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Executive Director's Message: "Virtual Learning"

I hope you and your communities are keeping safe as many of us continue adjusting to work, recreation, and life mostly at home, and increasingly online. I posted my last message nearly a month ago, which feels like a lifetime ago. At that time, I shared plans to move upcoming NCSS meetings online to keep members and staff safe as most of the country began to shelter in place. Since then, we have also moved forward to move major summer programs online.

Our work has evolved now from ensuring that all NCSS members, staff, and partners are safe, healthy, and informed of proper guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition to that essential ongoing work, we are planning for the support our NCSS community needs to transition curriculum design, instruction, assessment, professional development, and networking to virtual spaces. There are many challenges to structure virtual learning effectively beyond providing high-quality content and instructional resources in an online format; there are profound and systemic equity issues of access, infrastructure, and inclusiveness for the education system to address nationwide. All it takes is a slow broadband connection or a broken link for us to realize the fragility of distance learning. While many students have access to broadband and a computer to join their classes online, many others struggle to receive and work with printed packets of instructional materials. 

Our social studies community must continue to advocate for equity of instructional time at every grade level – especially for early childhood and elementary learners – which is further compromised as remote school learning is held during shorter hours of the day online. A priority for online elementary-level instruction is often to sustain literacy and math instruction, with perhaps some science and “specials” posted weekly. This mirrors the lack of priority that social studies instruction received in traditional school schedules before the pandemic. As school systems increase their capacity to structure online learning – and provide more resources to help all student access their classes online – we must advocate for such instruction to be grounded in developmentally-appropriate social studies content. Continuing to develop student achievement in literacy is a civic responsibility of all schools – and preparation for civic life is what social studies is all about!

As I wrote last month, a stronger foundation for online social studies education was already overdue; now, we have an opportunity to address inequities of instructional time and invest in social studies as the foundation of a well-rounded education through online learning. Last month, I shared the three major areas in which NCSS is working to transform itself right now:

  1. Digital content and instructional resources aligned to NCSS standards and the C3 Framework.
  2. Online networking through NCSS membership groups.
  3. Professional learning programs in virtual spaces.

My last message focused on the first two areas: digital content and online networking. Here is an update on our third focus area: virtual professional learning.

Our Summer Leadership Institute is now offered online and will continue to be held on Monday, July 20 and Tuesday, July 21 from the convenience of your own home. Attendees will develop social studies advocacy plans in both the local and national levels, to shape the future direction of our profession. We encourage leaders and teams from our current Affiliated Councils and internal leadership groups to attend this important advocacy event. Our unique format will include pre-reading activities before each session, which will be held online from 12:00 – 3:00 PM EDT both days. We intend for this year’s institute to launch a full-year focus on social studies advocacy to celebrate our 100th anniversary year.

Our popular Inquiry Design Model Institute, co-sponsored and facilitated by C3 Teachers, is back for its sixth year of engaging educators in inquiry development aligned to the C3 Framework. In addition to creating inquiries for your social studies classroom, you will receive continued online support after the institute as you prepare for the upcoming school year. All attendees will also receive a bonus copy of our NCSS book, Inquiry Design Model: Building Inquiries in Social Studies, co-authored by C3 Teachers’ own Kathy Swan, John Lee, and S.G. Grant.

Registration is now open for both summer institutes.

We continue plans for our 100th Annual Conference to launch vision for the next century of social studies! NCSS continues to monitor all health and safety protocols and guidance regarding conferences and meetings. We are actively exploring all options to provide the best possible way for us to celebrate social studies education this December. Our conference planning committee and staff are working hard to make this year’s annual meeting a deeply relevant and comprehensive program. Please stay tuned for more information. Registration will open soon.

Finally, I often hear from members that one of the strongest membership benefits is right in your mailbox: our journals. I want to assure you that Social Education and Social Studies and the Young Learner are being printed as usual. NCSS members and subscribers in the United States will receive their copies in the mail. Members and subscribers outside the United States should expect delays in receiving their NCSS journals because of disruptions in international transportation, and because a number of countries have imposed restrictions on inbound international shipments. Copies for NCSS members and subscribers that cannot be mailed internationally at present are being stored at the printing press and will be shipped or mailed when the situation permits. Our NCSS journals are always accessible online. You can search or browse our publications going back over two decades. Special articles from our recent publications are selected and posted in the NCSS Digital Library for easy access.

Now more than ever, please keep in touch and let us know how we can best serve you as we transition to virtual learning support and programs. Please stay safe – your NCSS community is thinking of you and here to support you in every step of this new journey in education. Now more than ever, thank you for your membership and your partnership. We will make social studies teaching and learning stronger as we approach our second century of preparing all students for college, career, and civic life. We are in this together.