Building Administrative Buy-In for Civic Learning

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Three weeks into the #CivicsIsBack summer tour, we have fielded the recurring question from civics teachers on how to build buy-in among school administrators. In a decade-plus of advocating for the civic mission of Illinois schools, I can’t claim that we have completely solved this riddle, but I do have at least a partial answer to this perplexing question and invite readers to help us with the final proof.

Starting from the top, we have built strong relationships with regional superintendents of schools (ROE’s) throughout the state. They serve as important liaisons to local school superintendents and principals, often convening them quarterly or even monthly. I have twice addressed the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools and then proceeded to communicate with the group regularly by letter and email. Individual ROE’s helped us distribute the Illinois Civics Teacher Survey last fall, recruit teacher mentors this spring, and a handful are hosting regional workshops this summer.

Several years ago, we worked with the DuPage Regional Office of Education to create a civics-oriented academy for administrators. While it has yet to run, the course can be offered through any ROE in the state and we intend to go back to the well shortly.

We have also engaged the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance, twice speaking at their annual conference in Chicago, and recently addressing the Illinois Principals Association in Springfield. While the Alliance opposed the new civics course requirement, we know their partnership moving forward is pivotal to the success of our implementation efforts.

Finally, it goes without saying that our civics teachers in the trenches are the best advocates for the civic mission of their schools. We begin each of our trainings by preaching to the proverbial choir, touting the benefits of civic learning by making an empirical case for our craft. It’s then up to our choir to convert the skeptics, school administrators included.

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