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Pandemic Pedagogy: Using a Feminist Lens to Promote Social Emotional Learning Online

Tue, April 19, 5:00 to 6:30pm CDT (5:00 to 6:30pm CDT), Hyatt Regency - Minneapolis, Floor: 1, Lakeshore C


Students learning at home during the pandemic have experienced feelings such as isolation, sadness, anxiety, and lack of confidence. Many student challenges during remote learning tend to be social-emotional ones. Problems preventing clear communication can make remote learning stressful, and students can receive differing levels of preparation or support from their educators and from parents at home. Teachers are required not only to teach the approved curriculum, but also they are responsible to establish and promote Social Emotional Learning (SEL) goals and curriculum (CASEL, 2020).

This paper makes connections to the conference sub-themes that focus on “voices of teachers involved in educating during COVID 19” and “innovative and creative practices.” The goals of this paper are to discuss briefly some probable SEL problems or challenges, to offer several online strategies to help students overcome their anxiety and reluctance to participate, and through a feminist lens on teaching to foster trust and belonging in collaborative efforts.

Feminist pedagogy is not an essentialist approach but rather embraces a set of epistemological theories, teacher-student relationships, content approaches, and classroom strategies. Feminist pedagogy has grown from a feminist lens that facilitates an understanding of all inequalities and enables respect for diversity (McCusker, 2017). It shares core goals of emancipation, resistance, and dissent with other critical pedagogies, often framed around Freire and Giroux, emphasizing liberation from injustice and oppression and space for critical engagement and empowerment. The feminist lens adds emphasis on gender injustice and recognizing collective and individual experiences of the oppressed in social relations, structures, and institutions such as schools.
The feminist pedagogy framework also includes goals of feminist activism or an experiential component. Developing political consciousness and working toward social justice and social change such as in community organizing or in schools, completing community service learning are promoted (Naples & Bojar, 2002). These goals often necessitate resisting a status quo approach to curriculum, instruction, and assessment (CIA) and facilitating goals of overcoming oppressions and striving for connections and voice.

Creatively maintaining an SEL focus is especially important for students because creating high quality interpersonal relationships both student-to-student and teacher-to-student is essential for students to maintain social-emotional health and development (Ellerbrock et al., 2014; NMSA, 2010), especially when students are isolated. Each individual student will have a different remote learning environment from his or her peers. “Children experiencing isolation and quarantine have shown an increased risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, grief, and adjustment disorder” (Fantini, 2020, p. 2).

Based on open-ended qualitative survey responses from New York state middle school teachers during the pandemic, discussions with teachers on remote learning in my own teacher education classes, and my own work as a feminist teacher educator concerned with SEL, I discuss ideas of trust building, collaboration, and sharing of students concerns and feelings-- as a feminist approach strives to hear and include multiple distinct voices and lived experiences.
Findings from teachers included the ideas that in synchronous Google Meets or Zoom sessions, strategies to promote SEL include discussions of risk-taking during the pandemic; student-oriented, open-ended hang out sessions; read alouds; book clubs. One teacher builds collaboration skills using Google Classroom STREAM. A second teacher said “We just hang out, talk to each other, and disconnect from everything that was/is going on in the time of COVID.” Another teacher shared that “the feelings of isolation and loneliness are prevalent right now, but you can still see and hear your classmates [in a synchronous meeting], and teachers help to provide some type of normalcy for our students.”

Teachers must be aware of factors surrounding students and their academic and personal lives, make flexibility an essential teacher instructional adaptation, and be creative to provide all students with SEL while remote. One message heard often during remote learning was that academics can be reviewed and students will catch up. However, social-emotional trauma could me much more difficult to overcome and long lasting, especially if remote learning continues for a long period. “We should remember, when things go back to normal, people will not remember the educational content delivered, but they will remember how they felt, how we cared for them, and how we supported them,” (Bozkurt & Sharma, 2020, p. iii).