Challenges and Opportunities for Secondary Students and Teachers During COVID-19: Teachers' Lived Experiences

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Brief Abstract

COVID-19 has impacted teaching and learning at all levels.  This presentation synthesizes research that explored the challenges and opportunities faced by secondary students (grades 6-12) during the COVID-19 pandemic through the lived experiences of secondary teachers. Results of a qualitative study utilizing open-ended interviews with secondary teachers are presented.


Dr. Maggie Broderick is a Curriculum Director at the Sanford College of Education (SCOE), the Director of the Advanced Research Center (ARC), and an Associate Professor at National University. As faculty, she serves as the Faculty Lead for the ELL Specialization and as a Dissertation Chair. Dr. Broderick received her Ph.D. in Foreign Language Education at the University of Pittsburgh and her BS (Music Education) and MS (Education) degrees at Duquesne University. She has over 20 years of experience in the field of Education, including many years of teaching K-12 in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and over a decade of online teaching experience in Higher Education. In addition to teaching, Maggie enjoys collaborating on scholarly presentations, publications, and mentoring other scholars in similar pursuits. Dr. Broderick lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her family and is passionate about teaching and learning at all levels.
Dr. Ashley Babcock has been with Northcentral University since 2017 and currently serves as the Associate Dean of Faculty in the School of Education and a Professor of Education. Previously, she served as the Director of the Academic Success Center. Dr. Babcock is on the editorial board of the Learning Assistance Review (TLAR), and she is the founder and past president of the Maryland College Learning Center Association (MDCLCA), which is an affiliate of the National College Learning Center Association (NCLCA). Her most recent publications are on academic coaching, faculty coaching and mentoring, and student success. She holds an EdD in Higher Education Leadership from Argosy University where she explored what second year students need to be successful at a professional focus university.
Dr. Amy E. Lyn is a Curriculum Director and faculty member at National University's Sanford College of Education. She also serves as the Faculty Lead for Social Emotional Learning and Trauma-Informed Educational Practices, Director of the Virtual Education Support Center, Co-Editor of the International Journal of Online Graduate Education, and Dissertation Chair. Dr. Lyn is an enthusiastic lifelong learner. She earned her Ph.D. in Adult Learning, Leadership, and Program Evaluation from Lesley University, an Executive Coaching Diploma from Emory University, and is pursuing a certificate in Intrapreneurship from Cornell University. She also holds an M.Ed. and a BA in sociology. Alongside her professional life, Dr. Lyn is passionate about holistic living. She speaks on topics related to wellness and emotional intelligence and is a member of the International Coaching Federation and a certified coach.

Extended Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected teaching and learning in almost every context and at all levels of instruction. Most K-12 and higher education institutions in the United States were forced to provide emergency remote learning in place of traditional on-ground instruction beginning in March of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education for over 1.5 billion students worldwide (UNESCO, 2020). During the early wave, nearly 124,000 public and private schools in the United States shuttered, affecting approximately 55.1 million K-12 students (Blad, 2020). The abrupt closures and rapid transition to remote learning forced educators into what Mutton (2020) labeled crisis teaching.

The challenges of online teaching require significant expertise in  three presences, cognitive, social, and facilitatory, particularly the social presence (Rapanta et al., 2020). In a previous study focused on the experiences of online dissertation students during COVID-19, Lyn et al. (2020) found an increase in students’ desire for communication and connection. This need for social emotional support accompanied greater use of the university’s resources, and higher levels of productivity despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic. In this parallel study the focus is on the experiences of secondary students. Like graduate students, secondary students typically engage with technology independently. Unlike K-5 students, secondary students do not tend to require parental assistance for managing controls, reading, or typing. 

One lens through which to view the challenges and opportunities of secondary students forced to abruptly shift to online and hybrid education during COVID-19 is the perceptions and experiences of the teacher, who plays a pivotal role in the life of a student. Positive student-teacher relationships foster students’ sense of belonging and connection (OECD, 2019). When students feel connected to their teachers, perseverance and learning are strengthened (Kotok et al., 2016). Furthermore, research shows teacher-student relationships influence students’ mental health and dropout rate (Holen, 2018; Krane et al., 2016; Schwab, 2019).

On the general topic of online learner-instructor interaction and engagement, Baker’s (2010) findings strongly suggested a positive relationship between instructor presence and the degree of instructor immediacy. Further, Baker found a linear relationship between both of these instructor qualities and students’ affective learning, cognition, and motivation, making them clear predictors of these desired outcomes.  Furthermore, “Students perceive a sense of belonging when they can interact with instructors and perceive that they are at least accessible through multiple means” (Bolliger & Martin, 2018, p. 569).  Research and recommendations from Peacock and Cowan (2019) and Meyer (2014) echoed these sentiments, with specific strategies and tips for online instruction.

The presenters for this session synthesize research on the unique challenges and opportunities that today’s online secondary students typically face, along with a discussion of how the COVID-19 pandemic may influence the online or hybrid learning experience. Qualitative analysis of the results from open-ended interviews with eight  secondary teachers of various content areas and from diverse types of schools will be presented. The research methodology for this study entailed recruiting volunteers via snowball sampling using social media (LinkedIn and Facebook personal social networks). Eight secondary teachers participated in live, open-ended interviews via Zoom. Interviews followed a 13-question protocol of open-ended questions developed by the researchers/presenters. Regarding the use of Zoom as a data collection method, Gray, Wong-Wylie, Rempel, and Cook (2020) specified the current relevance of utilizing Zoom for one-on-one interviews for qualitative research when in-person interviews are not feasible.  Interviews of the participants were divided between the three presenters for this session using a random order for who would conduct each interview.  This design helped to ensure trustworthiness and dependability of data, while reducing any potential bias.  The in-depth interviews allowed for rich analysis with a phenomenological focus/design.  The presenters for this session will discuss several themes that emerged from the qualitative inquiry and will explore how these emerging themes relate to the current research literature on secondary students’ online and hybrid learning experiences, online learning in general, mentoring, social-emotional learning, student engagement, and persistence.

This presentation will be interactive, with opportunities for both small group break-out room interaction and ongoing participant chat within the chat box. Interactive polls and prompts throughout will help foster discussion. Toward the end of the session, the presenters will engage the audience in a whole-group activity in which participants can relate the session material to their own specific contexts. For example, attendees who have switched abruptly to online teaching and learning from a more traditional modality could reflect on the specific challenges and opportunities that have been faced by secondary students at those institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Session-flow and timeline:

  • Welcome and introductions (5 minutes)

  • PowerPoint presentation, including both small group moments, polls, and ongoing chat (25 minutes)

  • Whole group participant engagement and Q &A (15 minutes)

The presentation exemplifies effective practice by illustrating both the challenges and opportunities faced by secondary students during COVID-19 and helps to inform best practices in secondary education, especially with regard to serving all students’ social and emotional needs during the pandemic.


Baker, C. (2010). The impact of instructor immediacy and presence for online student affective learning, cognition, and motivation. Journal of Educators Online, 7(1), 1–30. Retrieved from

Blad, E., Riser-Kositsky, M. Mitchell, C., Peele, H., Ujifusa, A. & Will, M. (2020). COVID-19 rates go up among schoolchildren as schools reopen. Education Week, 40(80), 2. 

Bolliger, D. U., & Martin, F. (2018). Instructor and student perceptions of online student engagement strategies. Distance Education, 39(4), 568-583.

Gray, L. M., Wong-Wylie, G., Rempel, G. R., & Cook, K. (2020). Expanding Qualitative Research Interviewing Strategies: Zoom Video Communications. The Qualitative Report, 25(5), 1292-1301.

Holen, S., Waaktaar, T., & Sagatun, Å. (2018). A chance lost in the prevention of school dropout? Teacher-student relationships mediate the effect of mental health problems on noncompletion of upper-secondary school. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 62(5), 737–753.

Kotok, S., Ikoma, S., & Bodovski, K. (2016). School climate and dropping out of school in the era of accountability. American Journal of Education, 122(4), 569–599.

Krane, V., & Klevan, T. (2019). There are three of us: Parents’ experiences of the importance of teacher-student relationships and parental involvement in upper secondary school. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 24(1), 74–84.

Lyn, A., Babcock, A., Broderick, M., Gillenwater, C., Kamm, B., & Collins, L. (2021) Academic and social emotional support from teachers in higher education and k-12 education during covid-19. Journal of Innovative Educational Strategies 7/8.

Meyer, K. A. (2014). Student engagement in online learning: What works and why. ASHE Higher Education Report, 40(6), 1–114.

Mutton, T. (2020, August). Teacher education and COVID-19: Responses and opportunities for new pedagogical initiatives. Journal of Education for Teaching. /10.1080/02607476.2020.1805189

OECD. (2019). PISA 2018 results (Volume III): What school life means for students’ lives. PISA, OECD Publishing.

Peacock, S. & Cowan, J. (2019). Promoting sense of belonging in online learning communities of inquiry at accredited courses. Online Learning, 23(2), 67-81.

Rapanta, C., Botturi, L., Goodyear, P. et al. (2020). Online University Teaching During and After the Covid-19 Crisis: Refocusing Teacher Presence and Learning Activity. Postdigit Sci Educ.

Schwab, S., & Rossmann, P. (2020). Peer integration, teacher-student relationships and the associations with depressive symptoms in secondary school students with and without special needs. Educational Studies, 46(3), 302–315.