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Educators as Soldiers on the Global Education Battlefield

Professional organizations with membership across the globe are serving as conduits to support and continue education for students in Ukraine during the war. Not all Ukrainian students will leave their country to find a safe haven to continue their education. With the world digital divide narrowing, a brutal pandemic forcing us globally to rethink and embrace virtual learning, and a need for creating community across the globe, we soon realized the urgency of attending to students’ needs.

Students globally are grappling with social, emotional, and cognitive demands and this severe interruption of education is even more challenging. Anxiety and depression are the two leading concerns among American college students seeking mental health treatment (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2018). The Spring 2019 National College Health Assessment (American College Health Association, 2019) found that 46.2 of students reported depression having adversely affected their academic performance in the previous 12 months, while 66.4% reported feeling overwhelmed by anxiety and 57.5% reported feeling hopeless. In the same survey, in the previous 12 months, 24% of students reported having been treated for anxiety, 20% for depression, and 12.3% for panic attacks. In light of these statistics, one can only imagine the additional stress and anxiety college students in the Ukraine are experiencing as they undertake measures to remain safe and alive during a war, while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy by remaining engaged in their educational studies.

A social justice educator, Svtilana Kuzmina, a professor at Vinnytsia Mykhailo Kotsiubynskyi State University, continues to engage her students in learning amidst the fear and terror of war. Utilizing the network of colleagues through the international educational collaboration between GCUE (Global Community uniting for Equity) and its affiliate in Ukraine, CEUJE (Community of Educators Uniting for Justice and Equity), Rochonda Nenonene and Novea McIntosh,  from the University of Dayton — a Marianist community educating for justice, service, and peace across the world — collaborated with Ukrainian future teachers to teach them culturally responsive assessment and social-emotional learning strategies. The meetings took place in the spring of 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This collaboration became a manifestation of support for Ukraine and a tangible and significant contribution to Ukrainian students’ professional training.

Kuzmina noted:

SEL has never been studied and included in teacher preparation programs in Ukraine and is not yet. Although the current situation urges its implementation: a great many students and teachers were traumatized physically and emotionally by war, internally and internationally displaced, and many experienced the loss of parents and other relatives and friends. Therefore, the topicality of the subject is quite evident.

In the first session, McIntosh used a framework of culturally responsive pedagogy to teach assessment for equity. The focus of the lecture was on making learning visible for students. Creating a space for dialogue where attending to the Ukrainian students’ social emotional needs was at the heart of the instruction. It was valuable to tap into the Ukrainian students’ interests allowing them to share their own narratives. Hence creating a foundation to discuss culturally responsive assessments where teachers use students’ cultural funds of knowledge to promote equitable teaching in the classroom. In this virtual classroom the students considered strategies to foster a growth mindset where students embrace their productive struggles and cultivate perseverance in mastering learning. The resilience and determination of Ukranian students was compelling and commendable as amidst the bombs and brutality they were engaged in the learning and intentionally set goals to advance this practical assessment approaches to their future endeavors.

In the second session, Nenonene, as a means of allyship and in support of our colleague in Ukraine, introduced CASEL’s original Framework of Social Emotional Learning as well as the Center for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child’s Social Emotional and Cultural Wheel, which outlines how teacher can utilize SEL for themselves and their students. Sharing these frameworks and examples of how utilizing SEL practices can support the wellbeing and regulation of anxiety and depression was a new concept for the Ukraine education candidates, but easily translated into their current situations, nonetheless. The students were immediately able to share experiences and make connections to how SEL concepts such as self-awareness and relationship skills were necessary in order to cope with the frequent air raids, bombing attacks, separation of families and in some cases death. Many spoke with passion as they recognized that they were not alone in what they were enduring, and that their resilience is related to their ability to self-manage, another SEL concept.

Ultimately, the takeaway from the session with the Ukraine students is one of hope. Hope expressed through their determination to persist, their desire to stay in community with each other and their spirit to maintain their identity. So, while they may have been unfamiliar with the formal concept of SEL, their actions and agency demonstrate they have been utilizing the framework all along.

Kuzmina shared:

It is worth mentioning that Ukrainian prospective teachers were a very responsive and appreciative audience. After the lectures, 100% of them concluded that SEL should become a must for teacher preparation because the knowledge of SEL will assist in bringing traumatized kids back to normal life, overcoming psychological and emotional stress, and focusing on rebuilding Ukraine after the war. Students also admitted that having SEL skills and knowledge of how to apply them will help them as teachers survive personally and professionally because teachers are under the same circumstances as their kids.

Our world is a difficult terrain to navigate. Our students are seeking support. Collaborations across the globe to meet their social emotional needs is crucial to prepare them for the future. Professor Kuzmina is a soldier on this battlefield teaching to change lives in war torn Ukraine. Our global collaboration proved invaluable amidst the chaos.


Center for Collegiate Mental Health (2018). 2017 Annual report (Publication No. STA 18-166). Retrieved from https://ccmh.psu.edu/files/2018/02/2017_CCMH_Report-1r4m88x.pdf

American College Health Association. (2019). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2019.

Hanover, MD: American College Health Association. https://www.acha.org/documents/ncha/NCHA- II_SPRING_2019_UNDERGRADUATE_REFERENCE%20_GROUP_EXECUTIVE_S UMMARY.pdf

Novea McIntosh, Ed.D., is assistant professor, Teacher Education, University of Dayton.

Rochonda Nenonene, Ph.D., is assistant professor, Teacher Education, University of Dayton.