Supporting students and teachers during COVID-19

Photo: USAID

By Massa Dopoh

Liberia as a nation has been faced with a lot. From one tragedy to another. From one disease to another. One global pandemic to another. Yet, in the midst of all these tragedies, we, as a nation and people, have striven and endured.

Our endurance is our strength. As our children and the rest of the world’s children prepare and/or have already begun the school year (2020-2021), I hope that my professional ideas will serve as a beacon of hope for not only on the way we view and treat our children but to support their teachers, parents and all those coming in contact with them.

I hope that my ideas can enable us to support the importance of their education and our commitment to their generation and ones to come.

As leaders and teachers and parents, we have the solid and demanding responsibility to safeguard their future and this is the right time to do so.

During this difficult period students desire to learn. I want to remind our school leaders and the Government of Liberia, including all those who are contributors to the growth of our students, that we have the responsibility and the opportunity to shift the attention of students from tragedies to recovery which comes with full intervention.

For the most vulnerable students of our society who have been neglected, abandoned and are living in a state of hopelessness, including food insecurity and homelessness, it is no doubt that COVID-19 has immensely affected them.

This is the population of students who have grieved and continue to grief in shame and silence due to the passing of their loved ones and their everyday experience with domestic violence, rape, sexual violence, childhood molestation, and hardships deriving from their economic and low socio-status.

Many of these students are returning to school bearing the huge weight of trauma that is definitely going to affect their learning.

In fact, most of their teachers are also going to be affected by trauma as they too are faced with the same economic recession and grief of losing loved ones. 

This state of mind can adversely affect their own teaching and learning with even more deadly outcomes on our students.

As a Licensed Masters Social Worker and policy practitioner, I do believe that when we help to improve the teaching, learning and school leadership, it will greatly impact the well-being and educational outcomes of our students.

As stated earlier, this sort of year is not new to Liberians and our students.

We have faced a lot and have endured to the end, and as a nation and people, we are going to use endurance again to fight this global pandemic.

How do we support our teachers and other educators?

During this difficult time, let our educators use trauma-informed approaches or strategies. The trauma-informed approach requires assessing mental and physical health and the socio-emotional learning support that students need now than ever before.

The trauma-informed approach requires good planning. Good planning is a form of trauma-informed approach that addresses the needs of students by identifying the best policies, resources, and procedures the teachers will need to facilitate a positive, compassionate and informed response to their students’ needs.

Once this is implemented, we can then address the area of building capacity of our teachers.

How do we build the capacity of teachers and other educators who are going to directly or indirectly impact the learning of students? By putting on a trauma-informed approach, building the capacity of our teachers will allow teachers and other educators to bolster and implement the plan by forming study teams on important topics and identifying training opportunities and other helpful resources.

Again, once this step is completed, we can now move to re-assessing.

Put on your trauma-informed approach by re-assessing the way in which the needs of our students have been met and by looking at what and how they might have changed and whether or not new needs have emerged.

Address those factors that will or have presented barriers to meeting the student’s most important needs even if it means revising their individualized teaching plan. 

Massa Dopoh

Teachers and school administrators can re-evaluate their individualized teaching plan that must include responding to COVID-19 related trauma in ways that will support students and eliminate trauma.

To be successful in doing this is to focus on addressing the crisis and getting the input of students through a robust and comprehensive assessment.

How do we focus on addressing the crisis in ways that will support the students and teachers? 

Addressing crisis is building teams and a stronger school community. It is important to note that team members should be diverse and inclusive.

This inclusiveness and diversity should include classroom teachers, parents or guardians, non-teaching staff such as the nurses (if there are any), school social workers, mentors, community members, if possible; and school leadership. 

We should also be mindful of who we are including on the team
because some formal and informal personnel who are ordinarily tapped to lead efforts such as this may not have the emotion, energy or mental capacity required to deal with the situation under current circumstances.

Notwithstanding, all of the different people listed here are an integral part of addressing the crisis and building a stronger school environment which will greatly impact the positive learning outcomes of the students.

The inclusiveness of this team is also a great way to tap into the talents of everyone in the best interest of the students, the school and the larger community. 

Rallying students’ Input

Rallying students’ input is giving students the opportunity to contribute to their successes. This is very important in the implementation of their plan and it is the best way to support a person.

It is also important for all those involved with addressing the crisis to give their own individual perspectives about the students.

Rallying students also means enabling students to stand up for themselves and understand that their voices do matter.

More importantly, to rally students’ input requires reaching out to students who are less talkers, shy and disconnected from school life due to reasons beyond their control.

In fact, this is the perfect way to get students involved with their plan to schedule a one-on-one conversation with them at which time they might be more comfortable to provide their input.

It is also a perfect way to get students out of their bubble or comfort zone and encourage them to participate in some of the classroom lectures, outdoor and indoor planning, etc.

Your feedback on their activities too will serve as a force for them to feel valued and be an important part of their education.

Above all, rallying students’ input is a perfect way for students to feel comfortable and expressive in ways that they might not have done in the classroom or with the classroom staff. 

In fact, teachers should welcome the idea of them self-nominating areas of their interest in the plan since recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic as we now know through different studies and happenings around the world is going to be a long-term recovery process.

Hence, it is my hope that this piece of idea will encourage school administrators, classroom teachers, non-teaching staff, parents and guardians, students and the community at large to see that they all have a role to play in the prosperity and lives of these students as they journey through another school year that has been symbolized by trauma. 

All of us can only support these students and teachers if we recognize the shared responsibility by sustaining and creating a trauma-informed approach to teaching.

This will help all of us as educators to navigate the discomfort road ahead. Our set priorities now will determine the outcomes of the road ahead. 

Massa Dopoh is a Liberian who is currently residing in Delaware, USA. She is a Licensed Masters Social Worker and currently works as a Management Analyst III for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the Policy and Program Development Unit at the Division of Social Services.