Dorothy Hines, assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas, talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the K-12 education system during a recording for the Kansas Reflector podcast. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas teachers have an opportunity to make use of social media platforms to help students process the stress of returning to school while the nation struggles against coronavirus.
Dorothy Hines, assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas, said educators could tap into that anxiety by encouraging students to share photos or videos on Instagram or with short-form videos on TikTok that define what they’re experiencing.
“A lot of people are just stressed, you know,” Hines said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “I will encourage educators as well to not just ask students what they’re going through but give them ways to demonstrate that and release that to share with other students.”
Hines holds a joint faculty appointment in the department of African and African-American studies and the department of curriculum and teaching.
She said children returning to school buildings that were suddenly locked down in March as COVID-19 took hold needed to know they were part of a family of teachers, administrators, counselors and others who valued their well-being.
“Oftentimes students can feel like, even within school, they’re there by themselves,” the professor said. “They don’t always have a teacher that they can go to, or that is there to encourage them. For teachers, administrators as well, to reach out to students to let them know they’re there. And thinking about it not just in the form of an email, it might be an old-fashioned telephone call.”
Hines said one of her central concerns was COVID-19 would make it more difficult for school districts to address ongoing inequities in student performance in the basics of reading, writing and math.
The experience in Kansas of converting instruction in March to mostly online classes put a brighter spotlight on the state’s wide technology gap among students.
“Technology is always one of those kind of issues that varies from household to household,” Hines said. “So even if I live in the same neighborhood, my neighbor may have different access to even downloading videos. My teacher may require me to watch a video, but if my internet speed is always buffering it may take me two hours for something that was a 15-minute video. That comes into play in terms of how students learn, but also the loss of learning.”
Hines said potential health consequences of COVID-19 and the profound influence of the virus on the nation’s economy and unemployment were good reasons to give greater weight to social and emotional needs of children. This is relevant when considering disciplinary policy, she said.
“We have to be able to do that if we want students to feel like if I get upset because of something happening outside of school, the school isn’t going to punish me because I’m still a child,” she said. “I do think that in terms of discipline, it’s important that we’re not so much easy on students but that we’re more understanding and compassionate.”
Hines said many students had some sense of Black Lives Matter protests and the political outbursts erupting in cities across the country. There are appropriate ways to talk to young children about the issues — think of “Sesame Street” programs on difficult social issues — and strategies for addressing the topic among the older students, she said.
“The information that they have about what’s going on may differ. But I do think kids know and can feel that there is something going on in society,” she said.
In this educational climate, she said, the top of her wish list in terms of equity and equality in education would be to elevate salaries of teachers, counselors, nurses, administrators and others with a role in creating an effective school environment. It is essential students be with staff committed to the work, she said.
She also said districts must address teachers’ psychological, social and emotional needs and to provide professional development that makes teachers better capable of serving students. Investing in communities around schools is an underappreciated necessity, she said.
“Next, I would invest invest into the community that surrounds the school building, making sure that teachers and administrators are able to know where students live, be able to be a voice and a face in the community,” Hines said. “I can’t say that I care about a community that I teach, but I don’t even live there. I don’t even know what the day-to-day things are.”
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