By Tanya Cowie
As EAL instructors, we are used to dealing with intercultural challenges, such as students not wanting to work with each other and misunderstandings. This is stressful, and given we are now teaching and learning online, even more intense. Students are also dealing with tech stress and those with disabilities can have an even tougher time. I was fortunate to attend some online events that promoted mindfulness in intercultural communication and the realities of the new classroom, and wanted to share what I learned.
Last October, BC TEAL/SIETAR BC’s Self-Studies in Language and Pedagogy included a webinar on Mindfulness and Intercultural Communication with Amea Wilbur and Taslim Damji. This was a great reminder to be mindful in all our interactions with students (and colleagues!). The key is to be aware of yourself and notice your physical sensations, your emotions and feelings, and your thoughts and behaviours. Follow this cycle in times of communication breakdowns: breathe, suspend judgement, take a step back, reflect on what happened, and then decide on a goal and how to get there. Many times, if we are mindful of our responses and find curiosity in the moment, we will handle things better.
Handling Tech Stress
We especially need to be mindful of tech stresses involved with switching to online. Our students have not only had to learn new technologies, but getting the actual devices is also difficult for some. True inequalities are apparent. Some students can only use a phone to connect, some are without wifi, and many are without a video cam. In the webinar Digital Equity (a SIETAR/ Langara event), Dr. Suzanne Smythe recounted that the CTRC found that 31% of Canadians who earned less than $33,000 a year did not have access to the internet, and 37% did not have a working home computer. This includes many of our students. I have to remind myself to assess English, not tech skills. Being flexible helps. I give students multiple ways to submit assessments, such as sending videos via email or an app; I reset listening assessments if there are wifi interruptions and give extensions if possible.
Learning Technology for Students with Disabilities
For students with disabilities, moving online can create even more difficulties with course materials and digital platforms. In another BC TEAL/SIETAR BC self-studies webinar, Seeing Beyond Vision Loss, Anu Pala talked about students with vision loss navigating online platforms. Anu has complete vision loss, and due to this lived experience and her being tech savvy, she helps teachers and students learn what technology can be adapted. (Watch for Anu at our next BC TEAL conference!)
If you have not tweeted with #CdnELTchat you should! It is such a great platform for discussions about all things EAL and tech. While participating, I always feel inspired. Recently they had a twitter session on the stresses of teaching/learning online and we talked about finding joy in these difficult times. For me, teaching with my dog sleeping at my feet helps me to see some happiness in these times of the pandemic.
Acknowledging that we have extra stresses now, and being mindful of all our interactions, can build understanding. Let’s take a deep breath, be flexible and find joy as best we can.
Smythe, S. (2020, April 21). Digital equity and community solidarity during and after COVID-19. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.policynote.ca/digital-equity/
(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.a-nuvision.ca/
Author Jen, & Jen. (2019, October 04). #CdnELTchat Summary for September 24, 2019 (Self-care for teachers). Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://bcteal.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/cdneltchat-summary-for-september-24-2019-self-care-for-teachers/
Bio: Tanya has been teaching EAL for over 25 years and teaches in the Pathways program at VCC. She is a lifelong learner and has interests in Intercultural Communication, Anti-racism, and EAL Pedagogy. Tanya has a certificate in Intercultural Studies from UBC, is an IDI Qualified administrator and is a SIETAR BC board member. Tanya currently works and resides on the lands of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Stó:lō.
Putting it to You
What are you doing to make your new classroom work?
Share your ideas in the reply section below!