Early Returns Promising on Civics Course Implementation Efforts

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

In order to understand the impact of our civic course implementation efforts, and better serve teachers, schools, and districts moving forward, we have partnered with our friends at the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University for formative and summative feedback and evaluation. Last summer, we offered nine two-day regional workshops for teachers throughout Illinois. Attendees (237 in total) completed pre- and post-workshop surveys, and the results are shaping our plans for this coming summer and beyond.

Teachers identified several reasons for attending the workshops, but a thirst for additional classroom resources and alignment with the emerging state social studies standards stood atop the list. Also significant was exploring opportunities for student electoral engagement and understanding the new civics course requirement. It is interesting to note that professional development credits and pressure from administrators to attend ranked low and last, respectively.

I’m most proud of the fact that these workshops appear to have achieved their desired impact in improving teacher confidence with the proven civic learning practices embedded in the new course requirement: direct instruction, discussion, service-learning, and simulations (see Figure 6 below). Teachers also emerged more confident in making the case for the importance of civic learning, its alignment with the Danielson Framework, tapping into a peer network for instructional support, and reaching out to local leaders for assistance.

The trainings surpassed expectations. One attendee proclaimed,
It was awesome! For the first time in 21 years of teacher I feel supported and have a network of people to rely (upon) and go to for assistance! Moreover, democracy is a verb and I AM EXCITED about teaching my classes in a totally different way.

Yet challenges remain, including the perennial roadblocks of limited time and resources. Others pointed to low student interest and engagement in class, lack of administrative support, difficulty “building buy-in across staff,” and community resistance, the “closed mindsets of small town communities…” in particular.

While we don’t claim to hold a magic wand, our team is committed to meeting these needs through in-person and online professional development opportunities, an expanded resource section on our website, additional outreach to and training opportunities for school administrators, and doubling down on our teacher mentor program.

On this final point, attendees crave “more connections with other area teachers” and “continued contact with other professionals.” They “…like having a teacher mentor (they) can call on…,” considering it a “big help.” And attendees value “access to the mentors which they are more than willing to give.”

I encourage you to read the entire report and stay tuned for more information about our mentoring program and summer professional development opportunities refined by its results.

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