The 21st century has been a very interesting time for those of us who are responsible for the organization of a social studies program within a public school setting. Let’s take a moment to review… 9/11 refocused politicians and ultimately society on the role and responsibility that comes with democracy. Hurricane Katrina made us reevaluate the difference between equity and equality in addition to the true effects of migration. Finally, the elections of this time period exposed flaws and created questions about democracy, equity, equality, immigration, and the effects of misinformation. If we were to analyze these historical events and draw a conclusion in regards to their effects on society, the conclusion would most definitely center around the overall lacking of true historical thinking skills, the lack of true social studies knowledge in our society and most importantly the need for true social studies leadership within a public school system.
Focus and Refine Your Leadership Skills
If I asked you to close your eyes and mentally list four qualities of a good leader, what would you come up with? Brave… Dedicated… Knowledgeable… Friendly….. Inspiring…? During a visit on the Tonight Show, Brene Brown, author of Dare to Lead, defined a leader as “any person who holds themself accountable for finding the potential in people and processes… we are all leaders.” She went on to list the following skill sets that make the best leaders:
Skill Set #1: Do not tap out of giving and receiving feedback
Skill Set #2: Live their values with supporting behaviors
Skill Set #3: Able to build trust
Skill Set #4: Ability to reset after failure and setback
After watching this program and reflecting, I realized that social studies as a content area/discipline needs stronger leaders. We need leaders who are determined to refine their leadership ability in order to serve and grow teachers, which would increase the relevance of our discipline. So much emphasis is given to both Math and Reading that some elementary campuses barely get to social studies instruction once a week. As a discipline, social studies topics and ideas have been marginalized and used in the media to manipulate and win favor in elections. It is time for those in charge of maintaining social studies in public schools to use leadership and the skill sets listed above to organize a social studies program that teaches and engages both teachers and students.
Be an Advocate
One approach social studies leaders should use is advocacy. Teachers who exhibit the qualities and model the instructional practices that strengthen students should be highlighted and groomed into future leadership. Advocacy also includes strategically placing and offering teachers positions that will grow them i.e. state standard revision/updating committees, textbook review committees, as well as assisting them in joining professional organizations such as NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies) or the American Historical Association. Advocating for students would be to find ways to increase their outside exposure to social studies through UIL programs, field trips, and guest speakers.
Have a Pathway to Success
It is estimated that over four billion people use GPS to aid them in the navigation process. Knowing where you are going prevents wasted time and confusion. In the process of leading your social studies program, it is so important that you have a clear plan! In his book, Your Roadmap to Success, John Maxwell uses the acronym ROADMAP to help leaders focus themselves around the important work they do. Myself and other coordinators of social studies have used this acronym to reflect and decide on next steps in regard to programs and new initiatives. The picture below is a visual representation of my ROADMAP for the current school year. My teachers know this is my focus and see it every time I provide them with professional development. I even make sure all of the professional development offerings I gave this year aligned to these goals. Prior to incorporating John Maxwell’s acronym, I would describe my job as a day to day “putting out fires” and just looking for tasks that I thought a person in my role should do. I was not facilitating change and growth. Now, I have an articulated focus that makes me more purposeful in my actions and guides my work. It also provides clarity to my teachers and gives them a sense of direction.
Photo: iStock by Getty Images
Allow External Input
After I finished drafting my initial goals, I gave them to one of my colleagues to review. She gave me kudos and then asked me a question that stayed with me, “How are you going to make teachers believe they are able to do the work you are asking of them? What is your plan to increase their efficacy?” The look on my face told her that I never thought about the impact increasing teacher efficacy would have in regards to completing my goal. She shared an article from ASCD entitled, "The Past and Future of Teacher Efficacy," written by Thomas R. Guskey. In this article, Mr. Guskey highlighted the importance of creating situations and experiences that allow teachers to see that they are making a difference thus increasing their will. This article directly influenced one of the driving questions in my ROADMAP. When I join teachers for PLC meetings, I am very intentional about making sure to highlight successes based on the data and encouraging teachers to share how they designed their lessons to ensure learning occurred. I want teachers to see their impact and remember this when they get discouraged. I saw immediate benefits in this practice when a teacher who never seemed to want to collaborate joined my curriculum team and emailed me asking me to join them as a thinking partner.
In conclusion, if you dare to be a leader in regards to social studies, make sure to find ways to:
- Focus and refine your overall leadership skills and ability by reflecting and reading
- Advocate for and grow potential leaders
- Create a clear ROADMAP
- Create systems that lead to teacher efficacy
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Shronda L. Fletcher is a K-12 Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator and former social studies teacher in Texas. She has been in education for the past 16 years. Shronda truly believes in the power of social studies education and strives to be an active advocate and educator.