How Participating in NEH Summer Workshops Supported Teachers Through COVID-19

Over the past 18 months, NHA has worked with 14 project directors of NEH-funded summer seminars, institutes, and landmarks workshops. These residential, thematic professional development programs help K-12 educators access engaging and up-to-date humanities scholarship and immerse them in the histories and cultures of American regions. Together, we have surveyed participants in these programs, documenting their impact on teachers’ classroom practice. In addition to pre- and post-program surveys, we followed up with teachers a year later, asking about how they had incorporated their work in the programs into their praxis.

We were well aware that teachers throughout the country were dealing with extraordinarily difficult circumstances last spring, with the onset of COVID-19. We took the opportunity to ask them about how their schools responded to the pandemic, as well as about what resources helped them navigate these unprecedented changes. To a question about how their schools negotiated the outbreak, 85% of respondents (n=273) indicated that they transitioned to online instruction.

We expected that participation in these NEH-funded programs would help teachers create richer classroom instruction in a normal year—and results indicate that, prior to COVID-19, this was very much the case. But we were especially glad to see that the programs also helped teachers manage as the country shut down and they shifted to new modes of instruction. In response to a question about what resources or techniques gained through the workshop were particularly useful to them during the COVID-19 outbreak, 73% of respondents (n=238) indicated that they used online resources provided by the program. Forty-four percent used lesson plans and 54% relied on the network of teachers they developed through the program. Eighteen percent of respondents listed additional resources provided by the program that they used in their teaching, including books, photographs, powerpoints and slideshows, music, and films.

Two programs stood out for the exceptionally rich online content they provide to teachers. The New-York Historical Society’s Women and the American Story is a free, online curriculum offering in-depth information on women in American history, including a range of primary sources. One respondent praised the “deeper understanding of the resources available from New-York Historical Society, particularly in the Women and the American Story (WAMS) curriculum and access to current historical research on women in particular perspectives” they gained through the program. Meanwhile, participants in Historic Hudson Valley’s Slavery in the North program praised the organization’s interactive documentary website, People Not Property. As one respondent described it, “I taught a Black American History course for the first time this past year. I used the technique of personal narratives to teach about slavery in the north. My classes were racially mixed so this technique benefited all students. I used the PNP site for an immersive week long lesson that allowed students to explore, read, watch and learn about the enslaved experience in the [Hudson Valley].”

As these survey responses indicate, NEH-funded summer programs for teachers do important work in bringing teachers together and providing resources for classroom use. This impact has proven all the more important during COVID-19, as teachers have been required to draw upon each other and their learning to adapt their classrooms to virtual environments.

Read more: neh for all k-12