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Democracy Schools Network

Monthly Update

October 2021


Well, we’re in it now! And as reported by many of you at our fall meetings, the year is going well. Not like the “well” of before, but significantly better than last year. Despite your moments of frustration, sometimes shifting schedules, the challenges of masks, and not being able to go on field tripswe are (again and always) impressed with your resilience, support of each other, and willingness to learn new ways to engage with your students. Being around students—NOT virtually—seems to be the magic ingredient. Thank you all for sharing so many moments of joy!

Have an optimistic October!


On Your Radar

DSN announcements, upcoming events, and information about activities in our Democracy Schools:

RfP Grant Program

Grants of $1,000 per school are available through the DSN RfP program. We encourage your projects that address the civic needs in your schools. This link will give you all the details. Deadline is November 8.

C.L.A.D. (Civic Learning Across Disciplines) Series

Our year-long webinar series continues:

~Join Facing History and Ourselves on Thursday, October 14 and explore The Inclusive Democratic Classroom.

~The November 12 session features Dr. Paula McAvoy's presentation on Designing Discussion as Inquiry.

Both sessions are from 4-5 pm. More details and registration here.

Alterea Inc.

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].

Practicing Civic Learning Across Disciplines

Resources to assist our members in implementing best practices in civics:

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Remembering 9.11

From Barb Lindauer, Collinsville High School (2016)

"We were actually scheduled to have our Naturalization Ceremony on Constitution Day, but the school asked me (told me) to wait until second semester and re-examine the environment. I had already purchased the flags that we had planned to give and wave at the naturalization ceremony, so I used those flags (plus more) to spell out USA on the front lawn of the school with 2977 flags. One flag for each individual who died on 9/11. This was a Saturday Ceremony with our Mayor and Congressman in attendance."

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DSN Book Discussions

Our first book discussion will be on Thursday, November 18 from 4-5 pm. We will be discussing Matthew Kay's book, Not Light, But Fire. Any DSN member who is interested in participating, please fill out this form, and I'll mail a book to you and provide other details regarding registration. 

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At our Fall Meetings this year, this question was considered by our members:

In considering the 2020-21 school year, what did you learn that you want to embed in your practice?

Justin Jacobek, Social Science Teacher, J. Sterling Morton West High School (2017):

"I learned a lot about the pacing of my classes and was more conscious to take time to slow down. With that, I mean to take more time to check in on the students individually. As teachers, we can sometimes become consumed by our content and covering material without regard to our students. E-learning helped expose some of my shortcomings in this regard. The platforms I learned during virtual instruction (Parlay, GoFormative, etc) have made it easier to identify those struggling students. Virtual instruction forced our hand in learning the technology, and we’re all better off for it."

Becky Walters, Social Studies Teacher, Oswego East High School (2015) (offering composite response from group members: Carla Hilgert (Alton High School, 2016), Melinda Wilson (Curie High School, 2016), Molly McNally (Glenbard West High School, 2012), Maribel Ouielle-Silva (John Hancock High School, 2013):

"When asked this question, the overall theme was more compassion. Many teachers have stories about how they have seen students struggling to juggle everything going on, and it was especially hard on students to learn remotely. Now that we are back into a somewhat normal environment, teachers are finding that they need to meet students where they are and to be very flexible with them. Teachers have learned that our students will be ok and that we can modify and change our curriculum, so we don't worry about teaching every little detail of the content.... Educators have also learned the importance of health and wellness with our students. We need to encourage students to focus on their physical health now that we have spent so much time sitting in front of a computer. We also need to offer more brain breaks during class, especially for 90-minute class periods. Overall, from teaching remotely, educators have learned to be more flexible and compassionate with our students."


Sue Gahagan Mueller, Social Studies Department Chair, Maine West High School (2009):

"The shutdown and then hybrid teaching and learning really pushed faculty and administration to maximize learning through a wide variety of tech platforms and tools. District 207 did a great job providing the tools and necessary training and support to help teachers. Additionally, the district saw the need and benefit of consistency as well. We now all have to use Google Classroom for all classes. This was a great move as it is very user friendly and much easier for students to navigate through the same platform in all classes."

Vince Willaredt, Social Studies Department Chair, Granite City High School (2015):

"What I learned from last year is that anything is possible now if you are a classroom teacher. If I can teach how a bill becomes a law while essentially tied to a desk with camera focused on me, teaching both the in-person and remote students simultaneously, with perspiration pooling up inside of my N95 mask and an air purifier, two box fans and the room AC drowning out the conversation, I can do anything. Really puts into perspective the previous hassle of adjusting my lessons for that last hour pep rally. I really felt bad for the new teachers. I don't know how I would have managed without almost 25 years of experience behind me. Teaching is maybe the only profession where novice workers are expected to be excellent."

Dr. Teresa Kruger, Social Studies Teacher, Belvidere North High School (2017):

"Two of the most important lessons I learned from last year are the importance of developing relationships with students and flexibility. Teaching in a remote setting last year, it became very apparent that students had a lot going on outside of school. I realized quickly that I had to reach out to each student to develop a trusting relationship and learn more about his/her situation. In addition, I realized I had to be flexible with students and accommodate many of their needs more so than I had previously with in-person instruction. I continue to build on these aspects now that we are back to a somewhat normal routine."

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Member Spotlight

Featuring Stacey Steiner, Business Teacher, Carlinville High School (2017). Recipient of the Carolyn Pereira Civic Leadership award, 2019-2020.

What was it that initially drew you to the field of education?

Stacey originally worked in the field of business and was doing a lot of teaching/training at conferences. But this somehow did not feel complete—she realized that she “really did want to make a difference,”—and didn’t feel she was doing that through the adult teaching that she was involved in. Stacey grew up in a large family (of 10!) and our life was quite modest. The message that was communicated to me all through my life was that education mattered and was the best hope for creating a bright future. I still believe that. That thinking has been especially important in shaping Stacey’s interest in addressing the problems of rural poverty in the community where she teaches. 

How did you come to the realization that civic learning belonged in your classroom?

Stacey’s first position in education was teaching Business and History. It didn’t take her long to see how the two intersected. “Civics easily became the platform to teach other content and to introduce important skills that cut across many disciplines.” She also became very involved in programs that addressed the needs of at-risk students. Here she experienced the way that SEL needs, academic demands, and the development of civic skills and dispositions all came together. 

What is the biggest challenge in sustaining civic learning in your school?

We try to reinforce to all our teachers that civic learning is not necessarily an “add on,” in a lot of cases, it is something they are already doing, but unaware of. We also realize that a big issue is that “teachers in all disciplines have their own standards, compliance issues and professional demands; it’s hard to ask them to invest their energy in one more thing.” But there are successes: “Vocational education has exploded, and we celebrate this program like we celebrate our other programs in the school. It is a great example of equity—all of our students are served in a way that meets their unique needs.”

What is the most important lesson you learned as a teacher as a result of the pandemic?

Stacey describes the constantly changing landscape of last year—full remote, hybrid, back to remote for a while, and so on. Exhausting, for sure. But, she feels that it taught her (and many others) a lesson about acknowledging the social and emotional needs of her students. “Adapt, adjust, be genuine”—this became her mantra. “This is not enabling students to fail; it sees them as a person first, and until their basic needs are considered, it is impossible to address their academic needs.” 


What are you most proud of as a teacher at Carlinville High School?

Stacey notes that, “I think what we all get are moments." A particular moment when there is an interaction with a student “where they let you see and understand them as a person.” She relates a particular incident involving a student who was considered difficult by many. As a result of a minor incident in the classroom, Stacey had a conversation with her where the student was defensive and rigid. “But, as we started talking, she became more vulnerable, her body language changed, and I was able to affirm all the good that I saw in her.” A teachable moment of the best kind!

Advisory Council Members, 2021-22:

Northern Illinois: Jason Janczak (Grayslake Central)

Central and Southern Illinois: Tracy Freeman (Normal West)

Northern Cook/Chicago: Carl Brownell (Maine East)

Western Cook/Chicago: Pat Riley (J. Sterling Morton West)

Southern Cook/Chicago: Melinda Wilson (Curie)

DuPage: Billson Rasavongxay (Hinsdale Central)

Kane, Kendall, Will: position open

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