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Don't Stand so Close to Me: How Middle School Educators Describe Lessons Learned Regarding Student Engagement During COVID-19

Fiona J McIntosh, Johnson & Wales University


The COVID-19, an acronym derived from coronavirus disease 2019, pandemic represents an opportunity to rethink education, to reimagine how to engage students in the learning process both in person and distance learning (Zhao & Watterston, 2021). Suspension of face-to-face instruction in schools during the pandemic has led to concerns about consequences for students’ learning (Engzell et al., 2021). One of the pressing challenges during COVID-19 has been engaging students in distance/hybrid learning, fundamentally different systems from the traditional brick-and-mortar school landscape (Dorn et al., 2020). The purpose of this qualitative descriptive study was to explore how educators in a northeast state described lessons learned regarding student engagement in three public school districts at the middle school level during the COVID-19 pandemic. The overarching research question guiding this inquiry was: How do educators describe lessons learned regarding student engagement during COVID-19? This three-phase qualitative study explored educator challenges and successes. Phase I three middle school educator focus groups (N=17); Phase II educator reflective questionnaires sent to the participants after the focus groups (N=13); Phase III consisted of a semi-structured interview with an expert (N=1). The findings from each phase informed subsequent phases. Four themes emerged from the data analysis: 1) Student Engagement, 2) Educator and Student Connections, 3) Social-Emotional Learning, and 4) Empathy and Equity. This study provides insights from educators and one expert informant into how student engagement was altered due to the sudden changes in instructional dynamics while COVID-19 unfolded. The findings from this study may provide a better understanding of the lessons learned regarding student engagement during COVID-19. Results identify best practices that may be emulated by other educators as well as develop strategies to manage distance and in person learning as they lead their students through a crisis. Findings further provide insight into what educators experienced during this crisis. Based on these findings, further research, policy, and practice recommendations are made.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Educational psychology|Educational sociology|Middle School education

Recommended Citation

McIntosh, Fiona J, "Don't Stand so Close to Me: How Middle School Educators Describe Lessons Learned Regarding Student Engagement During COVID-19" (2022). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI29396663.