Best Practices to Advance Civic Learning at the District Level

Ensuring that our children develop the necessary skills to become engaged citizens requires school districts committed to civic education. In addition to our state-level policies and practices, below we outline specific actions that school districts should take in order to ensure universal, equitable access to high-quality civic learning experiences and environments throughout students’ K-12 trajectories.

1. Establishing a K-12 Civic Learning Plan: District and school leaders must demonstrate a clear commitment to the civic mission of the district schools, by dedicating the necessary resources to sustain this vision, and ensure that all students have equitable access to civic learning by:

  • Engaging all stakeholders in developing and maintaining the vision of the district and developing a common understanding of how the district will reach its civic goals through civic learning
  • Enabling teachers to exercise autonomy, responsibility, and creativity to introduce practices of constitutional democracy and student agency in the classroom
  • Allocating time, money, flexibility, and staffing that is reflective of the communities the district  serves to ensure that civic learning is a valued, reliable, and core part of the curriculum across disciplines and grade levels 
  • Leveraging policies, resources, and political capital at the district level to support teachers in integrating civic learning and creating equitable opportunities for students’ civic growth
  • Articulating how students will engage in civic learning and engagement across grade levels at the school and district level
  • Reaching out to families and local stakeholders and explain and why they are valuable to students’ learning experience 

Evidence of school leaders’ commitment to establishing a K-12 civic learning plan can be found in: 

  • Calendar and budgeting data for staff professional development
  • Documents detailing staff hiring process
  • Vertical articulation of civic learning
  • Staff and student surveys

2. Hiring, developing, and evaluating civics teachers: District and school leaders must commit to hiring, developing, and evaluating staff that can carry out the civic mission of district schools by:

  • Hiring mission-driven staff through democratic processes that include students, staff, and teachers
  • Ensuring that teachers and staff contribute to processes and decision-making at the school and district level
  • Making significant and long-term investments in teacher professional development (PD), starting at the kindergarten level 
  • Offering evidence-based instructional training and mentoring to all teachers so they can strengthen content knowledge and instructional strategies to facilitate engaged and effective learning
  • Ensuring that PD opportunities are guided by teacher and student feedback
  • Encouraging and creating opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration to allow teachers to work together to integrate civics and American history with English language arts, mathematics, science, and other existing priorities 
  • Involving educators in curriculum development 
  • Creating opportunities for teacher leadership through working groups and committees
  • Encouraging teachers to learn from their students, colleagues, families, and community members

Evidence of a district’s plan to hire, develop, and evaluate EAD teachers can be found in:

  • Danielson Framework for Effective Teaching
  • Rubrics for evaluating new teacher candidates
  • Teacher recruitment plans
  • Professional development plans
  • Staff and student surveys

3. Nurturing school, family, and community partnerships: District and school leaders and staff must ensure that families, the school, and the surrounding community are resources for each other and that there are frequent and meaningful interactions with families and community partners through:

  • Engaging families in opportunities for learning and collaboration with school and district leadership.
  • Collaborating with local government, community organizations, and extracurricular programs to increase equitable access to civic engagement opportunities 
  • Partnering with community-based organizations, extracurricular programs, local government, and families and making academic connections in extracurricular and community-based programs.
  • Building collaborative, mutually beneficial, and reciprocal relationships with community partners that attend to community needs and assets and incorporate local context into student learning opportunities

Evidence of school, family, and community partnerships can be found in:

  • Community partnership reflections on a joint program or task
  • Student feedback from students who work with community partners on service projects
  • Media coverage
  • Parent, student, community, and alumni surveys

4. Creating and maintaining a democratic school climate: Districts must create and maintain a positive and democratic school climate that promotes students’ civic development, engagement, and sense of belonging by:

  • Maintaining a welcoming environment with visual reminders of the district’s civic mission and representation of the student population
  • Displaying copies of the school’s mission statement and/or values throughout the school, referencing them regularly, and updating them periodically 
  • Decorating classrooms and hallways with work reflective of teachers’ and students’ civic engagement
  • Teachers and administration serving as role models of civically engaged community members and who are candid about their own civic engagement when appropriate
  • Adopting a student growth mindset across academic and social contexts in the district community 
  • Supporting a set of civic norms and values school through policies, practices, and infrastructure 
  • Utilizing restorative and democratic disciplinary practices to support students through districtwide adoption and training

Evidence of a democratic school climate can be found in:

  • Mission statement displays
  • Student codes of conduct
  • Disciplinary data
  • Student surveys on belonging
  • Student bills of rights
  • Staff and student surveys

5. Elevating student voice in school decision making: Districts must provide formal, informal, and regular opportunities for student voice and student decision-making that is impactful at various levels of the school community by:

  • Integrating student voice in regards to curriculum, assessments, and classroom procedures and practices 
  • Creating opportunities for students to share reflections about their learning with families and community 
  • Establishing transparent and ongoing districtwide mechanisms to measure, gauge, analyze, and respond to student voices that are representative of the student body 
  • Incorporating multiple ways to leverage student voice on questions, tensions, and issues that impact students throughout the district 
  • Informing students of their rights and responsibilities in school
  • Facilitating districtwide democratic deliberation on school issues through school media and extra-curricular programs 

Evidence of student voice in school decision making can be found in:

  • Staff and student surveys
  • Extracurricular activities, clubs, and organizations available to students
  • Course and curricular content
  • Student media
  • Summaries of advisory board and committee agendas and minutes, along with assessments of decisions made by these bodies

6. Inquiry at the center of civic learning: Teachers must design curriculum and utilize practices of constitutional democracy in order to cultivate students’ civic knowledge, skills, dispositions, and critical thinking across disciplines and extracurricular activities by:

  • Utilizing concrete strategies and suggestions to design learning opportunities that enable all learners to engage in rigorous civics and history instruction 
  • Making explicit civic learning connections and applications across all content areas
  • Considering the diversity of learners and developing clear benchmarks of progress to support all students and teachers in building and communicating informed arguments
  • Making significant and long-term investments in developing a curriculum that suits local priorities and meets state standards 
  • Committing to universal, equitable access to high-quality K-12 civic education as a key district priority to enhance student learning 
  • Facilitating opportunities for educators to collaborate and analyze student work 
  • Providing opportunities for educators to engage in conversations to build vertical alignment
  • Identifying assessment and accountability measures that account for students’ civic development, including civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions,  and support holistic teacher and school success 

Evidence inquiry-centered civic learning can be found in:

  • Team-taught classes
  • Literature/culture-rich classes
  • Extracurricular activities that connect students to issues in their communities
  • Classes with a strong research component
  • Unit maps reflecting civic skills and dispositions
  • Formative and summative assessments related to civic learning