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In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week this past May, we asked for stories of what inspired you to become a social studies teacher. As summer vacation is in full swing and many of us are deep in our own summer professional learning, now is a great time to ask that question again. Summer is both a time for rejuvenation and preparation for the next school year – a time when many educators become full-time learners and immerse in study tours, teaching institutes, curriculum writing projects, or own coursework toward a graduate degree or new certification.

Here’s a small sample of responses we received to our interest in knowing from you #WhyITeachSocialStudies:

@StudentsHistory: I want to make the world a better place by showing kids that all cultures have a vibrant history we can learn from.
@shelinawarren: Brenda Bradley, my American Legal Systems teacher had a knack for caring, showing love, & making class fun!
@steelergal703: Mr. Gracy 9th grade. He taught American History like a story. Learning without realizing it!
@MarkJWestpfahl: What better way 2 engage Ss & help guide their understanding of the world around them through power of #perspective.
@AntonSchulzki: Thanks to dad Anton F. Schulzki Social Studies teacher Morristown HS & Dick Canon of Roxbury HS

It’s inspiring to trace back our love of social studies to an individual teacher. Whether it’s a favorite teacher, friend, family member, or passion for the subjects themselves, there are many things that inspire us to devote our life’s journey to teaching – and to understanding the world through the social science disciplines. As we engage in professional learning, study tours, coursework, curriculum planning, and time connecting with our families and friends this summer, please continue to share your thoughts on #WhyITeachSocialStudies with us @NCSSNetwork, and let’s keep the conversation going. We have a strong network of social studies educators around the country and world to learn from and share with. Even if your journey takes you away from a K-12 classroom, you are always part of an extended community of social studies educators.

These stories inspire me to start asking #WhyILearnSocialStudies. Last month, I had the honor of serving as a judge for National History Day. It was humbling to stand with over 3,000 students and their teachers and parents on an outdoor University of Maryland field on a warm Sunday summer evening and hear their excitement about history, research, and collaboration. Students came from all over the United States and other countries to share their award-winning work and compete for national recognition. My time at National History Day involved meeting many students who shared their research and process for historical inquiry. During one portion of the judging process, we asked students to share perspectives about their research and what they learned through their participation in the program. Here’s a small sample of what students told us:

“This project made me a better writer.”
“I got chills holding the original signed document in my own hands.”
“We have stayed in touch with [a civil rights activist interviewed for a project] to keep asking more questions.”
“My project is not done – there is always more I want to add to it.”

These responses, and many more like them overhead that day, further my belief that our students are highly engaged in our social studies disciplines when we give them meaningful chances to do inquiry. The first comment in particular – that historical inquiry helps students become better writers – is supported by our own research published this year, in which almost 95 percent of students reported gaining valuable and specific academic skills as a result of their social studies coursework. Our students’ comments show the strong alignment between competencies they develop through programs like National History Day with the strategic priorities from NCSS that can guide social studies education for the future. It takes all five NCSS priorities (Collaboration, Communication, Innovation, Inclusiveness, and Influence & Leadership) for real engagement in inquiry. When that engagement happens – when all five priorities work together through an inquiry process – is when social studies learning comes alive and inspires a whole new generation of thinkers and problem-solvers.

This summer, as many of us become learners ourselves, be inspired that there are hundreds of thousands of students in our schools who eagerly take on complex research projects in the social studies beyond the formal curriculum, are engaged by the inquiry process, and dive into compelling questions about the world around them. Our students find that research in social studies makes them better writers; connecting with historical leaders and thinkers makes them effective collaborators; and that the inquiry process is never really over….it is ongoing and deepens over time.

This inspiration reminds me #WhyILearnSocialStudies.