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President Heafner's Message: Learning, Connecting, and Leading

By Tina L. Heafner, Ph.D.

August 5, 2019

Since joining the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) leadership team in March 2016, I have become intimately aware of the numerous activities of the association. NCSS is a vibrant and active association of passionate volunteers and staff who work tirelessly on behalf of its members, PK-16 social studies students and educators, and the field of social studies education. How is NCSS working for you? Let me share a few examples of what NCSS accomplished in the last month, July 2019.

The mission of NCSS is to advocate and build capacity for high-quality social studies by providing leadership, services, and support to educators. In support of our association's mission, NCSS continues to seek external funding to expand member services and to increase its policy and advocacy initiatives for the betterment of social studies.

To build capacity for high-quality social studies, social studies leaders from across the country gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina for the NCSS Summer Leadership Collaborative (SLC). I had the privilege of hosting the Learn, Connect, and Lead leadership institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte. The purpose of NCSS SLC was to synergistically define advocacy priorities and to advance organizational capacity to lead social studies in troubling times. SLC offered attendees opportunities to: 1) frame leadership initiatives around the right questions that promote democratic habits of mind; 2) connect with leaders who have had success locally and nationally in heightening the importance of social studies and civic education; and 3) collectively develop leadership strategies to respond to educational issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Attendees included presidents, officers, and board members from Affiliated Councils, NCSS committee chairs, school administrators, social studies teachers, and representatives from NCSS Associated Groups. Together we examined how we might leverage our state, national and international networks for the advancement of social studies education. We sought to understand how we can increase the commitment to teaching social studies through inquiry. We explored the role of critical inquiry in social studies.  Critical inquiry is a process of questioning dominant ideology to keep educators open to seeing and making sense of our students, our practices, our schools, and our communities through the reflective examination of our own biases, assumptions, and judgments, however well intentioned, and learning how these things influence our perceptions and actions. We strategized how NCSS and its Affiliated Councils might connect with individuals in a myriad of ways from various cultures, languages, race, and ethnicities. We identified the importance of research partnerships between states, districts, schools and institutions of higher education. 

We grappled with questions of what constitutes social studies and inquiry. We acknowledged that the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework sparked a conversation, but that taking up the mantle of what we do with inquiry is our new charge. The C3 Framework should be a resource to help social studies cement itself in schools. It also needs to be a tool to operationalize the teaching of controversial issues, race, equity, inclusion, political polarization, hard history, cultural diversity, and global and international understanding. NCSS can provide guidance and direction in identifying curriculum development protocols, such as what steps make good curriculum design and/or recommended approaches to assessment of practice, inquiry, and learning. However, the success of NCSS depends on who is willing to lead this work and provide the national service in support of these aims. These conversations led us to ask:

How do we become a leader of the work we are doing? How do we bring this to the forefront of our conversation? How do we make these issues front and center? How do we do this within our state and national networks? There are models that we can learn from.

Exemplars of state and national successes were shared at SLC by David Buchanan, the Director of Field Analysis and Research of iCivics and representative of the CivXNow Coalition; Steve Masyada Ph.D., Director of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship at the University of Central Florida's (UCF) Lou Frey Institute and officer of Florida Council for the Social Studies; Mary Ellen Daneels, a National Board Certified Teacher and 27 year veteran of West Chicago Community High School, representing the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; Rebecca Valbuena, a past recipient of California Council for the Social Studies Outstanding Elementary Teacher Award, a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year, President-Elect of California Council for the Social Studies and Glendora Unified School District, past recipient of California Council for the Social Studies Outstanding Elementary Teacher Award and Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year; and NCSS 2019-2020 President-Elect, Stefanie Wager, social studies consultant for the Iowa Department of Education and President of Iowa Council for the Social Studies.

Other speakers at the 2019 Summer Leadership Collaborative included: New York Times best selling author Kenneth C. Davis; Dan Rothstein, co-director of The Right Question Institute (RQI); Chris Busey Ph.D., a race scholar from the University of Florida who specializes in Afro-Latinx education and Black Diaspora history; Fay Gore, a regional director for the National Geographic Society’s Educator Network and former Education Director (Section Chief) for K-12 Social Studies and Character Education at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction; Wayne Journell Ph.D., Associate Professor of Social Studies Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and editor of Theory & Research in Social Education, the research journal of NCSS; Richard Hartshorne Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Learning Sciences and Educational Research at UCF, and editor of the Contemporary Issues in Technology & Teacher Education (CITE) -general journal and previous CITE - Social Studies co-editor; Alexander Cuenca Ph.D., past chair of the College and University Faculty Assembly (CUFA) and chair of the NCSS Task Force for Teacher Education Standards, which developed the National Standards for the Preparation of Social Studies Teachers; urban education policy scholar at UNC-Charlotte, Bettie Ray Butler, Ph.D.; Cherié N. Graham, Ph.D., principal of Lake Norman Charter Middle School in Huntersville, North Carolina. 

I want to personally thank each of the aforementioned presenters for their important contributions to 2019 NCSS SLC.  The questions they posed and the expert information they shared, led us to coalesce around five key leadership directives.

  1. While we recognize the legacy of social studies marginalization, we, members and leaders of NCSS, need to look for solutions and advocate for explicit and actionable steps, e.g. a minimum of 45 minutes of social studies education every day for every student.  Getting policy support is critical. How might we humanize social studies so that policy makers realize the importance of access to quality social studies education? 
  2. As advocates of social studies in our classrooms, schools, communities, districts, states, nation, and world, do we know the why of social studies? What is our why? Can we clearly articulate to our allies and supporters? Who are our social studies allies? Policy pushes can affect change, such as civics successes in Florida and Illinois, when they are a unified ask and are backed by political allies. 
  3. The social studies community has grappled with the focus of social studies for 99 years.  Have we been asking the right questions in search of this focus?  Is it possible that we have always had a focus—an interdisciplinary subject that is nimble and flexible enough to be responsive to changing times, diversity, and the complexity of civicness? Is the scope of our focus broad enough for the global and digital society?
  4. Social Studies asks have to be specific and actionable. Communication campaigns are needed to articulate relevancy and value as well as action and messaging, but these must be context specific to be successful. Networking and belonging are the cornerstones of NCSS and its Affiliated Councils. Can we leverage networks in support of a national policy campaign?   
  5. Collaboration is key.  The NCSS Annual Conference continues to be one of the largest networking events available to social studies educators. How might we build on our successes to enhance the conference experience (e.g. partnerships with other organizations to expand conference offerings)? How might we do business differently to connect people both online and offline? How might we think more systematically about how to build partnership between all members, other professional organizations, businesses, foundations, and a plethora of digital resources? How might we purposefully and thoughtfully engage with other countries? In 2020, NCSS will celebrate its centennial. What’s happened in the last century to lead NCSS into the next 100 years?

These five leadership points will guide the work of NCSS this year as we strive toward our association's vision: A world in which all students are educated and inspired for lifelong inquiry and informed civic action. Next year, NCSS President-Elect Stefanie Wager (2020-2021), will be leading the 2020 NCSS Summer Leadership Institute. I invite all social studies leaders to join her in this important work of defining the leadership trajectory and future work of NCSS. 

In closing, I invite you to join me in Austin, Texas, November 22-24, 2019 for the 99th Annual Conference.  The conference not only offers attendees a chance to network and learn about the latest trends in teaching and learning social studies, it also offers expanded sessions on geography and geographic education with its partnership with the National Council for Geographic Education. Moreover, the conference has enhanced local programming for Texas educators thanks to the NCSS partnership with Texas Council for the Social Studies. Make your conference travel plans today: