Building On Our Covid Experience: 3 Ways to Move Forward

Last week, Diane wrote about SupportEd’s ten year anniversary. At almost the same time, another anniversary has occurred of an event that has affected each one of us in many different ways. How did you feel when in-person schooling closed? What did you anticipate would happen to you, your students, your family, your friends?

In this blog post, we reflect on the past year in terms of its impact on educating English learners (ELs). We also focus on what we have learned from this experience as we look to move forward with supporting our ELs, their families, and their educators.

The Impact of the Covid Pandemic on English Learners (ELs)

We have listened and heard the immense challenges teachers, students, and families have endured over the past year. Teachers have been working in instructional models that have been in a state of near constant flux with some districts still making changes at this point in the school year. It seems that just when a routine is established, class schedules change or other disruptions occur such as positive Covid cases or state testing.

As for the impact on students, we know that many ELs were unaccounted for during distance learning, and ELs who were learning fully remotely received failing grades in much higher numbers than non-ELs. These factors, among many others such as isolation and fear, have resulted in many students’ mental health deteriorating during the pandemic.

Finally, we saw the impact of structural inequalities as Black and Latino families disproportionately fell ill and died from Covid. We witnessed jobs being lost at higher numbers in such areas as service industries and women in particular leaving their career paths to stay home with their children who were learning remotely. As educators, we all did what we could to support families that were challenged by helping their children with technology given the extra barrier of language.

What We Have Seen From Educators of English Learners (ELs) During the Covid Pandemic

At the same time, we have seen amazing accomplishments over the past year as Covid caused many teachers, even the most veteran, to feel like first year teachers once again. The pandemic and the closing of in-person schools sparked an unparalleled level of innovation and flexibility for teachers, administrators, students, and parents. At SupportEd, we witnessed many examples of inspired distance learning instruction and hybrid teaching.

One example of these innovations is teachers creating new bonds of community in fully virtual settings by opening up synchronous instruction platforms early to allow students to informally connect with each other. Another example that SupportEd has seen is teachers making home visits to EL families to meet in socially distanced ways to provide assistance with technology. An additional creative example is teachers creating small group breakout rooms that embed instructional scaffolds for ELs to ensure they can actively take part and practice their oral language with their peers.

Three Ways to Move Forward in Supporting English Learners (ELs)

In some districts, students have been attending in-person school since the fall. In many other, larger districts, plans are being made to start bringing students back to some form of in-person instruction this spring.

To help prepare for what lies ahead, it is essential to focus on all the progress that has been made despite the challenges of Covid. The major success of the past year is that teachers have continued to rely on what they know is best for teaching and learning. Among many other accomplishments, educators have continued to build relationships with their students. They have established routines that help their students feel comfortable and safe and they have reached out and connected with families.

As we begin to see shifts in models of instruction and continue to make sense of the uncertainty of the upcoming school year, the team at SupportEd encourages teachers to continue on the path they have already created and to continue to strengthen their strong connections with students, their routines and their family supports.

We would like to highlight three ways educators can build on the foundations they have established to move forward.

1. Build upon strong relationships with EL students

Despite the challenges of being physically separated, teachers have nurtured relationships with their students. Throughout the pandemic, teachers have shown that they care not only about student learning, but also about students’ social-emotional health and well being. They have created ways for students to feel connected to each other and to their class through interactive morning check-ins, informal chatting, and incorporating games into their remote instruction. These connections have helped students feel comfortable and secure despite the uncertainty outside of school. We encourage teachers to continue these community building activities as school systems shift and modify instructional delivery.

2. Build upon the established instructional routines with EL students

As mentioned above, during the pandemic we have seen higher failure rates and lower than normal attendance rates for some EL students. Based on these statistics it is tempting, especially at this time of the school year, to attempt to “make up for lost time” or “fill in the gaps.” This effort to speed up the pace of instruction is not likely to be effective for students or encourage more regular attendance. Instead, students will benefit from continued intentional collaborative planning that carefully considers their strengths and needs around content topics and language development. We encourage teachers to continue providing appropriate scaffolds and working with students in small groups, whether these be in person or in virtual breakout rooms. In this way, teachers can continue to target instruction that meets students where they are and builds their skills from there, which is a key to student engagement.

3. Build upon the connections developed with EL families

During virtual learning, most of the communication with families has been over email or text. In doing so, we have missed out on the crucial casual interactions during drop off before school and pick up after school. While school buildings were closed, teachers and administrators have gone out of their way to ensure families have access to technology, internet, and have a clear understanding of information coming from the school and district. While educators were building connections with EL families, contact with them may have been more focused on what students were lacking, such as missing or incomplete assignments or low attendance. During the spring, we propose refocusing efforts on recognizing families’ assets by helping them reflect on all they have done to support their children, thereby strengthening and reframing our relationships with them during another time of potential transition and change.

Three Ways to Move Forward in Supporting English Learners (ELs)

Click here to download the Three Ways to Move Forward in Supporting English Learners (ELs) infographic

Looking Forward to Supporting ELs Next Year

As we reflect on what we have endured over the past year, we encourage educators to also pause and recognize the many ways in which you have supported your students and their families. To educators everywhere, the team at SupportEd is truly inspired by all you have done to improve the lives of your students. While we are keenly aware that more change will likely be coming over the next few months, we are feeling hopeful for ELs and their families moving forward.

After all, ELs have one more asset at their disposal: the hard work you put in each day to be an integral part of their support system.

Mindi Teich