Staying Connected in a Time of Crisis

    Áine Carroll describes how a private English language school in Ireland is responding to the pandemic

    If the current crisis has taught us anything, it is that people and organizations are more adaptable and innovative than it was previously imagined. In fact, processes that it was thought would take years, such as normalizing home-based working and learning, are being completed in a matter of days. Our need for connection has not been overridden by this crisis, and neither has our instinct for progress. We sat down with Jane O’Hagan, who is the academic manager at a successful language school in Dublin, to hear how students, teachers, and businesses involved in English language learning are coping with the changes.

    “I never cease to be amazed by the persistence and sheer determination of our students. To enroll in an English language program in a foreign country is a brave decision to make anyway, and so when this crisis ensued and particularly when the schools closed, a large number of people were faced with huge uncertainty. There was a period of time, about a week, in which the students were at home watching an endless stream of news because schools were still trying to set up their online platforms. They had time on their hands and naturally were wondering if they should return home or stay in Ireland. We noticed that when the online lessons began, students were relieved to have somewhere to be each morning. They had something to get dressed for and it prompted a better, healthier routine.”

    Momentum

    Jane explains that while going online is a solution, there needs to be some thought put into how students are going to absorb the information from afar. “How do we as teachers keep students engaged when we are not in the same room? This completely shifts the dynamic and you have to discover new ways of teaching that you hadn’t previously considered. Going online is a key organizational strategy, but how you go online also matters. You need to figure out how to keep momentum going and be in tune with how your students are responding so that if something is not working, you can identify it, fix it, and move on. You also need to be sensitive to energy dips and be ready to change things up when that occurs.”

    Innovation and Opportunity

    This is new territory for everyone, but it is also throwing up opportunities to innovate, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the crisis has opened many people’s eyes to new business models, ones they had not previously considered. With so many now working from home, some of the larger companies are looking for ways to upskill their workforces while the wider economy is on pause. Companies are facing similar challenges as they manage remote workers, and Jane has discovered that many employers are eager to invest in their workforces while we wait for things to return to normal.

    “The biggest challenge for many businesses right now is how they manage remote workers; how do you as an employer keep all the staff feeling connected? There needs to be a realistic approach and companies have to anticipate how difficult this transition can be for some workers. Teams who normally work closely together can take time to get used to this new approach of working online from home. Employees can feel disengaged, undervalued, and out of the loop. In our school in Dublin, we felt there was something we could do to help. We decided to try to turn this situation around for remote workers and we developed a unique product that allows nonnative English speakers to upskill from home during the crisis. Employers can sign their employees up—not only to give them the opportunity to drastically improve their English language levels but also to mark their appreciation for what the workers are going through.”

    Connection comes in different ways for different people, but language is something that has always connected humanity. “A lot of companies are approaching this with a similar attitude. They are saying, okay, there may not be a lot to process at this time, but at least we can invest in our workforce and give something back. Why not help them develop their skill sets so that they can project confidence in any situation? In the long run, it is the company who will benefit. The program we have designed is unique because it takes account of the learners’ past experiences. Many of our customers are professionals whose language level is already quite advanced. We plan out a bespoke curriculum on that basis and guide learners on a path toward new levels of linguistic achievement. Working from home, we help employees to leverage their strengths, regardless of what is going on in the world.” To find out more, visit www.beyondfluent.com.

    Áine Carroll lives in Dublin, Ireland, with her partner and two kids. She works as an administrator in the Irish College of English, Malahide.

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