Making the Campaign Work
The Campaign and Your Everyday Job
As already mentioned, there are two ways that the reputation of social studies education will be influenced in communities across the country:
- action taken to implement this campaign, and
- everyday communication by social studies educators.
Both are important. Even if the campaign is implemented effectively, parents, students, and others will not support social studies education if they believe it is not operating well in their school. And you never know whether those audiences influence the key target audiences established for this campaign. The parents of a U.S. History student could be important volunteers in a state legislator's campaign, or a school board member could be married to the editor of the local newspaper.
This section con
This section contains a number of proven public relations ideas that social studies educators can employ to communicate on a daily basis. Some are geared for elementary schools, others for middle level, and still others for high schools. Some can work at all levels. Some ideas can best be used by teachers; others by principals or assistant principals; still others by central office administrators. Select the ones that have the most potential for you.
If you are a teacher, don't be afraid to share some of these ideas with your principal or superintendent. These ideas have all worked, and everyone has a responsibility to promote education. You can be a public relations resource to others in your school or district.
If you are already doing some of these, keep up the good work. If not, consider trying one or two this school year. Don't do too many all at once and set yourself up for failure because you don't have enough time to do them effectively. Start small, succeed, and build on that success. Think of promoting social studies education as a long-term activity. And don't forget to add other ideas you know and share them with your colleagues.
The Four Best School PR Ideas
Here are four ideas that school PR professionals have used over the years to deliver their messages, and they can be easily adapted for the NCSS campaign. Consider trying one of these ideas this school year, add a second next year, and so forth. All of the ideas can be used by individual educators in their schools. Some, such as the "See for Yourself Campaign" and "Key Communicators," can be organized by a council so that they are coordinated throughout a state or region.
Any area--state or community--has a group of opinion leaders, who are asked questions about any item of interest in that area whether it's about the price of gasoline or the value of social studies education. These opinion leaders are likely to answer those questions, but one wonders whether they are prepared to deliver an accurate message about social studies.
Keep in mind that opinion leaders are not always what might be called the "most important people" in a community. They may be the president of the bank, the executive director of the chamber of commerce, and the mayor. However, they may also be a barber, soccer coach, or baker. Opinion leaders are determined by how many people they influence--they have people power, not necessarily position power.
Educators can turn these opinion leaders into Key Communicators for social studies. Councils or a school district team can follow these steps:
- Pull together a small group of colleagues and brainstorm the names of opinion leaders in your area. Start with a manageable number of people; you can always add more.
- Send a letter to those individuals, inviting them to an initial meeting of your Key Communicator group. Follow up with a phone call to encourage their participation.
- At the meeting indicate that you believe they are leaders in your area, that they communicate with many other people, and that you hope to gain their understanding of the importance of social studies education so they can communicate about it. Indicate that the more citizens know about social studies education, the more they can support local education. The bottom line is that students will benefit.
- Then, ask whether they have any questions about social studies, and distribute any appropriate handout materials. Urge them to share this information, and ask them to contact you with any questions they may have during the year.
You may want to create a quarterly newsletter for your Key Communicators to keep in touch with them. If possible, have an annual meeting to update these people and keep in touch.
Some schools and school districts have Key Communicators. If your district does, seek the opportunity to communicate with that group regarding social studies.
See for Yourself Programs
There's no better way to shape attitudes than to give people the chance to see things for themselves. This is interpersonal communication at its most effective. Again, councils or local educators can implement see for yourself campaigns to create support for social studies education. This is especially important in overcoming the attitude that social studies education is what it was 30 years ago when today's adults were in school.
A Social Studies Student for a Day program could be an effective See for Yourself activity for this campaign. Consider these steps:
- Brainstorm the names of key leaders in your state or community. Develop a short list. Then develop a list of schools where social studies education is effective, and match each leader to a school. Make sure to explain the program to principals or other school administrators and obtain support.
- Have someone from the school contact the leader and invite him or her to spend a day at the school as a student in various social studies classes. Explain that you believe social studies education is essential in creating effective citizens and you would like the leader to have a first hand opportunity to see what is happening in today's social studies classroom.
- At the end of the day, set aside some time to sit down with the leader and respond to any questions he or she may have. Also, offer some materials on social studies.
- Keep in touch with that leader, whether it's inviting him or her to a school awards assembly, having lunch together, or sending an occasional letter.
Some educators who use Student for a Day programs, make sure that a test is being given on the day the leader attends class. Consider that to show first hand what a student is expected to learn. Or bring in a leader at a time when students are reporting on extensive projects.
What's Right with Social Studies
All of us have opportunities almost every day to promote social studies education. Since we are recognized as educators, people are likely to ask us questions about schools and social studies in the supermarket checkout line, at the cosmetology salon, at the youth sporting event, at social events, etc. Each question is an opportunity to build greater awareness of the importance of social studies education and our successes. The concern is whether we are ready to speak up for social studies and take advantage of that opportunity.
Here's an idea for councils or a small group of NCSS members to try. Bring together colleagues and brainstorm three items:
- Successes of students in social studies, such as award winners;
- Accomplishments of social studies educators, such as teacher award winners;
- Contributions social studies students make to the school or community, such as researching and writing a history of the region.
When completed, list your successes on a card, laminate that card, and provide copies to local social studies educators or members of your council. Encourage people to carry this card and use it as a resource to speak up for social studies successes at every opportunity.
Send this list to people who need to know about social studies, such as school board members, local elected officials, state legislators, and teachers in other subject areas.
Using Your Best Read Publications
It isn't necessary to start new publications to communicate a message. Sometimes it's best to simply ask yourself which current publications are read most frequently. In many homes, the best-read school publication is the school lunch menu. It comes home the first of every month and is posted on the kitchen bulletin board. Too frequently, the actual menu is published on one side of the paper and nothing appears on the other. A more strategic idea would be to publish two weeks of the lunch menu on the front and, below that, facts about the importance of social studies education or local successes from the social studies classroom. Then, do the same on the reverse side.
In your local school system, determine whether this would be possible. Perhaps the school district would promote social studies one month and other subjects in other months.
One well-read publication is the fax cover sheet. Councils may want to consider creating a section on cover sheets that includes three or four successes or key points about the importance of social studies education. School districts or individuals can also do this. And don't forget to include the campaign theme.
Here are ideas to reach some of the audiences social studies educators deal with frequently.
Ideas To Reach Students
- Learn the names of as many students as possible--even if they aren't in your classroom. Talk to students in the hallway, on the playground, and in the cafeteria. Take an interest in them. Show them that social studies educators are caring people.
- Create recognition programs for students. Student of the month bulletin boards, congratulatory letters mailed to the students at their homes, partnerships with local business where students receive discounts for success--all of these will communicate that success in social studies is important.
- Establish a Big Brother/Big Sister program where older students work with younger students on social studies projects. High school students can go into an elementary school during Cinco de Mayo and discuss the Hispanic culture. Or high schoolers involved in a service project can include one or two middle level youngsters in part of their work.
- Never forget the long-time idea of giving Happygrams to elementary students when they succeed. However, create a Happygram that also communicates a message for social studies. Add the campaign theme to it and/or a quote on the importance of social studies. Remember that many more people than students read happygrams--parents, grandparents and other relatives.
- Create a lesson on the historical importance of social studies education to an effective democracy. Social studies education is essential to a successful nation. Make sure students understand this.
- Encourage foreign exchange students to speak to other classes, especially elementary and middle level students, to discuss their countries and cultures.
- Create a day when students can shadow an adult who works in a position that deals with social studies education, i.e. a city government worker, community service organizer, economist, etc. Let students see first hand how lessons learned in social studies classrooms will help them succeed as adults.
- Invite speakers involved in social studies fields to come into your classroom to speak with students.
- Encourage community service projects where students work in the community to better residents and the community as a whole.
- Conduct a history project where students interview local residents about the history of the community. Publish a booklet on this history. Have students make presentations at civic groups about their findings.
Ideas To Reach Parents
- Make a positive phone call home each month to let parents know what students are accomplishing in your classroom. Encourage them to come and see for themselves the challenging curriculum you offer.
- Introduce yourself to parents before the start of the school year and use this opportunity to talk about the value of social studies education. Include the campaign theme on written materials you might leave with them. Some teachers try to visit parents in their homes before the start of the school year.
- Assure that there is a parent communication from each classroom and a parent newsletter coming from the school. Include quotes on the importance of social studies and the theme as part of these communications.
- Create a question of the month around the importance of social studies and ask parents the question in your newsletter or on the school website.
- Invite parents to special events in the social studies classroom during the year, i.e. Thanksgiving dinner in the third grade, stock market simulation in the economics class.
- Establish an award for parents who have supported their student in social studies education each year. Find a business partner (local restaurant, video rental store, etc.) that will provide a meaningful award. Have students present the awards.
- Publish a calendar of what students will learn in social studies during the year and mail it to every parent. Sometimes our problem is that we never tell people what we are doing. Include the campaign theme on this calendar.
- Publish a calendar of activities that families can complete during the summer and reinforce lessons learned in the social studies classroom.
- Take photos of students at work on social studies projects and send them home to parents. Some educators find that one parent has photography as a hobby and that individual will be very happy to take these photos.
- Make sure that parents know when their student(s) have been recognized. Send notes home, or even better, make a positive phone call home. Some educators are phoning parents at their workplace to inform them of an award their youngster has won. Frequently, parents will brag to co-workers, and more people hear about the importance of success in social studies.
Ideas To Reach Other Teachers and Classified Staff
- Ask for time at staff meetings to update teachers and classified staff on what is happening in social studies.
- Host a breakfast or lunch for teacher and classified staff leaders to explain what is being accomplished in social studies education. Include students to discuss what social studies has meant to them.
- Compile an annual list of successes in the social studies program and share that with staff members at your school.
- Establish a "Trade a Class" program where you invite a non-social studies teacher to spend one of their prep periods in your class and you do the same in his/her class. Get to know what each other does.
Ideas To Reach School Board Members
- Try to schedule a briefing at the school board meeting on the important role of social studies education and how it leads to effective citizens. Some school districts organize portions of board retreats around curriculum briefings such as this.
- Recognize outstanding students at school board meetings on a regular basis and invite their parents to attend.
Ideas To Reach Others
- Create a business card for yourself on your computer, and on the back print the theme Today's Social Studies... Creating Effective Citizens. Include a few facts or quotes about the importance of social studies education.
- Take an outstanding social studies student to a civic club meeting as part of the recognition for that student. Have him or her speak for a few moments about the value of social studies.
- Plan an outreach program to a senior citizen center where your students work with the seniors. This can range from presenting a skit by elementary students on a social studies issue to older students teaching seniors computer skills.
- Speak to key groups in your community about social studies education. This kit includes a sample speech that you can localize to make even more effective. Ask for the opportunity to make presentations during times of the year when people are focused on education, such as the start of school, American Education Week, or graduation. You may know members of civic groups who could assist you in getting onto the program. Alternatively, Chambers of Commerce should have a listing of all civic groups that might be helpful.
A Special Time To Reach Parents
Open houses and back to school nights provide social studies teachers with a special time to communicate with parents. While not all parents attend these evenings, those who do are interested in education and are likely to share their opinions about social studies with other residents. Parents come to hear about their students' progress, but you can also use these nights as an opportunity to create awareness of the new social studies.
Get the meeting off to the right start by greeting parents at the door with a smile and a handshake. Such a greeting provides a totally different perception of social studies teachers than when teachers shuffle papers at their desk waiting for the bell to ring.
Spent a few minutes discussing how social studies is changing today and how the goal is to prepare students to be effective citizens. Briefly describe the various courses in the social studies department in your school. Then move on to discussing the specifics of your class.
Consider using one of the handouts at the end of this section. You may want to adapt it. If so, you can download the handout from the NCSS website and easily make changes.
Consider how you can encourage parents to keep this information. One way is to include your phone number or other contact information. You may want to add key dates from your classroom that parents will want to know, i.e. project due dates, simulations parents can attend, awards presentations, etc.
Today's Social Studies... Creating Effective Citizens
"Social studies is the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence."
Today's social studies teaches students:
- to understand cultures -- systems of beliefs, knowledge, values, and traditions -- so they can relate to people in our nation and throughout the world.
- to develop historic perspective and understand how things change and develop-- so they can make informed choices and decisions in the present.
- to understand geography and space beyond their personal locations so they can be effective decision makers regarding the relationship between human beings and their environment.
- to understand human behavior and personal identity -- so they can better understand the processes and ethical principles underlying individual action.
- to comprehend the formation, control and influences of institutions -- so they can work through institutional change for the common good.
- to understanding the historical development of structures of power, authority, and governance and their evolving functions in contemporary society-- so they can develop civic competence.
- to understand how the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services is organized -- so they can function effectively in an interdependent world economy.
- to interpret the relationships among science, technology, and society so they are prepared to make difficult social choices.
- to analyze the realities of global interdependence and connections -- so they can find solutions to persisting and emerging global issues.
- to understand civic ideals and practices across time and in diverse societies -- so they can participate fully in our society.
Today's Social Studies... Creating Effective Citizens
"Social studies is the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence."
- Political Science
- appropriate content from the humanities, mathematics, and natural sciences
Through these disciplines, social studies teaches about:
- Time, Continuity, and Change
- People, Places, and Environment
- Individual Development and Identity
- Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
- Power, Authority, and Governance
- Production, Distribution, and Consumption
- Science, Technology, and Society
- Global Connections
- Civic Ideals and Practices
Influencing State Legislators
Obviously, state legislators are key decision-makers in what is expected of social studies education. They set state mandates and determine the level of funding. Ideas here can be implemented by individual social studies educators or they can be organized through a state or local council or small group of educators to influence a group of legislators.
One idea to keep in mind in dealing with state legislators is that sometimes it is just as effective to meet with a key aide as with the legislator. Due to the demands of their schedules legislators can't always attend events. When they send an aide, that person can become an important ally of yours. Legislators rely on aides for advice.
Also, it's important to keep a constant flow of information going to legislators. They will make decisions about social studies throughout their elected careers. You need to consistently keep information in front of them.
Councils should also pay attention to when state legislatures are determining key issues. That is the time to deliver specific messages relative to the issue being discussed.
Councils may want to develop lists of all legislators in their state and pair members from their districts to those legislators. When an important issue comes up, encourage members to call their legislators and urge them to consider your viewpoint. It's a good idea for councils to develop message points for those efforts.
Here are some ideas to deliver your on-going message to state legislators:
- There are two important objectives in the careers of most state legislators--to get elected and to get re-elected. So one of the best ways to influence them is to become involved in their campaigns. Naturally, you can't do this as a member of your school district; it has to be on your own time. But you may want to consider volunteering in the campaign of a candidate you support. Your efforts could range from hosting meetings in your home where candidates can speak to other educators or parents, to knocking on doors and distributing literature, to answering phones and sealing envelopes in their campaign office.
- Host a dinner once a year where a number of educators, parents, school board members, and business partners meet with a single legislator. This should be viewed as a social event allowing people to get to know each other, i.e. it's not the time to complain about the lack of funding. You might discuss some of the new social studies projects in your school or area. Consider inviting a student to discuss what she or he has learned through effective social studies education. At the end of the dinner, make sure to encourage the legislator to use you as a resource when she or he is considering legislation that will impact social studies. Your goal should be to establish yourself as a resource to the legislator.
- Invite legislators or their aides to talk with your class about how state government works, how people can become involved in government, etc. This will give them a chance to see for themselves the quality of social studies education.
- Councils may create a quarterly newsletter especially for legislators. It could include listing of student successes, reactions to current issues, and general information on the value of social studies. Include the campaign theme.
Influencing the News Media
The news media play a major role in creating awareness of issues in communities across the country. Coverage is not always positive, but people read or listen to it. This section presents some ways in which social studies educators can be more strategic with the news media to obtain accurate, objective coverage, both for the campaign and in their every day activities. (Be sure to review some of the samples you can use with the media in the "Action Steps" section.)
Social studies educators can work effectively with reporters. However, you should not expect them to be your "public relations office"-- that is not their job. When you understand reporters and use the most effective ways to deliver your message to them, you are far more likely to see the coverage you desire.
If there is one piece of advice that will create better relationships for anyone working with the news media it is: remember your long-range credibility. This attribute enables information you provide to be believed by a reporter, and it lasts a long time. If reporters see you as credible, they will seek your opinion and use your comments. When you phone a reporter, it's much more likely your call will be returned quickly if the reporter sees you as credible. On the other hand, if reporters know you haven't been honest with them in the past, they aren't likely to see you as a good source. Keep one thought in mind: it may take years to develop credibility, but it can be destroyed in 30 seconds.
A second golden rule to media relations is get to know the reporter covering you before there is a problem. Find out who covers the education beat locally, and give that reporter a call. Establish yourself as a resource. By doing this, you can become a spokesperson on social studies education. Plus, you'll create a greater likelihood that reporting will be more accurate. Indicate you are happy to talk with reporters and let them know how to find you. You never know when they will be looking for a source.
There are numerous strategies to keep in mind when it comes to working with reporters. Here are some of the basics:
- Understand that education is a tough story to cover. One problem is that some newspapers tend to assign young reporters to education, and after a brief stint on that beat, they move to another area. That means you must take time frequently to explain social studies education, but it's essential to take that time. Reporters covering schools need to understand children, education theory, school finance and budgets, education law, and much more. When being interviewed, spend all the time that is necessary to explain the issue. Let reporters know that you are willing to receive a follow-up phone call if they have more questions. If there's basic information that can be provided in writing, do so.
- Be willing to be interviewed. Your message cannot be conveyed to the public if the reporter never hears it. One educator once said he didn't return a reporter's calls because the reporter never included his side of the story. There may be a connection there. Know what message you want to communicate, then share that information with the media in a timely manner.
- Respect a reporter's deadline. All reporters face deadlines, and they are inflexible. If you want your message included in the story, you must communicate it before a deadline.
- Be honest. There's no quicker way to destroy your credibility than to lie or tell a half-truth to a reporter. You are likely to be caught, and the reporter will not forget.
- If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. That's much more effective than trying to fabricate an answer. Ask the reporter when his/her deadline is and promise to find out the information and get back to the reporter before the deadline. This approach will develop credibility for you with reporters.
- Forget educational jargon when speaking with journalists. You have a limited amount of time, especially with electronic interviews. Don't waste it by using jargon which people aren't going to understand and remember.
By practicing these guidelines, you are much more likely to have positive experiences with the news media. And there's one other item to keep in mind-- use resources available to you. See if your school system has a public relations professional. If so, she or he may be willing to work with you in local news media activities.
When Reporters Make Mistakes
Yes, it happens. Sometimes even good reporters make mistakes. After all, they are human just like us. When a mistake is made, you should attempt to correct it, but how that is done is very important for your long-term relationships with the reporter. First, decide how major the mistake was. If your name was misspelled, that will not destroy the reputation of social studies education. Other errors could have a major impact. You should correct all significant mistakes, so they don't happen again. But for a minor error, simply inform the reporter the next time you are talking. With a major mistake, you may want to ask for a correction.
Always start with the reporter when discussing an error. However, if you get no satisfaction with him or her and it's important enough, you have the right to discuss the issue with the reporter's supervisor. That's usually a news editor or city editor on a newspaper and a news director or assignment editor for a radio or television station.
Knowing What Makes News
When asking reporters or editors to cover your story, you should only "pitch" ideas that have a legitimate chance of being considered. If you continually suggest topics that really aren't news, the reporter is not going to perceive you as a credible source. Generally, journalists look for at least some of these elements in all stories:
New -- If it's new, it's news. Thus, if you are implementing a new idea, pitch it to the news media now. Don't wait until the fifth time you've tried it. By then it's lost its news value.
Unusual -- Something that is different may have news value. If it's the same old stuff, people aren't interested in hearing about it.
Names -- Whenever names are involve
Names -- Whenever names are involved, there's a possibility of coverage, and the more the better. Awards, promotions, election to office can all produce short news reports.
Visual -- Obviously, this is essential for television. If you are involved in something especially visual, which also includes other news elements, it may be time to phone the television news department. If you want to pitch a topic to TV, you had better be able to produce a visual element.
Timely -- There are certain times, such as the start of the school year, when education stories have special appeal. Tie your announcements to these times. That will help get coverage.
Local Angles -- Reporters frequently want to know how a national story will impact the local community. If you provide this connection, even through your opinion, you can gain coverage.
Controversy -- This is one that we might like to stay away from, but may result in reporters finding you. Always be prepared. If you know a controversial topic is gaining public attention, have in mind what you would say about it.
Meeting with Editorial Boards
If there's one thing social studies educators should do as part of this campaign, it's to meet with editorial boards at your local newspaper. All newspapers have editorial boards, and they are the people that determine the position the paper will take in its editorials. The board of a large newspaper may consist of five people--an education reporter, the editor of the editorial page, the person who oversees writing of editorials, and two editorial writers. On a very small paper, the "editorial board" may be the newspaper's editor.
As newspapers cover school reform and curriculum changes, they are likely to editorialize on the value of certain subjects. By meeting with editorial boards now, you will assure that your viewpoint is on the table. Without such a meeting, an editorial could be written without your information.
Consider these steps:
- Phone the newspaper to determine who is in charge of its editorial board.
- Phone that person and request a meeting about the essential role of social studies and its value in creating effective citizens.
- Pull together a small group of people who can accompany you to the meeting, but make sure it's a diverse group. Include a social studies educator and perhaps a business leader, school board member, parent, and/or student. Each should represent a different viewpoint on the importance of social studies education.
- Determine the key messages that should be delivered during the meeting. All should revolve around the campaign theme, and remember to include the specific message points for the news media. Do not deliver too many messages, or your most important points will be diluted.
- Develop a small handout packet on the importance of social studies that you can leave. Do not rely on them to remember everything you say.
- A few days after the meeting, send a thank you letter and reinforce the idea that you are always available to talk with them about social studies education.
An editorial board meeting may not result in an immediate article, but these are important people who should be aware of your message before they write.
Councils could consider organizing a plan to reach editorial boards at all major newspapers in their state as part of this campaign. The council president or other officers could participate in each meeting along with representatives from the local school system.
Being a Local Resource
Too frequently today individuals with a national position take pot shots at education. Or reports come out that question the value of social studies or other subjects. These national stories are likely to be covered in your local media, but local reporters like to have a local angle. That provides them with something their competition may not have.
Whenever negative comments are delivered nationally, take the offensive to demonstrate to the news media why that is not the case in your community. Prepare your thoughts and give reporters a call to offer your views. NCSS is planning to provide sample responses to such attacks on its website.
Never Say 'No Comment'
If you are being interviewed, never use the words "no comment"--those words communicate much. People who say no comment are perceived as hiding something. There will be times when you don't know information or when you legally can't comment. Get the information or explain the situation, but stay away from the words "no comment."
Ideas That Have Worked
Here are ideas that educators have used across the country to communicate with the news media:
- Whenever students receive awards in social studies, send out a news release on that accomplishment. (See the samples in "Action Steps".). Not all of these releases will be used but some will, and they communicate that social studies is successful in your school. The release should be short (preferably one page, but no more than two).
- Whenever you write a news release, include a quote from an appropriate person on the importance of social studies education--that it is addressing today's challenges and developing effective citizens. This is one way to deliver the campaign's message on a consistent basis. (The sample releases contain such a quote.)
- Invite reporters into your classroom. An editor or reporter can present an interesting perspective on current issues, the role of the media in a democratic society, economic trends, and many more topics covered on social studies classrooms. Involving journalists in your events shows them that you care. It is one more way to develop credibility.
- Look for ways to involve journalists in other school activities, whether it's speaking at a PTA meeting or being the emcee at a school dance. You may not control these events, but you can make suggestions to those who do.
- Provide story ideas to reporters. Reporters are human and can't be expected to know everything. Sometimes a good story goes uncovered because the newspaper or television station is unaware of it. Don't expect all to be used, but some will. Ideas to consider include:
- A third grade reenactment of the Pilgrims' landing, scheduled at Thanksgiving
- A high school mock election
- A service project where students are working with senior citizens on a local history project
- The school's economic fair
- Creation of a unique map or mapping project
You will know best what is a possibility in your school. Consider bringing together all social studies teachers at the start of the year and brainstorm ideas that might appeal to the news media. Have a coordinated approach so that ideas will be shared throughout the year.