Curriculum Matters

Special Civics and Government Edition: January 6, 2021 (2)5

Message From the Curriculum Director


As I write this, I am sitting with my family watching the events of the day continue to unfold into the night. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would hear the words "the Capitol has been breached" and see the images and videos of the mob of people storming our nation's capital.

This summer, our Social Studies SAC spent a lot of time talking about how to teach controversial topics in the classroom, in preparation for the election. Back in July, as we worked on revising the curriculum, we really grappled with how to deal with the divided state of the nation in our classrooms. Joe Schmidt, the tireless Social Studies rep at the DOE, shared resources for having Courageous Conversations. An interview with Asst. Superintendent Patrick Hartnett helped us to clarify district policy in relation to teaching controversial subjects. We developed a mission statement for social studies (still a draft) that includes an emphasis on "positive collaboration and communication in the classroom and the respectful exchange of ideas". While this mission statement is not ready for prime time, I thought it important to share that snippet with you.

Tomorrow, there will likely be lots of questions about the events of today, high emotions as kids and faculty process their feelings, and, I am sure, there is concern about how to tackle the conversations that will likely occur when you see your students. I had an opportunity to participate in a live chat on Twitter this evening with educators from around the country (#sschat), so I thought I would pull together some of the resources that I learned about this evening. It was an incredibly powerful experience to collaborate with teachers from across our nation as we collectively figure out how to approach our work tomorrow (not to mention the rush I got when an idea I shared was retweeted by a Civics blog!).

So here is my late night attempt to support you in your classrooms tomorrow, and in the next few days as this process unfolds. I was inspired by the words of Kate Messner, author of The Seventh Wish (and who visited The Hills a few years ago):

"I'm seeing a lot of educators and parents online tonight, wondering what we tell the kids about all of this. The answer, as always, is the truth. That something unprecedented and awful has happened, like some of the things they've read about in their history books. Tonight, we are all the people from those history books. Our voices matter. Their voices matter. Democracy and leadership matter, too. So talk with the kids about all of that - about the Constitution and the peaceful transition of power. Talk with them about leadership, about senators like Tammy Duckworth, a former combat veteran who told reporters this afternoon that she wasn't going anywhere, that she was staying to carry out her Constitutional duty, and no mob was going to stop her. Let the kids talk. Answer their questions. And remind them that when scary things happen, there are always also good people who step up to lead. Tell them that job belongs to all of us, that it will be their job when they're older, too. Tell them you believe in them. And then go on with your teaching, because education and citizenship matter more than ever. We need to be better than this."

It is important to remember that some of our students and families will be traumatized by the events of the day today, and other students and families will be celebrating. We need to support our kids (and each other) in navigating the hard conversations and the range of feelings that will be present in our buildings.

I hope these resources are helpful to you,


Resources from #sschat on January 6, 2021

This is a spreadsheet with all of the resources that were crowdsourced on Twitter this evening. If you haven't participated in a Twitter chat, I highly encourage it. It is an incredibly learning and collaboration opportunity. #learn17

Processing and Discussing

Here's a process to get discussion started. Using a photo or some other stimuli, begin a silent reflection with these questions (try a Jamboard or a Padlet to do this digitally):
  1. What do you notice?
  2. What do you wonder?
  3. What questions do you have?
  4. What do you want people to know?

Then lead a discussion with question #3.

Kylene Beers, in Tomorrow is Not Simply Another Day at School, offers words of inspiration and a strategy for digging in:

  • What surprised you?
  • What did the author think you already knew? (the author could be the news reporters, or members of Congress)
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed your thinking?

Today's Essential Questions (@justinchristensen on Twitter):

  • What does US History tell us about transitions of power after election day?
  • What was supposed to happen in Congress on January 6, 2021?
  • What happens next?
  • What questions do you have?

These questions will help students with an historical perspective and serve to give them a place to ask questions.

PBS News Hour provides some strategies for engaging students in civil discourse following the events at the US Capitol.

Where do we go from here? prepared a list of resources to help teachers process the election with their students. "Where do we go from here?" by Mary Ellen Daneels, a Civics Instructional Specialist, offers strategies for working with students. Written in October, Daneels, may not have envisioned the events of today (maybe she did?), but the strategies are good nonetheless. Emphasizing the notion of "Maslow before Blooms", the strategies support creating a reflective classroom culture. The strategies include:

There is also a section called "Words Matter," that serves as a reminder about the power of the language we use in the classroom. Check out the the sentence starters and transition statements, and some advice about avoiding othering, and also considerations for how to handle inappropriate language.

Social Emotional Considerations

The National Association of School Psychologists issued Guidance for Ensuring Student Well-Being in the context of the 2020 Election. This guidance includes:

  • Reinforcing a sense of positive school community (it's all about the relationships!)
  • Model and teach desired behaviors (like discussion!)
  • Reassure children that they will be ok
  • Reinforce staff well-being
  • Help children manage strong emotions
  • Reinforce acceptance and appreciation for diversity as critical American values.
  • Stop any type of verbal or physical harassment or bullying immediately.
  • Help children see other perspectives and value respectful dialogue.
  • Discuss the importance of respecting our democratic process
  • Encourage children to channel their views and feelings into positive action.

NASP has shared two links to support parents and educators in helping students "feel safe and secure and to help them learn how to engage with others of differing viewpoints in a peaceful, tolerant, and respectful manner.":

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