Teaching in Times of Crisis: A Global Initiative for Teacher Professional Development

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Teacher Professional Development
Teacher Wellbeing

This article is part of a collection of blog posts related to the education in emergencies response to COVID-19. 

Educators from crisis contexts share their experiences and strategies for teaching during a global pandemic

Since the onset  of the pandemic, INEE’s refrain has been ‘this is not our first emergency’, and indeed for the field of education in emergencies, it is not. The COVID-19 blog series, the resource collection, and the webinar series are testament to the collective wisdom that already existed within the EiE community, reframing this experience to respond to the vast scale of the global health crisis.

Meanwhile, for many educators in the United States, teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was their first experience teaching in a crisis. Across the country, teachers rose to the occasion in a myriad of creative ways, yet often relied on trial and error to meet the complex challenges posed by providing high quality education in an emergency. Many teachers felt alone in this work and lacked guidance on best practices. Elisheva Cohen (Elly) and her team at Indiana University’s Center for the Study of Global Change recognized that teachers around the world have been teaching in a range of crises for many years and US teachers could learn from their experiences. Elly reached out to INEE, and thus, a webinar series was born. 

The webinar series, Teaching in Times of Crisis: Learning from Educators around the World, highlighted the experiences and expertise of teachers around the world who have been teaching in a range of emergency settings for many years. In each webinar, participants heard from teachers or education specialists in a wide range of contexts including: Syria, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Italy, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Nigeria, Jordan, Egypt, New Zealand, South Korea, China, Israel.

The audience heard first-hand accounts of teaching within conflict and crisis settings and the strategies teachers use to support students and themselves. Participants also heard about the creative ways in which teachers have responded to the Coronavirus pandemic, adapting their practices to deliver education at a distance and welcome students back into the classrooms. 

After the panelists had presented, audience members were given time in smaller groups to reflect on and discuss what they had heard. Some key takeaways included:

Teachers have taken on multiple roles during the pandemic…

Teachers noted that they are “assuming new responsibilities because of COVID-19, they became first responders, volunteers in the community, sending food to students in need;” they are “psychologists, giving parents support and being an open-ear for students,” acting as “tech support and cheerleader” 

Teachers want to support students and build classroom communities...

Teachers felt inspired to try delivering PSS-SEL in many ways, including “group activities with each task, routines to help with feelings of stability, behavior activities that show teachers care for them, homework hotlines, tutorial support to students, provide time at the beginning of each lesson with breathing, settling, and connecting.” 

But in the face of multiple new roles and despite efforts to support students, teachers face many challenges that affect their mental health and well being:

Teachers are: “exhausted, overwhelmed, underappreciated,” they have difficulty “reaching students that have limited access to distance learning,” they are “frustrated by not being heard and undermined by administration” and they fear “being overworked and burning out”

Teachers felt this professional development series fostered a sense of global community and solidarity that provided motivation and inspiration!

“I loved the creativity of teachers and the feeling of buoyancy that came from knowing we are not alone!!
Getting the opportunity to hear from teachers across the globe and knowing we were all having similar experiences.”

“I love the global connected experience of this webinar series. I have never been a part of anything like this and feel inspired by the stories of teachers around the WORLD. We talk a great deal about teaching students to be a part of a Globally connected world but I have not been a teacher of a globally connected world. This is a gift!”

This series provided a rare chance for teachers to hear the experiences of their peers around the world. What resulted was a strong sense of community and solidarity in this global moment of crisis.

Below you will find links to the four webinar recordings with a short overview of each.

Webinar recordings and overviews

This series is presented by the Hamilton Lugar School of Indiana University, with support from the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies.

Webinar 1: Teaching in Times of Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities
Friday, July 17, 2020

In this webinar, participants gained a deeper understanding of the role that education plays in emergency settings and heard how educators around the world experienced and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were introduced to global guidelines that articulate the minimum level of educational quality and access in emergencies through to recovery.
Introduction by Elisheva Cohen (Indiana University) and facilitated by Bente Sandal and Natalie Brackett (Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies), with presentations from:

  • Hadeel Kazim, English teacher in Damascus, Syria
  • Olena Statkevich, teacher in Kyiv, Ukraine
  • Kenzhegul Kadirova, middle and high school English teacher in Almaty, Kazakhstan
  • Bruna Inglese, High school English teacher, Italy

Webinar 2: Teacher Well-Being and Self Care in a Crisis
Friday, July 24, 2020

In crisis situations, teachers put extensive time and energy towards supporting their students’ learning and growth, while simultaneously struggling themselves with the daily realities of living through a crisis. While the stress of teaching is often exacerbated during a crisis, little attention is given to supporting teacher well-being. In this webinar, educators from around the world shared their experiences and strategies for supporting their own mental health and well-being during a crisis situation.
Facilitated by Danielle Falk (Teachers College, Columbia University), with presentations from:

  • Moisa Saidu, Sierra Leone and New York
  • Aguer Mayen, South Sudan and Kenya
  • Shakira Pietri Burgos, teacher and educational leader, Puerto Rico, with support from Carmen Medina, Associate Professor at Indiana University

Webinar 3: Supporting Students through Psychosocial Support and Social Emotional Learning
Friday, July 31, 2020

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with extensive time out of school has negatively impacted the mental health and well-being of many children. In this webinar, participants learned about the value of psychosocial support and social emotional learning (PSS-SEL) in a crisis situation and heard the experiences of educators who have provided PSS-SEL in a range of emergency settings. Speakers focused on ways to provide PSS-SEL through distance learning and in health crises.

Facilitated by Rachel Smith, Project Manager for Psychosocial Support and Social Emotional Learning at the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, with presentations from:

  • Dr. Wakil Bukar, Teacher Education Specialist, and Bem Tivkaa, Wellbeing Specialist with Save the Children/FHI360 Nigeria
  • Rana Alsharif, Technical Education Coordinator with NRC in Jordan
  • Eeman Mazloum, Teacher for Plan International in Egypt

Webinar 4: Going Back to School: Teaching in a Continuing COVID Crisis
Friday, August 6

As fall quickly approaches, many uncertainties remain as educators prepare for their return to the classroom: What will it be like to teach in a socially distanced classroom? What sort of academic and emotional support will students need, and how can teachers ensure equity in providing it? How will students feel about returning to school? In this webinar, participants heard from three teachers who have returned to the classroom following a coronavirus shutdown.
Facilitated by Chris Henderson, co-chair of the Teaching in Crisis Context Collaborative with presentations from:

  • Felicity Powell, secondary teacher in New Zealand
  • Kyungmin Lee, high school English teacher in South Korea
  • Zengxian Mo, middle school English teacher in Suzhou, China
  • Nourit Ben David Erez, special education English teacher in Ashdod, Israel
  • Naomi Rotich, literacy teacher in Kenya

The views expressed in this blog are the author's own.

Rachel Smith is the PSS-SEL Project Manager at INEE. With a background as a UK-qualified primary school teacher, Rachel moved into the field of EiE four years ago, starting out with a national NGO in Lebanon, then with a refugee service provider in Egypt, and most recently working with Terre des Hommes Italia in northern Iraq. Rachel holds an MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies from the University of London’s Refugee Law Initiative. Rachel speaks English and Arabic.

Elisheva Cohen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Global Change at Indiana University. She holds a PhD in Comparative and International Education from the University of MInnesota and an MA in International Educational Development from Columbia University Teachers College. Her research centers on education in a range of emergency settings and her practitioner work focuses particularly on supporting teachers through professional development opportunities.