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Meet NCSS President Tina L. Heafner, Ph.D.

1. Congratulations on being elected as the 2019-2020 NCSS President. What was your path to the NCSS Presidency? 

It is an honor to represent social studies educators across the nation and internationally as president of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS).  To the members of NCSS, thank you for having confidence in me and for allowing me to serve as your president. Never in my dreams did I envision I would be where I am today.  I am humbled by the many people who have served as a light unto my path; who challenged me to consider possibilities and to work hard in pursuit of far-reaching goals. I owe much appreciation to the students, teachers, mentors, and colleagues who have supported my professional growth and helped me recognize the power of professional relationships in defining my career, work, and personal success.  I am grateful for NCSS and for the many friendships and opportunities that membership in this great organization has afforded. To all, I thank you.   

My path to the NCSS presidency is one of many paths leading to new and unexpected paths. I am from a small farming community, Shoals, that sits at the foot of the Pilot Mountain in Western North Carolina. I attended a small rural school.  I drove a dirt bike, primed tobacco, and picked strawberries. My career goal was to be a teacher. Following in the footsteps of my mother, Glenda Lane, the first college graduate in her family, and embracing the work ethic of my father, Alan Lane, I am a social studies educator with over twenty-eight years of experience and a professor of social studies education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte).

My educational career began in an urban high school civics and economics classroom.  My first year of teaching also marked a key educational policy shift. The year I entered teaching was the first year North Carolina introduced high stakes accountability assessments and social studies was one of the big five--subject area tests calculated in a school’s effectiveness and quality measure. Yet, in the midst of these new standardized testing pressures, I found opportunities for creative curriculum design, such as volunteering to be the first to utilize technology for teaching content, developing an integrated English/language arts and social studies seminar, engaging students with their communities through service learning, and become a mentor to preservice teachers.  These opportunities led me to seek other leadership paths that ultimately took me out of the classroom and into higher education. I accepted a graduate assistantship at Wake Forest University and took on the responsibility of teaching K-12 social studies methods and supervising social studies preservice and master teachers. This opportunity led to my decision to pursue my doctoral.   

Although I attended the state and national social studies conferences since my undergraduate studies and found these experiences inspiring in my early teaching years, it was through my interaction with university colleagues that I realized the importance of getting involved in professional organizations. I volunteered for committees through the National Council for the Social Studies and sought out state-level leadership opportunities.  My first NCSS committee appointment was to the Citizenship Committee. On this committee, I found a great mentor from South Dakota who helped me in making many new national and international connections through NCSS. I also was elected to the North Carolina Council for the Social Studies Board of Directors and represented NC in the NCSS House of Delegates for several years. This led to a new path of leadership in the HOD— the Steering Committee.  In my third year I was selected as the HOD Steering Committee Chair and served as an Ad Hoc member of the NCSS Board of Directors. My service to the NCSS Board of Directors might have ended fifteen years ago, but this opportunity inspired me to continue state and national service. In subsequent years, I was elected as president of the North Carolina Professors of Social Studies Education, held leadership roles in the International Society for Technology and Education, and served the NCSS College and University Faculty Assembly as a member of the Executive Board and as its chair. My continued service to NCSS on national committees, task forces, and grant projects, affirmed my commitment to national service and ultimately led to my decision to run for NCSS president.  


2. What do you think are the most valuable things NCSS offers educators today?

NCSS is the pulse of social studies.  NCSS leads in providing direction for the field and in defining the purpose of social studies.  NCSS’s publication such as the Teaching the College, Career, and Civic Life Framework and the National Standards for the Preparation of Social Studies Teachers position inquiry as the core of teaching and learning social studies.  These documents along with advocacy efforts and professional learning supports stride to move PK-16 social studies toward inquiry. NCSS bulletins, like Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom, and journals, such as Social Education, Middle Level Learning, and Social Studies and the Young Learner, offer innovative and cutting-edge instructional practices and content applications. Position statements (see also provide a conduit for communicating the values and ideas that are of importance to NCSS and its members.  

As a professional organization, NCSS brings together like minded individuals who share a common interest in promoting social studies. The mission of National Council for the Social Studies is to advocate and build capacity for high-quality social studies by providing leadership, services, and support to educators. The Annual Conference continues to be the hallmark professional learning event of NCSS. NCSS also offers educators a wide array of professional learning opportunities. These include webinars throughout the year.  Here are two of my favorites from earlier this year: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport: The Vital Role of Social Studies in Safeguarding Our Rights and Teaching the EU: Bringing Modern Europe to your Classroom.  NCSS offers summer institutes such as NCSS Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preperation (CAEP) Specialized Professional Association (SPA) Report Preparer Training and connects members with other summer professional learning experiences like How We Argue: A Workshop for Social Studies Teachers.  Annually NCSS provides leadership training and I have the honor of hosting this year’s Summer Leadership Collaborative at UNC Charlotte (see   

NCSS amplifies our collective voice as social studies educators through personal connection, professional collaboration and a shared mission to educate and inspire all students for lifelong inquiry, and to act with compassion, intentionality, and forethought as engaged citizens in American democracy and our global society. Through our collective discourse about social studies education, social studies educators compel each other to build the knowledge and capacities of students to engage in critical inquiry and to take informed, thoughtful action. 

3. Can you please share with us your three goals for 2019-2020 as NCSS President? 

Earlier I mentioned the importance of the year I began teaching.  My teaching experiences and the pressures of high stakes testing revealed many unanticipated challenges in education.  These experiences along with collaboration with colleagues who shared similar concerns about the state of social studies led to a line of inquiry – the policies that shape students’ opportunities to learn and how these opportunities are constrained—that I have spent a good deal of my research career exploring and seeking ways to shift policy in favor of social studies. In the post-truth era, perhaps social studies has found its Sputnik Moment, nevertheless, change will only come from organized efforts and NCSS is well positioned to work with other professional organizations to advocate for greater access to social studies and civics. However, what we do in social studies is of critical importance to improve the state of social studies.  At the core of our initiatives needs to be turning practice toward inquiry. Greater understanding of race, equity, and inclusion in the social studies needs also to be a focus of NCSS’s work. A third and final goal for this year is to develop guidelines for digital civic engagement and digital-mindedness. In a world where facts are dismissed, algorithms define our networks of information, media manipulates opinions, and cyber security is a fundamental concern, how we think about social studies, inquiry and questioning must be responsive to the new demands in our changing society.


4. Your conference theme is titled, “Informed Action: Agency, Advocacy, Activism.” What would you like attendees to take away from our annual gathering in Austin, Texas? 

As deliberate social studies educators we prepare all students through high quality social studies instruction to be educated and inspired for lifelong, critical inquiry, and to engage in informed, thoughtful action. Our shared aim is to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for participatory citizenship in American democracy and our interdependent, global society.  To achieve these aims, educators thrive with opportunities to interact with other professionals, to exchange ideas around high-leverage practices in the field, to learn research-informed strategies and practices, and to build a professional network of like-minded colleagues. This is the value of the Annual Conference. The conference theme this year is: “Informed Action: Agency, Advocacy, Activism.”

Informed action is the cornerstone of C3 Inquiry.  Not only is it the fourth dimension of the C3 framework, it is the way in which students and teachers operationalize inquiry.  Action is the application of knowledge in the pursuit of our questions—it is what students do with inquiry and the purposes which define future inquiries.  To inquire is not enough in a digital culture that has eliminated authority (e.g. tertiary knowledge) and created virtual communities of information makers that greatly shape our thinking and define our lives.  Being informed is more than learning content; it's understanding the processes and tools by which information is produced, manipulated, and reshaped for agenda-driven purposes.  The way we teach social studies has to be responsive to the changing times.  It has to shift to meet the new demands of digital civic engagement and civic life in general.  Focusing the conference on informed action was an intentional decision to create a professional learning opportunity to explore teaching and learning of social studies in the post-truth era.    

Social studies is learning, doing, being, growing, and acting.  The questions we pose, the inquiries we pursue lead us: to a deeper understanding of ourselves and others, to appreciate the complexity of the world in which we live, to grapple with difficult topics, and to speak out against systemic injustices. The study of social studies enables us to not only have a voice, but to actively engage in our local, national, and international communities as informed, educated, and compassionate citizens. Our collective civic engagement is not simply about advocacy or action, but also about listening, questioning, respectful dialogue, and seeking common ground around shared democratic values.  Social studies teaches us that knowledge is not neutral; it is socially constructed.  Thus, the real value of knowledge is what one can do with that knowledge in pursuit of inquiry.  Questions are central to how we wrangle with knowledge and metacognitive awareness of the validity and reliability of the sources of that form our knowledge.  Examining how we communicate and act upon our knowledge compels us to realize the importance of critical inquiry.  In fact, critical inquiry is at the heart of social studies and in practice is informed action through agency, advocacy, and activism.  

Informed action is what good citizens do. Citizenship education, the primary purpose of social studies, is about transforming and engaging. Our notions of citizens and citizenship define how we question, gather evidence, deliberate, learn, interact with others, recognize and respond to issues, formulate conclusions and use this information to act. In today’s information rich culture, being informed is more than being knowledgeable, it is about the ways we create knowledge through critical inquiry and what we do with that knowledge in pursuit of inquiry. Questions define our experiences and students’ learning opportunities. As a professional organization, NCSS leads in asking questions that are central to the purpose of social studies.  What are our notions of citizenship and are these inclusive?  How do these notions compel informed action? What action results from our good work in developing good citizens? What comes of it as citizens? How do people talk about social studies topics, such as citizenship, democracy, capitalism, debt, immigration, race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality environmental issues, and use of public and private spaces?  How do we come together to talk about the many ways we talk about these and other social studies topics? How do we act on this knowledge as informed citizens? Social studies education is about preparing enlightened citizens who realize their capacity to take action in educated, compassionate, and compelling ways. It is a journey and critical inquiry maps students’ paths to informed action.  

What I hope attendees at the 2019 NCSS/NCGE/TCSS Annual Conference take away is thoughtful consideration of questions leading the fields of social studies and geography education.  How might we, as social studies and geography educators, teach, empower, and engage students in informed action? How might we as agentic beings take formed action to advocate for our students, our communities, and our profession?  It is also my hope that the conference initiates a collective dialogue that will guide NCSS in achieving its vision for social studies: What might we do together to create a world in which all students are educated and inspired for lifelong inquiry and informed civic action?  


5. What are you currently reading? Do you have any summer reading recommendations for teachers? 

Each summer, I set my goal to read at least a book a week.  I also use summer time to catch up on my journal article reading.  I like to mix social studies texts with other educational readings.  I include in my reading selections picture books and books for adolescent readers.  I also select a few books to re-read from prior years. Here’s my 2019 reading list. 

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • But I’m not a Racist!: Tools for Well Meaning Whites by Kathy Obear
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond 
  • Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom by David A. Sousa and Carol Ann Tomlinson
  • Flunking Democracy: Schools, Courts, and Civic Participation by Michael Rebell
  • How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
  • Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana 
  • Never Caught: The Washington’s Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
  • Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap by Paul Gorski 
  • Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Ducan Tonatiuh
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling
  • Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach by Paulo Freire
  • Teaching about Religion in the Social Studies Classroom edited by Charles C. Haynes
  • Teaching the Struggle for Civil Rights, 1948-1976 edited by Whitney G. Blankenship
  • The Book in Question: Why and How Reading is in Crisis by Carol Jago
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  • Three books by Don Brown: 
    • The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
    • Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
    • The Great American Dust Bowl
  • Two Books by Kenneth C. Davis:
    • More Deadly than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War
    • In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives
  • Unpacking Fake News: An Educator’s Guide to Navigating the Media with Students edited by Wayne Journell 
  • Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba 
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Diangelo and Michael Erik Dyson
  • Why Learn History (When Its Already on Your Phone) by Sam Wineburg


6. What is your favorite NCSS memory? 
It’s really difficult to narrow many years of wonderful experiences to a single memory or moment in time.  The NCSS Annual Conference each year is an event I eagerly anticipate. I have truly enjoyed my years of presenting at NCSS, attending sessions, listening to featured and keynote speakers, participating in the House of Delegates, doing committee work, serving on task forces, and most of all, talking with people who share a passion for social studies.  I value the professional exchange of ideas and networking with friends and colleagues. Many of the relationships that I have developed through NCSS have been critical to other aspects of my professional career and continue to influence my work. I look forward to welcoming you to the 99th NCSS Annual Conference in Austin, TX this November.