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Democracy Schools Network

Monthly Update

November, 2021


This year, we have been pleased to address civic learning across the disciplines in our monthly CLAD webinar series. On November 9, we examined the element "Current and Controversial Issue Discussion." (Here is a recording of that session.) This newsletter includes resources on this proven practice, as well as some thoughts from our members who serve as instructors in the Guardians of Democracy course that immerses teachers in this pedagogy for a 5-week, self-paced experience. (And, if you are interested in the course, there is another one starting up in January. Details here.)

Have a notable November!


On Your Radar

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

RFP Grant Program

Thank to all of you who submitted RFP Stipend Requests. We will be in touch with you during the week of November 22.

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

Our series continues through April 2022. Please join us as we explore how teachers in all disciplines can contribute to students' development of civic knowledge, skills and dispositions. Details and registration are here.

Practicing Civic Learning Across Disciplines

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

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DSN Book Discussion

We are looking forward to a robust discussion of Matthew Kay's book, Not Light, But Fire, on Thursday, November 18 from 4-5 pm.Thanks to all who have registered!

Member Feedback on Annual Convening

After much consideration, and with the input from the Advisory Council, we have decided to plan a one-day, in-person Annual Convening for some time in 2022. As we discussed the fragile nature of this school year, the difficulty with securing subs, and the questions still surrounding large gatherings, it seemed that trying to schedule this event before May was simply not a good idea. So we are looking at a some later dates that might be a better fit. Would you please weigh in on these possibilities?

When should the Annual Convening be scheduled?
Between July 26-28
Between August 2-4
Between August 9-11
Sometime during September
I would not be able to attend on any of these dates.

Member Spotlight

The Guardians of Democracy (GoD) course in Current and Controversial Issue Discussion (CCID) has been a very popular professional development choice among our DSN members for honing their skills in this pedagogy. We asked three of the instructors, Candi Fikis--Social Studies Teacher, West Chicago High School (2006), Tracy Freeman-- (Social Studies Department Chair, Normal West High School (2016), and Jen Burdette--Social Studies Teacher, Spoon River Valley High School (2022 applicant), to share some of their insights:


1. What do you like the most about being an instructor for the GoD CCID course?

“I love continuing to build a network of teachers and learning from others. I teach in such a small district that I don’t have a lot of colleagues in the same discipline as me, so I feel that the GoD course continues to push me, and I learn just as much from the participants.” Jen

“I love the conversation/discussion around whether or not to disclose your opinions (as a teacher) to your students. Always lively and changes perspectives or reinforcement of ideas.” Tracy

I learn while I am facilitating! Each cohort that comes through the course shares resources and strategies that I am gaining from. For example, it was so helpful to have a network of teachers to discuss how to modify lessons last year as some were teaching remotely, some were teaching in a hybrid model, and now as schools return to a more traditional setting. Candi



2. What is the major reason you would encourage a colleague to take this course?

“Even if you feel comfortable with the idea of CCID, I would encourage ANYONE to take this course. The interaction through the discussion board is really validating as a teacher. It helps to hear that you are not alone and that there are others who have faced similar issues. It also gives new perspectives and ways to implement CCID in the classroom.” Jen

“I think that all individuals should take this! As Jen said, it is reassuring to see that even in the most divisive of states, there are ways to help your students as future citizens engage in positive discussion around controversial issues. Restores my faith!”Tracy

This course not only explains different strategies that can be used with students, it also shows you how they look in the classroom while also giving you the evidence of why it is a proven practice. It makes you feel more confident in implementing the strategies. Candi


3. What do you think is the most difficult aspect of engaging students in a CCID?

“I think starting out it is the fear of the unknown and giving over some control of the classroom.” Jen

“Most difficult is getting them to overcome the 'pitfalls' of negative experiences, where there were no norms, where they took a chance and learned not to participate. This class helps with establishing trust and establishing an environment to allow it to happen.”Tracy

It can be hard to try something new and especially in engaging in current and controversial issues during polarizing times. But this course gives the research on why it should be implemented, what current and controversial issues should even be discussed, the examples to see it in action and so many resources to help set it up, implement and reflect on the strategies. Candi


4.  What tools can you suggest in helping to navigate this particular challenge?

“Use very structured resources to begin. The guides for SAC, Socratic Seminars and Philosophical Chairs in CAPES are so beneficial and make creating these opportunities manageable. As students learn the framework of these discussions it becomes easier and less scary to give students more control over CCID.” Jen

“I agree with what Jen saysuse structurebut would add that the students also could/should use this structure on lesser 'charged issues' to start to build trust and reinforce the procedures.” Tracy

I will echo what my colleagues have stated that the structure for setting up a CCID in your classroom is so important and that is what this course provides: the resources to help set the climate for the discussion, and structure for how to implement it. Getting the opportunity to create a lesson and get feedback from other colleagues, which occurs during the course, also helps to effectively implement a strategy in the classroom for the first time." Candi


5.  What is your best bit of advice for a teacher new to this practice?

“Go out there and try it! I don’t mean fly by the seat of your pants, but be willing to try implementing these structured strategies in the classroom. Don’t let failure discourage you. It takes practice, but it is SO worth it in the end. Quality discussions and critical thinking skills are the reward.” Jen

“You will not regret the time committed to using these strategies when you see the positive engagement in the classroom. The students learn to respect another opinion and to challenge an opinion, not a person. Tracy

Remember your outcomes for the students and the high-level critical thinking and discussion skills they can attain from engaging in a CCID. That will help motivate you as you try something that might be new. Candi

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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