In fall 2021, Michael G. Strawser, University of Central Florida, secured vital funding from the National Communication Association to bolster K-12 educational initiatives. This significant development marks the resurgence of a task force, not merely for the purpose of gathering needs assessment data but with a broader mission: the collaborative creation and co-designing of invaluable resources aimed at K-12 educators. The task force included graduate students, long-standing communication researchers with a passion for and history of K-12 research or advocacy, as well as K-12 representatives, Strawser noted.
This collaborative effort involves partnerships with the Department of Education, and where federal agency cooperation may prove challenging, state education departments emerge as potential allies.
Across the United States, many states have established online portals housing an array of instructional resources. Forming partnerships with these state departments offers access to a wealth of expertise and diverse professional development opportunities. One pivotal component of this initiative is the development of an asynchronous course titled "Communication Teaching and Learning 101," designed specifically for K-12 educators of all levels. This course will delve into the intricacies of the two speaking and listening standards: "Comprehension and Collaboration" and "Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas." Successful completion of this course will culminate in a valuable credential from the National Communication Association.
This grant serves as a catalyst for the initial phases of building a robust network of stakeholders. It will facilitate the creation of practical resources, including strategies and tips, to guide universities and instructors seeking to partner effectively with K-12 districts.
Moreover, this grant paves the way for Communication Education to sponsor a special edition focusing exclusively on K-12 instructional methods and pedagogy in alignment with the speaking and listening standards. Communication scholars are encouraged to initiate research studies in collaboration with local school districts or contacts in K-12 education, thereby advancing our collective understanding of effective instructional approaches.
Lastly, this grant aims to bolster Communication Ph.D. programs, particularly those with an instructional or communication education emphasis. It seeks to support the development of graduate certificate programs focused on teaching communication across diverse educational contexts, including K-12 environments. This initiative will furnish templates, suggested curriculum structures, and exemplar programs, thus fostering a more comprehensive and effective approach to communication education.
The first partnership is with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). It is a collaboration aimed at creating a comprehensive online professional development course for K-12 educators. “This innovative course is designed to empower teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively teach public speaking and listening across various subjects,” Strawser said. “This endeavor represents just the beginning, the first phase of our shared vision. Our ultimate aspiration is to expand our offerings, but in the immediate term, we are poised to make a significant impact by reaching potentially thousands of K-12 teachers with valuable professional development opportunities.”
To provide a comprehensive overview of the course's significance, it's essential to consider the historical backdrop against which it is being developed. With the advent of common core standards, the importance of public speaking and listening skills became more prominent in K-12 education. However, an overarching challenge emerged as many schools, districts, and states shifted their focus away from the common core framework. Consequently, the direct inclusion of public speaking and listening skills in state standards began to diminish, particularly when not explicitly tied to the common core.
Nevertheless, the enduring importance of these skills cannot be overstated, especially within the context of the 21st-century workplace. Teachers found themselves grappling with the daunting task of incorporating public speaking and listening into their curricula without the benefit of adequate preparation or training in communication education, Strawser noted. This disconnect between the standards' expectations and the practical capabilities of instructors created a noticeable gap in the education system.
“Our overarching goal with this project is to provide direct, tangible support to K-12 teachers. Initially, we contemplated hosting resources on the NCA website and enhancing existing materials, including standardized rubrics and other tools. However, as our discussions evolved, we began to question whether this approach would effectively reach and engage our intended audience,” Strawser said.
This is where NFHS came into the picture. NFHS is a prominent and influential training and development organization and offers a wide array of professional development opportunities for K-12 and high school instructors. While their primary focus lies in speech and debate instruction, they have a broader scope encompassing other areas of education. What truly sets NFHS apart is the sheer size of their audience, which potentially numbers in the tens of thousands of teachers. “This vast reach presents an unparalleled opportunity for us to disseminate our content and make a meaningful impact on education,” Strawser said.
NFHS will leverage the communication expertise provided by Strawser’s team to develop the course content, tailoring it to the specific needs and preferences of their audience. Currently, the course has four core objectives, which revolve around knowledge acquisition, skill enhancement, and behavior change. These objectives serve as the foundation for the course, with a central focus on defining the concepts of public speaking and listening, fostering a deep appreciation for these skills among teachers and students alike, and equipping educators with practical strategies to enhance their own communication skills and those of their students.
“Without the partnership of NFHS and NCA, this course doesn't happen. There was a recognized need, supporting K-12 teachers to become even more effective instructors by providing subject-matter expertise related to public speaking and listening,” Strawser said. “NFHS and NCA, through the efforts of the task force, have provided a solution to a complex problem that will have incredible and widespread impact.”
The course, as currently structured, is designed to be both informative and efficient, with a duration of approximately 15 to 20 minutes. This format ensures that teachers can seamlessly integrate the course into their busy schedules, even during a planning period.
“We view this partnership with NFHS as a promising beginning—a stepping stone that will enable us to create an extensive library of additional content in collaboration with them, thereby further advancing the cause of communication education in K-12 settings across the nation,” Strawser said. “Together, we aspire to empower educators and enrich the educational experience for countless students.”
"NCA is happy to provide this vital funding," Shari said. "We want to provide a catalyst for positive change as we co-create a brighter future for K-12 educators and students. Together, this partnership will give the next generation invaluable resources to help their journey in education."