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Implementing the C3 Framework: What is our Task as Social Studies Leaders?

Michelle M. Herczog, Ed.D.
President-Elect, National Council for the Social Studies

This article originally appeared in the NSSSA Leader Newsletter

Implementing new standards, any standards, calls upon teachers to update their practices, build content knowledge, acquire new resources, and prepare for new ways to assess student learning. It requires a great deal of work, time, and dedication – a “big lift” for many already overburdened with an ever-increasing list of responsibilities. And as we know, asking people to change practices they have worked hard to perfect is daunting and sometimes unrealistic. As instructional leaders, it is important to value teachers’ expertise when guiding them to explore new approaches to teaching and learning. Establishing a culture of continuous improvement is vital to this work. Building trust, collaboration, and collegiality establishes an environment for the stages of implementation to occur. It is also imperative to provide the support needed to be successful - high quality job-embedded professional learning, resources, and time to acquire new learning, develop new practices, test them out in classrooms, share findings with colleagues, reflect on feedback and revise lessons as needed.

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, like a number of other initiatives, calls upon social studies teachers to reexamine their instructional practices to enhance the rigor of the social studies disciplines and build critical thinking, problem solving, and participatory skills of students to become engaged citizens. Teachers’ ability to be successful depends on the support they receive from social studies leaders – instructional coaches, department chairs, curriculum directors, administrators, and others who have deep knowledge of the C3 Framework, the instructional shifts for classroom practice, and the ability to facilitate collegial dialogue to build the structures to support a system-wide approach. has a number of powerful tools to guide school-level instructional leaders in beginning the work of understanding and implementing the Common Core. The areas of consideration and guidelines described are equally valuable to social studies leaders who are moving forward to help teachers implement the C3 Framework. In that vein, the following guidelines, adapted from the are also useful to social studies leaders in their work to implement the C3 Framework at school sites.

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards is relatively new to many in the educational community. As a leader, this is an opportunity for you to not only model quality leadership, but quality learning as well. That process of learning will continue over the next several years. Your learning and leadership will likely impact your work and the work of teachers for years to come. Areas of consideration are described below. An accompanying powerpoint presentation to guide discussion in each of the areas can be found at the National Council for the Social Studies website at

  • Knowledge: As an instructional leader, it is your responsibility to understand the instructional shifts required by the C3 Framework. Many aspects of the C3 Framework will be familiar and will not likely be recognized as a shift – using inquiry to drive instruction, analyzing multiple perspectives, and drawing conclusions are hallmarks of high quality social studies instruction. However, the focus on compelling and supporting questions described in Dimension One and the focus on communicating conclusions and taking informed action in Dimension Four will likely stretch teachers’ thinking. Embracing your role as an instructional leader means knowing the content your teachers need to teach, the inquiry arc of the C3 Framework, and an understanding of the shifts teachers need to make in their practice to achieve the goals of the Framework.

Introduce teachers to the C3 Framework by providing background information – the rationale, the process for development, the organizations involved, the intended audiences, the goals and objectives, the guiding principles, and then of course, the instructional shifts as described below.

Instructional Shifts for Social Studies

Shift #1: Inquiry is at the center.

  • A set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that frame the ways students learn social studies content.
  • Speaks to the intersection of ideas and learners.
  • Focus on the use of questions to spark curiosity, guide instruction, deepen investigations, acquire rigorous content, and apply knowledge and ideas in real world settings to enable students to become active and engaged citizens in the 21st century.

Shift #2: Disciplinary integrity and interdisciplinary connections matter.


  • Using deliberative processes
  • Participating in school settings
  • Following rules


  • Making economic decisions
  • Using economic data
  • Identifying prices in a market


  • Reasoning spatially
  • Constructing maps
  • Using geographic data


  • Classifying historical sources
  • Determining the purpose of an historical source
  • Analyzing cause and effect in history

Connections to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

  • citing textual evidence
  • understanding disciplinary vocabulary
  • distinguishing and using fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text
  • distinguishing competing or alternating claims
  • narrating historical events.

Shift #3: Informed action and application of knowledge is clear and present.

  • Deliberation with others to define and address issues builds problem solving and collaboration skills
  • Reasoning, analyzing and communicating conclusions builds critical thinking and communication skills
  • Influencing institutions builds dispositions for engaging in civic life.
  • Applying knowledge to real world problems prepares students for college, career, and civic life.

Shift #4: The Inquiry Arc represents an instructional arc – a frame for teaching and learning.

  • Developing questions and planning inquiries
  • Compelling questions focus on real social problems, issues, and curiosities about how the world works.
  • Supporting questions scaffold students’ investigations into the ideas and issues behind a compelling question.
  • Applying disciplinary concepts and tools
  • Evaluating sources and using evidence
  • Communicating conclusions and taking informed action

After studying the C3 Framework at length and examining the instructional shifts, invite teachers to use the C3 Framework Instructional Guide developed by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, found at The Guides invite teachers to focus on the specific aspects of each of the four dimensions in their respective grade span in grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, or 9-12. Each one includes the descriptions of each dimension for each grade span. Directions for use are in the preface.

Rather than leafing through the entire C3 Framework, the guides allow teachers to focus on the specific aspects of their grade span as a lens for examining their current practices. The template included in the guide allows teachers to stretch their existing work to include all four dimensions.

Deepen teachers’ understanding of the instructional shifts by using the Discussion Guide to facilitate conversation.

  • Vision: Implementing the C3 Framework is an excellent opportunity for focus and coherence throughout your school to prepare students for college, career and civic life. Utilize the key questions below to guide your work. Don't leave the work of making connections among C3 Framework implementation efforts and the other activities of the school or district to the teachers to do alone. This connection should be obvious and overt.
  • How will you assess the outcomes?
  • What will professional development look like?
  • What will you look for in classroom observations?
  • What resources do you have to support implementation?
  • Money? Time? Energy?
  • How will you address existing policies and procedures?
  • What supports are needed for English Learners and students with special needs?

  • Metrics: As with any successful change management exercise, it will be critical to have clear, measurable goals and to commit to collecting data on progress toward those goals so that appropriate adjustments and support can be implemented. It is important to be able to clearly articulate what the C3 Framework looks like in the classroom. What would principals, instructional coaches, parents, and others expect to see when they see a C3 classroom in action?

Getting to Measurable, Meaningful Metrics

  • Build Capacity: Support teachers by offering focus and coherence in their work, support their understanding of the C3 Framework, recognize their authentic development in the change, provide them with quality tools and resources, not quick fixes. Find your early adopters and make them champions and advocates for the work of the C3 Framework.

Utilize the handout below to process and plan strategies to support individuals in this change process. This activity is best done in groups. The framework includes the opportunity to name individual leaders in each group. This process supports the concept that the work of instructional leadership is more than simply creating a plan, and instead requires differentiation in the needs of individual teachers.

The discussion here should center on the evidence that would be relevant to determining where individuals are in the continuum. Another important note to message here is that not all teachers will become advocates and innovators. If the participants in your setting develop a thorough description and evidence statements around each of these levels, it could well inform a set of metrics for the overall implementation effort.

Building Capacity for the Work

  • Stay Engaged: Continue to seek out current information on assessments, best practices, criteria for quality materials. Take advantage of the many resources, classroom exemplars, professional learning opportunities that are being developed by social studies experts across the nation. Borrow, use, adapt the work of others to meet the needs of the students in your school. Visit the National Council for the Social Studies website and attend the NCSS and NSSSA annual conferences to learn, share, and collaborate with others.

Utilize the handout below to identify the challenges, opportunities, and next steps for implementing the C3 Framework as a continuous cycle of inquiry.

Reflecting on Actions to Implement the College, Career, and Civic Life C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards

Finally, instructional leaders should engage with their state education departments. Seek out information regarding resources they have available, timelines, and resources for support. Remember, you are part of this learning system as well. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to engage teachers in a marvelous journey to increase the rigor and relevance of the social studies so we can truly prepare all students for college, career, and civic life in the 21st century.

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