The NCSS Public Relations Campaign
Any time an organization embarks on a public awareness campaign, it's important to focus on a few guiding principles. Here we'll look at some of those principles that will lead us to success.
Much in today's society relies on public awareness and support. James Tolley, former vice president of the Chrysler Corporation said, "All institutions live or die by public opinion." That is just as true for education as it is for automobiles. Social studies educators compete for support from school boards, resources from state governments, and understanding from local citizens.
If people misunderstand the value of social studies education, our programs will struggle for support. Jobs will be eliminated, budgets will be cut, and support will be directed elsewhere. This campaign has the potential t If people misunderstand the value of social studies education, our programs will struggle for support. Jobs will be eliminated, budgets will be cut, and support will be directed elsewhere. This campaign has the potential to turn around those dire possibilities. Our goal is to create awareness of the fact that social studies teaches students to be effective citizens.
The key to this campaign is collaboration between the national office, state and local councils, and individual members. The national staff will reach out to the national news media, education associations, and governmental leaders, among other groups. However, one of the most important roles for the national staff is to provide guidance and materials for members, because members can turn this campaign into a grass roots effort that can create awareness of the importance of social studies in every corner of the country. Active member involvement is the cornerstone of any national organization's campaign to raise awareness. This approach has worked with other groups, and it can work with NCSS.
All campaigns revolve a central theme or message. We have selected Today's Social Studies... Creating Effective Citizens. This theme both corrects a misconception about social studies education and focuses on the true value of what we do.
Too many people equate social studies to what they remember from their school days--no matter how long it has been since they were in school. We need to communicate that social studies is changing to meet the challenges of today's world. It is not enough for students to memorize dates or locations on a map. Today's social studies provides students with the knowledge, thinking skills and experiences that will allow them to grow into effective citizens. That's the Today's Social Studies part of the theme.
Creating Effective Citizens explains the value of social studies education. Recently, there has been much attention given to the importance of some other subjects, including mathematics, science and reading. While social studies educators would not dispute the importance of these disciplines, we know that the lessons taught in our programs are equally important. There is an essential outcome to social studies education--it prepares people to take their place in a democracy. That's the message we need to deliver.
As you become involved in the campaign, consider using this theme frequently in your communications, whether it be in parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school nights, speeches to civic groups, or talks with other educators. A key element in any campaign is delivering the central message over and over again.
Develop a "business card" to distribute to parents at the start of the school year. Head the card with the theme. Then include ways parents can support their children's social studies education and/or ways to contact you.
National/State Council/Member Partnership
There are many attitudes to be impacted in this campaign--at the national, state and local levels. And while NCSS does not have the treasury to purchase full-page ads in the daily newspaper in every state capital each month, we do have a wonderful resource--26,000 members.
Working with state and local councils and individual members will allow us to implement an effective campaign at all three levels. The national office will assume the major responsibility in working with other national education associations and governmental groups. State and local councils can implement the campaign at the state and regional level. And members can impact their local legislators, news media, school board members, central office administrators, parents, students, and others.
The national office will provide materials, such as this Public Relations Toolkit, that members will be able to easily adapt and use locally. Other information will be communicated on the NCSS website and through publications. But a key to delivery of our message will be the involvement of members. If each of our 26,000 members will take just five minutes a month or accomplish one major PR activity a year in support of this campaign, think of the power.
Councils could run a short column in each issue of member newsletters explaining what they are doing in this campaign and how their members can become involved.
One key in a successful public relations campaign is to focus on delivering your message to the most important audiences. Simply put, no one has the resources to communicate with everyone who needs to hear our message to the extent necessary to change their attitudes. Thus, three audiences have been selected for the start of this campaign: NCSS members, state legislators, and the news media.
NCSS members have been selected as one of the key audiences, not because they 'dont understand the importance of social studies education, but because you are essential in delivering this message to others. Local members have access to so many individuals who influence our work--school board members, superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, teachers in other disciplines, parents, students, local government officials, and community leaders.
Find another social studies educator, who may or may not be an NCSS member, and discuss this campaign. Urge that person to become involved. He or she may also see the value of NCSS membership.
State legislators have been targeted because they are the individuals who set many requirements and expectations for what we do every day. Plus, they control state funding for social studies.
Our third audience is the news media because they influence many other individuals in every community.
This doesn't mean these are the only people we hope will become aware of the importance of social studies, but they are the three around which this campaign will focus. As we move forward, others may be added, or affiliates may add another audience that is especially important in their area.
This campaign must be viewed as a long-term project. In fact, NCSS members should see "promoting the importance of social studies education" as something that is with them forever. As we start to develop a positive understanding of social studies, if we don't continue to communicate, our reputation will slip and our value will be misunderstood.
What Is Social Studies Education?
The accurate answer to this question is many, many topics. After all, social studies includes such disciplines as anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology. Parts of the humanities, mathematics and the natural sciences also touch on the broad topic of social studies. This is what makes social studies so important to a complete education. But, it also makes it difficult to explain to key audiences exactly what we do.
NCSS defines social studies as "the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence." That definition should be the foundation for this campaign.
It's essential that everyone involved in the campaign adapts this view of social studies as we communicate our messages. We should not focus on any one or two disciplines at the exclusion of others. The beauty of social studies is this integrated approach--bringing many subjects together to create effective citizens.
The Board of Directors and national office is committed to providing consistent support to members in this campaign. The Public Relations Toolkit is the first item. Members can look for more information and support on the NCSS website (www.socialstudies.org), in publications, at meetings and conferences, and on NCSS e-mail listservs.
Check the NCSS web site regularly to see new ways you can become involved in the campaign.