, teachers in other subject areas, and the media.
4. Using Your Best Read Publications
It isn't necessary to start new publications to communicate a message. Sometimes it's best to simply ask yourself which current publications are read most frequently.
In many school systems parents can access school information and student grades through the school website. Some teachers also have their own class websites.
When e-mailing parents include a standard message that lists three or four successes or key points about the importance of social studies education. School districts or individuals can also do this. And don't forget to include the campaign theme.