This article is part of a series where the Paper team connects with leaders in education to highlight different experiences and perspectives on the changing realities of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Paper team had the great pleasure of speaking with resource teacher Hannah Patrick on recent school closures. With a specific focus on Quebec, Canada, we discussed some of the biggest challenges imposed on special education, how all of this is affecting IEPs, and how the role of resource teachers is changing with distance learning. Her insights helped broaden our knowledge of the impacts that closures are having on special education.

Hannah Patrick is a resource teacher from Ottawa, Canada. She is currently working at Eardley Elementary in the Western Quebec School Board. Hannah has been a resource teacher for the past three years, providing inclusive one-on-one support and resources to teachers and students with different learning needs. Hannah received her teaching degree, including a minor in TESL, from Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Canada. She currently has her Special Education AQ1 and AQ2 and will be completing her last AQ to finalize her Special Education Specialization.

Distance Learning in Quebec

In Quebec, there is currently no mandatory e-learning program for students to complete during school closures. Instead, schools in the province are providing parents with optional lessons and activities for their children, in the form of learning packets. The hope is to prevent learning regression at home, not to introduce new concepts or lessons. Parents are also encouraged to pick activities and lessons at their own discretion based on their child’s learning level.

Hannah’s school, Eardley Elementary in Gatineau, Quebec is taking a unique approach to supporting students during school closures. For learning to continue at home, the school is distributing learning packets for students much like other schools. However, at Eardley, the packets are accessible across grade levels. "For example, Grade 2 learning packets are not only being handed out to students in Grade 2. This way, if a student in Grade 4 is at the Grade 2 level in Math, they can take home the Grade 2 learning packet," Hannah described.

They hope that this will allow students to work at the grade level that suits them, and avoid learning regression. Moreover, it can deepen their current knowledge and allow students to have time for other necessary activities:

“This is the time for students, especially in resource, to look at playing, social skills, and life skills.”

One of the biggest lessons to come out of recent closures is that schools are about much more than just academics. Hannah made similar observations at her own school: “For a lot of students, schools are a sanctuary that meets their socioemotional needs.” COVID-19 forcing schools to close has caused disruptions and distress for those who rely on routine. To support families that are in vulnerable circumstances and struggling with distance learning, Hannah has been in constant communication with them, guiding them in deciding which lessons, activities, and daily schedules are appropriate for their child.

That being said, Hannah brought our attention to the fact that for other groups of students, staying home is likely providing a much-needed escape from the usual stressors and distractions in the classroom. This is especially the case considering schools in Quebec are not making any lessons or activities mandatory, and not giving students any grades.

“By Grade 3, students start to realize the social aspects in the classroom, and start looking at how they’re working in comparison to their peers. But now that these students are at home, they get to work at their own pace, without those extra stressors and demands of the classroom. I think that’s actually a huge gain for some of them,” she said.

Typically, teacher, student, and parent support is part of Hannah’s essential responsibilities as a resource teacher. She has to make sure the school is providing instructional enrichment programs with all students in mind, and find ways to provide extra resources and support to students that need it. This has no doubt been difficult to do while social distancing. Hannah described some of her efforts, namely how she is collaborating with other teachers to keep up positive, supportive interactions with students to monitor their emotional well-being:

“My homeroom teacher and I make a list of students and parents we need to call, and we take turns checking in. I call one, then she calls one. Just having social interactions with them goes a long way. We’re also trying to get a Facebook group, so we can post updates and birthday messages,” she said.

Under normal circumstances, a large part of her role is also the creation of the following year’s IEP's and coordinating with external services (e.g. counseling, speech therapy). With the switch to distance learning, the support that students and teachers need has changed in form and increased in volume.

Hannah mentioned that this time of year is typically when the school reviews and creates IEPs for the following year. The unexpected developments of the past few months will certainly be taken into consideration while creating them. Many students that Hannah supports are on modified pathways at her school, so when discussing how this will shape IEPs for next year, Hannah mentioned: “A lot of parents are worried about students falling behind [...] Coming into next year, teachers and administration are going to know that we’ve had a huge gap, so they will not continue to push, push, push.” Like many other schools, Hannah’s will be making necessary, inclusive adjustments in teaching and learning when schools reopen.  

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