September 2021
Civics In The Middle Newsletter
A newsletter for Illinois teachers to support the implementation of the Illinois middle and high school civics course requirements and K-12 social science standards.
September is the NEW January!

Fall is in the air! For educators, this is our “New Year,” full of resolutions and hopes for a new semester. One of my favorite quotes that captures the possibilities of the autumn season is from the movie, You’ve Got Mail, where Joe Fox, played by Tom Hanks, gushes to his pen pal Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan,

“Don't you love New York in the Fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies… I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”

While we would like to send each and every one of our #CivicsInTheMiddle friends a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils, we will have to make do with sharing an “arrangement” of our favorite ideas and resources to support you as you embark on the 2021-22 school year.

A recent blog post shared our Back to School Tools to Start the New Year with resources to:
  • Reflect on the Past to Inform the Present
  • Implement Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies
  • Engage Student Voice to Create Classroom Norms
  • Build Classroom Community
  • Connect with Parents
  • Respond to Community Concerns about Teaching Social Studies

Be sure to peruse the blog post for resources from ASCD, Edutopia, Teacher 2 Teacher, Facing History and Ourselves, Visible Thinking from Project Zero, and MORE!
Dr. Jonathan Cohen Responds to Adminstrator Questions about School Climate and Returning to School
Last month, the Illinois Civics Hub at the DuPage Regional Office of Education was delighted to host a webinar, Sorting Facts from Fiction- What Districts Can Do to Combat Misinformation in the Current Culture Wars.  The webinar featured national experts in school climate, civics, news literacy, and social-emotional learning who explored the proactive measures administrators can take to create a supportive school climate for all stakeholders at the start of the school year.

Dr. Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D. of the International Observatory for School Climate and Violence Prevention and Teachers College at Columbia University graciously responded to questions participants submitted post-webinar. We hope you will find them helpful.

How do we get district leaders to buy into the urgency of teaching civics, especially in grades 6-12?
JC: There are several points and ‘pathways’ that I would consider:
  1. Pointing to the extraordinary divide within the U.S. today and underscoring that being able to talk together about difficult and controversial issues is – literally – a foundation for our democracy. Our children NEED to learn to listen and talk about difficult topics. This is a social, emotional, civic, and character development-informed set of skills, understandings, and dispositions!
  2. Educators and parents are ALWAYS teaching social, emotional, and civic as well as academic “lessons." The only question is whether we are doing so intentionally, systemically, and helpfully – or not!
  3. Civics education can focus on knowledge (e.g., what is the electoral college?) and/or skills and dispositions. Civics education that includes a focus on the skills and dispositions that provide the foundation for an engaged citizenry overlaps a GREAT deal with social-emotional learning (SEL). And, there is very compelling, empirical research that underscores the short and long-term benefits of SEL (e.g., classroom behavior, student learning, and long-term economic benefits). Here is one fairly recent (2017) summary of the research that confirms this.

What are specific tangible ways administrators can support/proactively talk with the community about Dr. Cohen’s research? 

JC: The Thriving Schools Guide for K-12 School Leaders: Promoting Social-Emotional, Civic and Academic Development, Healthy School Climates, and Violence Prevention is a recent (2021) summary of practical school improvement suggestions that is a free resource on the website of the International Observatory for School Climate and Violence Prevention. This guide includes a range of practical suggestions and resources that will support this goal. In addition, please feel free to contact me, Jonathan Cohen, directly ([email protected]) for other resources, I would be happy to talk with you.

The Guide also includes information (and links) about a number of other, overlapping ‘road maps’ that support these kinds of conversations and social, emotional, and civic school/district improvement efforts.

I would love to know more about starting morning classroom conversations discussed in the webinar.

JC: Maurice Elias has a new book that is focused on this question titled, Morning Classroom Conversations. In addition, the Responsive Classroom has developed a series of thoughtful and practical resources in this area, including their book Morning Meeting. 

What can we as administrators do to alleviate anxiety for students and families about returning to school after potentially being at home for the past year and a half?

JC: We can begin by acknowledging and normalizing anxiety about returning to school this fall. School leaders can also be very clear about how they are following CDC-based guidelines to ensure that students and school personnel are safe.

We all feel anxious. We can, and I would suggest need to, think about how to use these feelings as teachable moments. 
  • What triggers anxiety for you?
  • What is the range of ways that you react to anxiety? And, what seems most and least helpful about these reactions?
  • Have we begun to learn about being mindful as a research-based strategy that is often very helpful?
  • How we recognize and manage (or mismanage) anxiety is one of the foundationally important questions that shape all of our lives.

Using a backward design model of curriculum development, these kinds of questions can be raised in morning meetings as well as in language arts (talking about literature), history/social studies, and health/physical education very easily.

How can we navigate or have conversations with the school board and community?

JC: In my experience, it is very helpful to be able to summarize and/or point to empirical research that supports civics education, character education, SEL, and school climate improvement efforts. These four educational traditions have somewhat different meanings conceptually. And, they grow out of somewhat different educational traditions. However, today they are very, very similar and terribly overlapping when we focus on effective and sustainable school improvement efforts: an intentional, strategic, data-driven, fundamentally collaborative effort designed to create even safer, more supportive, and engaging climates for social, emotional, civic, and academic learning that promote school and life success.

Want to learn more from Dr. Cohen? Read our extended blog post where Jonathan addresses additional questions about parental concerns over anti-racist classrooms, de-escalating conversations, getting back to "normal," civil discourse, and more.
Commemorating 9/11
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was preparing to chaperone a field trip of 120 freshmen to Chicago when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. In the hallway, my friend Jim exclaimed, “There has been a terrible plane accident in New York!” We proceeded to walk the students over to the local train station to make the trip into the city.

As the train stopped at our station and students lined up to board, my department chair screeched into the parking lot and flew open the door to her car. “Get off the train! America is under attack. Get off the train!” There was no field trip that day. Everything changed.

One of my former students is now an administrator in our building. He recalls the confusion and unease in the days that followed and my attempt to create a safe space for students in those troubling times. He mused to me, “I remember that you were calm, but we could tell that you were kind of freaked out, too. You answered all our questions and were honest. I felt better.”

The events of 9/11 are history to students in today’s civics classroom. The tension between civil liberties and homeland security, the War on Terror at home and abroad are their “normal.” As we reflect on both the past and present to mourn all our nation lost on that fateful day, here are some classroom resources to support this work.
Are you ready for Constitution Day?
Friday, September 17, is Constitution Day. This federal observance recognizes the adoption of the United States Constitution and those who have become U.S. citizens. It is commemorated on the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in Philadelphia.

#CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms have a plethora of resources available to their classrooms to help mark this occasion. Below, we curated a few for you to start your planning.
  • The National Constitution Center has a series of special events and lesson plans to commemorate the occasion.
  • iCivics created lesson plans and activities to commemorate the day with resources specifically for English Language Learners.
  • The Civics Renewal Network curated a Constitution Day Toolkit for your review.
  • The Library of Congress has gathered a number of primary sources and lesson plans to support teachers.
  • Docs Teach from the National Archives has a special page with resources designed to “bring the Constitution to life.”
  • Our friends at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship have gathered a number of activities for K-12 classrooms.
  • Share My Lesson has PreK-12 Constitution Day activities, lesson plans, and resources.
  • The Center for Civic Education has K-12 grade activities to commemorate the creation and signing of the supreme law of the land and to honor and celebrate the privileges and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship for both native-born and naturalized citizens.
  • The American Bar Association has resources and lesson plans to commemorate the day.
  • The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) has exciting plans for Constitution Day Live-- a hybrid streaming program featuring direct live engagement with teachers and students coupled with pre-recorded segments and published in-class materials to promote the study of the Constitution and Constitutional issues. In the run-up to the live event, BRI will be releasing several new videos starting September 1 and new lesson plans starting September 7. Ten lucky teachers who sign up will receive gift boxes for themselves and their students with pocket constitutions, gift cards, and other fun and educational BRI swag! BRI will announce winners live on September 17.
Professional Development Opportunities
Illinois Civics Hub Fall 2021 Online Civics PD
A Roadmap to Educate for American Democracy 

To support the implementation of the Illinois civics course requirements, the Illinois Civics Hub at the DuPage Regional Office of Education will be hosting a series of FREE webinars throughout the fall. Each 75-minute webinar will include free tools and strategies aligned to the new Illinois Social Science standards and Educating for American Democracy Roadmap. Registrants may join each webinar live or view a recording of the session.

A description for each webinar and information to register for the free professional development credits through the DuPage Regional Office of Education is available on the Illinois Civics Hub Professional Development calendar.

If you miss one of our webinars, you can always view a recording by accessing our Webinar Archive.
Earn Your Microcredentials
Become a Guardian of Democracy Educator

The Illinois Civics Hub has partnered with the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida to provide educators the opportunity to earn their microcredentials in the proven practices of civic education embedded in the middle and high school civics course requirements in Illinois. Courses include:
  • Current and Controversial Issue DiscussionsLearn from academic experts Dr. Diana Hess & Dr. Paula McAvoy as you explore the purpose, role, and function of discussion strategies as pedagogical tools to equip young people to be engaged citizens. This course will enhance the practice of educators with strategies and resources to create a classroom climate in which there are equitable opportunities for ALL students to engage in dialogue about essential questions across the curriculum.
  • Simulations of Democratic ProcessesLearn from academic experts Dr. Walter Parker & Dr. Jane Lo as you explore how democratic processes and procedures occur as part of the regular functioning of government, in each of the three branches of government, and at each level of government. This course will guide you through the purpose, planning, and implementation of three simulations: town hall meetings, legislative hearings, and moot courts.
  • Informed Action through Service LearningLearn from academic experts Dr. Joseph Kahne and Jessica Marshall as you explore the purpose, role, and function of informed action through service learning as a pedagogical tool to equip young people with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be active members of their community. In this course, you will interact with strategies and tools that you can use in your classroom to support student-centered informed action through service learning.

Registration information is available on the Illinois Civics Hub Professional Development calendar. Those who successfully complete the 5-week online course will earn a Bronze Certified Guardian of Democracy Educator badge via Badgr and the University of Central Florida Center for Distributive Learning. Participants can earn 15 PD hours through the DuPage Regional Office of Education for a nominal fee.

There are three strands of courses for each proven practice of civics education. Graduate credit is available through the University of St. Francis for completing all three courses. For more information, please visit the Guardians of Democracy homepage.

If you have already earned your Bronze Certified Educator Badge, Silver and Gold cohorts will run this fall and winter. Visit the Illinois Civics Hub Professional Development calendar for more information.
Join the Illinois Democracy School Network
Civic Learning Across the Disciplines PD Series

Join the Illinois Democracy Schools Network at the DuPage Regional Office of Education this fall for a series of FREE webinars to enhance civic learning across the disciplines to
prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life. Each 60-minute webinar will include free tools and strategies aligned to the Pedagogy Companion to the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap. Registrants may join each webinar live or view a recording of the session.

A description for each webinar and information to register for the free professional development credits through the DuPage Regional Office of Education is available on the Illinois Civics Hub Professional Development calendar.

What the Research Says
Teaching Civics and History from CIRCLE

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University recently published a report, What the Research Says: History and Civics Education. This summary, based on research conducted by CIRCLE and many other scholars, succinctly explains key considerations for creating more equitable and effective civic learning.
  • Youth Are Influenced by What They See and Hear
  • Those Messages and Experiences Are As Diverse as the U.S.
  • Youth Bring These Diverse Experiences to School
  • Education that Includes Diverse Experiences Allows Youth to Think with Rigor
  • Civic Education Must Include the Ability to Analyze and Use Information in the 21st Century
  • A Deep Commitment to Participation in Democracy Is Built through Real-World Practice
  • Teachers Need Resources and Support, Including from Families and Communities

To learn more about how you can join CIRCLE to, "Prepare the Next Generation to Face the Issues of Today and Tomorrow," read the complete summary at CIRCLE.
You're Invited
Inaugural CivXNow Policy Summit
September 21-22

Growing bipartisan consensus recognizes that civic education, equitably delivered, is a critical component of rebuilding the civic strength of our country. To improve and strengthen civic education, state policies must be aligned to this goal.

On September 21-22, CivXNow, a coalition of over 170 partner organizations from diverse viewpoints focused on improving K-12 in and out-of-school civic education, is hosting a two-day virtual summit to encourage and support policy action.

Date: September 21-22, 2021
Time: Tuesday, 11 am-3 pm ET | Wednesday, 12-5 pm ET
Location: Virtual Livestream

The Summit will be a gathering of state legislators, state education leaders, philanthropic leaders, press, and other influencer groups including parents, teachers, and administrators. The program will feature diverse perspectives on civic education policymaking, such as:
  • A bipartisan panel of state legislators from Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, and Massachusetts
  • Keynote discussions with Former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Filmmaker Ken Burns
  • Remarks by Former Governor Thomas H. Kean (R-NJ), as well as the co-sponsor of the bipartisan Civics Secures Democracy Act, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).

Attendees will also have the opportunity to participate in breakout groups and state-specific working sessions to connect around shared interests as well as discuss strategies for implementation. To register and see a full schedule of the panels and sessions, visit,
How do Numbers + Lines = Power?
Illinois Civics Hub Redistricting Toolkit

Reapportionment as a result of the 2020 Census has resulted in the loss of one Congressional seat for Illinois. How will congressional districts be redrawn by the Illinois General Assembly? How will state and local districts shift as well?

Redistricting is a teachable moment for civics classrooms and an opportunity for students to engage in current and societal issue discussionssimulations of democratic processes, and informed action through service learning per the middle and high school civics course requirements in Illinois.

The new Illinois Civics Hub Redistricting Toolkit provides Illinois classrooms with free resources to address essential questions related to federalism, power, representation, justice, and equality. The Toolkit has resources to help understand:
  • How the Census Works
  • Redistricting, Reapportionment, and Gerrymandering
  • Redistricting through Games and Simulations

Check it out TODAY!

Got #MediaLit?
Resources Aligned to the NEW
Illinois Media Literacy Course Requirements
This summer, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed legislation that amends the state’s school code to include a media literacy unit. House Bill 234 requires school districts to add media literacy instruction. The new legislation will be an addition to an already required computer literacy class. The Illinois Civics Hub and the Illinois Democracy School Network have long incorporated media literacy into their programming as highlighted in a recent segment on National Public Radio, Illinois Is The First State To Have High Schools Teach News Literacy.

The Republic is (Still) at Risk – and Civics is Part of the Solution explains the importance of news literacy education as a complementary stream to the proven practices of civic education embedded in the Illinois middle and high school course requirements. The proven practices of current and societal issue discussions, simulations of democratic processes, and service learning are contingent on a student’s ability to consume and produce information to address essential questions facing our constitutional republic.

This fall, the Illinois Civics Hub will host free professional development with the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) and the News Literacy Project. to facilitate the implementation of the media literacy requirement. The Illinois Civics Hub also has a Media Literacy Toolkit of resources for classrooms to explore

Since "information is the currency of democracy," we asked some of our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches to share their favorite tools to equip our youngest citizens with media literacy skills. Here are their recommendations.

Jason Artman (ROE 35, 48, and 53): The Civics Online Reasoning curriculum by SHEG offers great strategies for analyzing and evaluating the trustworthiness of online sources.

Checkology is a great media literacy platform from the News Literacy Program, offering more than two dozen modules that allow students to learn and practice from real news scenarios, and it is free.

Julie Drone (ROE 11, 12, 20, and 21): Common Sense Education has lessons and quick, self-guided activities to promote digital citizenship and create a positive culture for digital learning. It is broken down into activities for grades K-12.

Heather Monson (ROE 8, 28, 47, and 49.):: contains a new section on media literacy, and boy do we need it more than ever before! We’re living in a time when anyone can create and publish anything and make it look credible, a time when our students spend the bulk of their days consuming user-generated content, a time when algorithms are showing us more of the stuff we agree with and less of what we don’t. This free site offers news from all sides of the political spectrum. Choose a topic—like the Coronavirus, elections, health care, and so on—and Allsides provides you with a curated list of news and opinion pieces from publications that are clearly labeled as leaning left, leaning right, and centrist. The site also includes free classroom activities like a Red Blue Dictionary, topic pages with background information on popular current events topics, and lesson plans for teachers.

Matthew Wood (ROE 6, 16, 19, and 31): Listenwise incorporates media literacy via podcasts (think Speaking and Listening standards for ELA) and supports learning through pre-made assessments that also allow teachers to personalize and edit.

Help Wanted: Online Media Literacy Game

Alterea Inc. is looking for educators to give feedback on their most recent project, Agents of Influence, a spy-themed educational video game that teaches middle schoolers to recognize and combat misinformation in their own lives. Educators interested in finding out more information can complete this google form or send inquires to [email protected].

This monthly newsletter from the Illinois Civics Hub at the DuPage Regional Office of Education provides educators with timely professional development opportunities and classroom resources. For weekly updates on emerging research on civics, “teachable moments,” and related materials, follow our blog.