Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Lea A. Hubbard, PhD, Chairperson; Robert Donmoyer, PhD, Committee Member; James O. Fabionar, PhD, Committee Member


ethnic studies, high school, secondary school, COVID-19 pandemic, sensemaking, sensemaking theory, virtual environments, online learning, crisis education


This is a study about secondary ethnic studies classes within the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, a novel coronavirus caused dramatic changes in society, and social protests erupted in the United States in response to violence against people of color. This period of dual crises created a collective period of turbulence for educators in the United States as schooling moved to emergency virtual environments. Though the impact of this time is not yet understood, early indicators suggest that existing educational inequalities for students of color will be exacerbated. This study explored ethnic studies teacher sensemaking to understand how teachers adapted their pedagogy during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. Ethnic studies classes provided an important case, because ethnic studies tends to adopt culturally relevant and community responsive pedagogies through the study of historically marginalized groups and the deconstruction of race and systems of oppression, which was particularly relevant in the context of the concurrent crises.

This study employed a qualitative case study design to investigate the sensemaking strategies of nine high school ethnic studies teachers. This study posed the question, How did ethnic studies teachers make sense of teaching and learning in virtual environments for high school students during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests? Qualitative interviews formed the primary data collection strategy. Data were analyzed through two cycles of coding. The findings suggest that ethnic studies teachers adjusted their teaching during this time by prioritizing student well-being. The critical dialogic approach privileged in ethnic studies classes meant that teachers were well-positioned to incorporate culturally responsive content, and utilize digital technology in innovative, humanizing ways. The teachers’ beliefs about teaching and the nature of ethnic studies pedagogy helped them engage in actions that directly addressed students’ social and emotional needs in this novel context. Implications for educators and school leaders are addressed, along with suggestions for future research on critical pedagogy in the virtual environment.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies

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