Reflections on Teaching in Crisis Contexts (1 of 4) - How is COVID-19 different?

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Teacher Wellbeing

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

COVID-19 presents skilled and compassionate teachers and school leaders with a time to shine.

Courtesy of Chris Henderson; original article published on 26 March 2020.

Credit: Nam Hoang
Credit: Nam Hoang

Do you work with teachers, school leaders, or education in emergencies practitioners? With 10 years' experience as a teacher, practitioner, and researcher in crisis contexts, I have written a four part blog series focused on supporting teacher mindsets, mental health, and well-being during the COVID-19 crisis.

Five takeaways from this series:

  1. The quality of learning experienced by children and adolescents is dependent on your own mental health and wellbeing; have self-care strategies in place before you need them.
  2. For the foreseeable future, we are creating a new normal rather than returning to normal; use this time of limitation and change to innovate and improve.
  3. In traditional crises we connect with children and adolescents in temporary physical spaces to reinforce relationships, enhance well-being, and create meaningful learning; COVID-19 denies us this opportunity but allows us to develop or rework our pedagogical playbooks online.
  4. Imagine the values, skills, and dispositions children and adolescents could gain from this experience; backwards map an ideal future state. How might you leverage this time to build resilient, adaptive learners and connected, compassionate citizens?
  5. We are part of a global profession creating continuity and enhancing learning for millions of children and adolescents; it is our time to shine.

How is COVID-19 different?

I never intended to specialise in crisis contexts. In becoming a teacher I wanted to engage with diverse communities, bring out the creative best in young people, and work alongside passionate, inspiring colleagues who transform lives and futures. I thought schools and communities were places that we, as teachers and community leaders, had the power to change for the better. During my teacher education I never conceived that unforeseeable events such as earthquakes, acts of terrorism, or pandemics could instead change us, how we teach, where we teach, or even why we teach. 

As we begin this period of COVID-19 lockdown, I want to reflect on the learning I have been privileged to gain, apply, and iterate across various areas of work over the past 10 years. When I peel back the layers of learning, compartmentalise testing and often traumatic experiences, and sift through examples of courageous and innovative colleagues I have collaborated with, the common factors that enhance our resilience, well-being, and educational success have been an agentic mindset and sense of self-efficacy; which will be explained further in the third blog of this series.

This blog series is not intended as a ‘how to’ guide. Developing and maintaining an agentic mindset and sense of self-efficacy in a crisis context is not a clean step by step strategy. It’s the product of audacious and messy ideas in hard times, unwavering educational values, positive professional relationships, exposure to diverse realities, and a good dose of critical self-awareness.

I hope this reflection supports your own thinking and leadership as you navigate the uncertainty and hardship of the weeks and months ahead.

When we consider teachers’ work in a crisis context we think of an isolated event that becomes complex or protracted as a result of human actions. For example, a natural event like an earthquake, striking a single geographic location, and exacerbated by human conditions or systems such as poverty, ineffective governance, or poor urban planning; thereby turning the natural event into a disaster or crisis. In such events, although children and adolescents may not have access to classrooms, teachers and families can still connect face to face, reinforce relationships, and facilitate learning at alternative or temporary sites of instruction. Furthermore, as an isolated event support is accessible through regional or international aid. Broadly speaking, there is also a light at the end of a tunnel as authorities and communities work through the response, recovery, and future preparedness phases. As such, educators and humanitarian professionals soon move beyond initial psycho-social support (PSS) and social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions as schools and communities return to the normalcy and routine that is crucial for child and adolescent development.

As a 21st Century pandemic COVID-19 is unprecedented. It affects every corner of the globe, consuming near-total attention of governments and news media, promising long-term economic decline, and a devastating loss of life where the response is insufficient or underlying health conditions and systemic inequity compounds people’s vulnerabilities. And in this case, for those with access, our education systems’ temporary or alternative learning sites will be facilitated online in the living rooms, bedrooms, or backyards of quarantined children and their families. What’s more, the uncertainty of how long this scenario will play out means the idea of returning to normal is just not possible. For the foreseeable future we, as a global profession of skilled and compassionate teachers and school leaders, will be creating and defining a new normal for hundreds of millions of children and adolescents. As we have no immediate light at the end of the tunnel, it is our time to shine.


Read Part 2 - In this moment your mindset matters

Read Part 3 - Your mental health and well-being are critical in a crisis

Read Part 4 - Focus on what you can influence


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