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Sharing stories of resilience

Kathryn Kao

September 29, 2020

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The coronavirus disrupted life around the world with K-12 schools shutting down to mitigate the spread of the virus.

As a result, teachers both nationally and internationally turned to digital tools and the internet to continue teaching students. Because of the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, no standard practices existed for educators to follow during this massive shift in classroom instruction.

Despite these interruptions, teachers who previously taught face-to-face continued to support students online, resulting in drastically different experiences among educators. To better understand how teachers were supported and prepared to teach with digital tools during the initial outbreak, as well as the beginning of fall semester, associate professor Tisha Lewis Ellison is conducting a mixed methods survey study, titled “Teaching During a Pandemic: How Teachers Used Digital Tools to Promote Learning,” to capture the stories of K-12 teachers around the world.

“Many teachers had to quickly shift from face-to-face to online learning, and a lot of them were very resilient,” said Lewis Ellison, who teaches in the Mary Frances Early College of Education’s Department of Language and Literacy Education. “Some of them had to teach without any assistance or support. They were scared. We see them as one of many frontline essential workers for our students, and we wanted to humanize their stories from the narratives they chose to write about in our surveys. We want to hear their stories.”

Lewis Ellison and professor Jennifer Esposito at Georgia State University, are collaborating on this project and have compiled nearly 300 responses from in-service teachers globally thus far. The survey consists of multiple choice and open-ended questions for teachers to highlight how they were supported by their school districts, as well as their resiliency during these challenging times—both professionally and personally.

Since many educators are also parents, the two are interested in how these teachers responded to the added responsibility of teaching their own children from home using digital tools and devices, such as Google Classroom, Zoom, Microsoft TEAMS and more.

Lewis Ellison—whose research focuses on the digital literacy practices of African American families and adolescents—and Esposito—whose research focuses on the educational experiences of Black and Brown teachers and students in K-16 environments—are especially interested in how digital tools have impacted and extended students’ learning in the home, as well as how teachers have worked to incorporate anti-racist teaching into their curriculum online.

“We want to highlight teachers who are now having to shift everything digitally, and how that benefits all children, including Black and Brown children,” Lewis Ellison said. “We want to know what they are doing digitally to enhance and cultivate what all students need to learn in the classroom, including the anti-racist learning teachers are incorporating, if any.”

Since many teachers often act as counselors for students in the classroom, the study will also look at how teachers have continued to support their students socially and emotionally. “I have a lot of teacher friends, and I'm hearing firsthand how they are having to operate during this time, personally,” Lewis Ellison adds. “It’s been a lot of grief, a lot of loss even in their family's lives. So, this pandemic is hitting way beyond just the educational sector. It’s very personal, and we want to pay attention to this viral crisis and teachers’ current mental mindset.”

After analyzing the results from the study, Lewis Ellison and Esposito plan on using the data to create professional development programs and webinars on digital tools to strengthen training and support for K-12 teachers, especially since a second wave of the coronavirus is expected to hit later this year.

The implications for this study also extend beyond the classroom to educational policy. By surveying teachers internationally, the two can assess whether policies and practices implemented by other countries during the pandemic can help inform policy for education in the United States or vice versa.

“Our study has the potential to extend our initial predictions of how teachers are teaching during this pandemic in regards to programming and the policies we can try to implement,” said Lewis Ellison. “We want to humanize these stories and what these teachers are doing. But we’re also not just reading what they’re writing in the surveys, we’re also going to analyze everything and come up with some implications that would be feasible for universities, classrooms, and hopefully, policymakers.”