The interview analysis resulted in findings that were categorized by the behavioral, affective, and cognitive components of the ACE framework but also allowed researchers to hear about the practices of the advocate. The themes and codes focused on an overall concept of the Advocate and was best summarized by Advocate 1 as, “bridge(ing) the gap” between the support offered by online teachers and students’ actual support needs.
Advocates supported students’ behavioral engagement by managing learning, monitoring student progress, and orienting students to the learning environment and technology (see Table 1). Administrator 1 explained that one way that advocates were tasked with managing students’ learning was teaching time management skills and “productivity coaching” such as “not context switching and multitasking” by “time blocking” so students could maintain focus. Advocates also helped students structure their learning time by holding a daily synchronous study hour, called “focus group,” where students could log in to receive assignment help, collaborate with peers, or just have a quiet place to work. Additionally, advocates used the focus group time to facilitate tutoring for specific classes by asking specific teachers to attend focus groups to tutor students or review lessons. Advocate 1 summarized:
All the advocates offer a focus group time where we allow a quiet space for students to come in and be accountable and have access to us. And, in my case, I usually have one of the math teachers with me where students, if they're having difficulty in math, they're able to break out into one of the breakout rooms and work individually, one on one with the math teacher. So behaviorally we offer this focus group time where students are able to come into a classroom environment.
Having daily synchronous sessions appeared to add structure to students’ learning schedules and helped them focus on completing tasks.
Advocates also managed student learning by scaffolding students in their development of organization and technology skills. Advocates helped students who were behind in their assignments to develop an organized plan to get caught up. As Administrator 1 shared, “They’ll usually reach out to the student with either a, you know, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed you haven’t submitted these assignments yet,’ or ‘You’re getting behind. Is there something I can help with?’”
Advocates also supported students’ behavioral engagement by closely monitoring student progress. Advocate 2 shared the following description:
The advocates will run a progress report every two weeks and look to see, are there kids that I need to check in on that are failing, you know, with Ds or Fs? They'll highlight those kids and they'll look for kids who have changed their grades. So if someone's normally an A, B student and now they're seeing some C work, they might go check that out too.
Administrator 1 added that this monitoring also involved one-on-one meetings between the advocate and student where they try to “figure out, is it [the problem] IT technology, is it feeling overwhelmed, do you not understand? They’ll figure out what next step makes sense for the student and then help the student take that next step.” Once advocates identified the issue, they could coordinate support. As Administrator 1 explained, the “starting point for pretty much every conversation in our school is an advocate.”
Advocates also supported students’ behavioral engagement by orienting them to their courses and setting expectations. Specifically, advocates were responsible for orienting every student to technological, academic, and social expectations. Advocates ran the student orientation during the first week of classes. Advocate 4 shared the following orientation activities:
And we walked through, “Okay, on your first day here's what you will do, you're going to open this, it's going to take you here, these are tips for you. You know, please check grades every Thursday afternoon for all your classes with your students to make sure they can fix things by Friday.” You know, just giving them the different tips and tricks and also setting that expectation.
Advocates also set expectations for online homeroom participation, as Administrator 1 explained:
Here's our homeroom expectations, so you know: I'm going to be on time. I'm going to do specific things every day. We all have our camera on. We all share. If you don't want to share, you can tell me in the chat and then [I will] share [what you shared with the group anonymously].
While setting expectations began the first week of school, to a degree they continued throughout the semester (Table 2).
Advocates supported students’ affective engagement by establishing their online presence and developing a supportive learning community (see Table 2). Advocates established their presence by coming alongside their students online and attending classes and other school-related meetings, which helped bolster student engagement. Administrator 1 observed, “The students were more engaged [in class] when the advocate was present, and you know not leaving [the class] but speaking in the chat to them.”
Advocates also communicated with students on both academic and personal topics. Administrator 2 shared the following:
Their [advocates] whole job is to look at these students emotionally doing well, we understand that whole idea of Maslow before Bloom you know and are making sure that we're taking care of their well being. The advocates are really on that Maslow piece, and then we look to our teachers to really focus, fine tune the Bloom.
The idea of “Maslow before Bloom” expressed in this quote permeated the interviews, pointing to a central focus of the advocate—monitoring students’ emotional well being. Advocates also used parent communication to better understand students’ situations and support needs. Advocate 4 shared,
It's kind of been interesting to see from the child's perspective everyone's goals and pain points and figuring out a way to have a plan that satisfies everybody. All my seniors have had life changing stuff in this year—I mean hospitalization, mental health hospitalizations, suicide, divorce. That's the stuff that I feel like I've been able to help navigate with them and still be a responsible student while that's happening.
Advocates also worked to facilitate parent-teacher communication because “a parent, obviously, is going to have one perspective, a teacher and educator is going to have another.” Similarly, advocates saw themselves as “a bridge” between students and parents. While students and parents shared the same physical space, advocates found that their communication regarding coursework was lacking. As one advocate noted, “they communicate like a teenager which then doesn’t work for the parent.” As a result, advocates had to help students “find their voice” and “normalize some of their feelings.” In this way the advocates acted as a bridge between the students and their parents.
Advocates also supported affective engagement among students through building connections with students and developing a sense of community. They did this through sustained communication with the teachers and students that built relationships while they were also fulfilling their other responsibilities. Advocates also communicated with students to help them learn how to interact with other students and their teachers. Administrator 1 shared,
The advocate was able to say, “Hey can you stay on after with me? You know, let's stay on after homeroom and we'll find a time for your group to meet.” So they were able to try to bring in the student who is not participating in the group work.
Advocates also focused on developing a trusting relationship with their students, as Advocate 4 shared:
We can help you with all of these things, and we are still in a guidance role for you, but we're here as your partner to help you succeed, so I think it brings a whole other avenue for them to access a different type of relationship.
The school system is also tailored to the role of the advocate. For example, Administrator 2 shared that advocates used surveys and thematic days of the week such as “Wellness Wednesday” to organize homerooms, collect data, and monitor students: “They [advocates] meet with the students every morning. They start their day with a wellness check in and just giving the students a safe place to talk and relate in, saying here are the barriers.”
Advocates worked to build personal relationships with students that focus on personal growth. Administrator 2 said,
The advocates meet in small groups [with students] every morning of the week, but they also have regular personal calls with the students, making sure that they're getting some one-to-one time. Then the students also have opportunities to show up in a focus group later in the day, with their advocates, so there are multiple points in the day.
Facilitating communication, grouping students for social interactions, and building personal relationships with students all appeared to contribute to community and connection among students.
Advocates also taught students positive awareness of others and how to manage emotions. They also provided encouragement as to the student’s place in life and helped bolster their self-esteem. Advocates recognized that students experienced “up and downs” and needed them “to take that into consideration and work with them where they’re at.” This allowed advocates to be “a positive influence” in students’ and their parents’ lives, especially “with some students who have some type of learning disability or challenge.” Advocates believed that this social and emotional support helped students work through life circumstances and continue to succeed academically.
Advocates in this research study established their presence, communicated with students and parents on both academic and personal topics, built community and connection among students, and provided social and emotional support. The result, according to the advocates and administrators, was that students’ emotional energy was at a high level (Table 3).
Advocates worked to directly support students’ cognitive engagement as well as facilitate support from others (see Table 3). Advocates directly supported students’ cognitive engagement by co-learning with the students, tutoring them when they already knew the content, and ensuring that the learning activities were appropriate for students with disability service plans. First, advocates co-learned lessons side-by-side with students. Administrator 1 explained one way that advocates would offer support was to “walk a student through an existing lesson.” This required advocates to actually go through the assignments with students as if they were students themselves. This was especially time consuming when the assignment was a project that required “multiple steps and multiple planning.” Advocate 3 explained, “That’s a lot, I mean it takes me probably half the time just understanding the assignment before I can truly help them understand what’s next.” Students’ need for co-learning support varied greatly and was especially high for “students who have IEPs and the younger kids.”
Although administrators did not view tutoring as a specific responsibility of an advocate, advocates still reported spending considerable time directly tutoring students. For instance, Advocate 3 shared that she tutored students “every day for an hour.” Advocate 2 shared,
When a student comes to me, and they need help with something they don't understand that they're learning, or a lesson, I will do my best to look at that lesson and help them to the best of my ability.
Advocates found some subjects more difficult to provide tutoring support in than others. It appeared particularly difficult to tutor students in math because not only does math require specific knowledge, there are multiple approaches to doing math, and their approach may not align with the teacher’s. Advocate 2 explained,
Math is one of those things where I try to be careful about how I help them unless I see the exact instruction, because I know that there's different ways to teach math and they're learning how to solve a problem in different ways.
As a result, advocates tended to only provide tutoring if they were knowledgeable in the topic and the teacher’s approach to teaching it. Advocate 2 summarized, “If it’s something I know exactly what’s expected of them, I know what they’re doing, then I will help teach them during those sessions or semi tutor them.” If advocates were unsure of either the topic or the teacher’s approach, they would help the student contact the teacher for support or contact the teacher on their behalf. Similar to their co-learning activities, some advocates actually attended classes or reviewed lesson videos to better understand a concept so they would be able to better tutor students in the future.
Another thing that advocates did was to collaborate with teachers, administrators, and parents to adjust the amount and type of work students completed. For instance, Advocate 4 shared the following example of a time when a student was dealing with a “family situation” and “just failed to show up”:
The teacher contacted me and said, “This student failed, and this is an elective, what should we do?” Since it was an elementary student, we had a little more flexibility on how to handle that so I was able to coordinate with the student and the parents, and also with our [school] leadership and allow him to drop the class.
Advocates also helped to ensure assignments were an appropriate fit for students. At times advocates received feedback from teachers or parents, leading them to request more or fewer modifications or additional work for students. For instance, Advocate 4 shared the following example of a successful student on a disability service plan:
One of the teachers got in touch with me and said, “Hey this student is excelling in this class and I think she would easily succeed in a more challenging section.” And so, in my role I reached out to the student and talked to her and said, “Hey you know great news, your teacher thinks you're doing amazing, she would like to challenge you more, how do you feel about that, do you want that kind of a challenge?” She was honored and flattered and wanted that challenge, so then I talked to Mom. And then we went ahead and changed her class.
Advocate 4 also recalled “parents who sometimes communicate that they have advanced students and they’re going through their work too quickly” which helped her and the teacher to make modifications to better challenge students and “extend their learning.” Administrator 2 agreed that advocates were an important resource when making modifications for students on a disability service plan and actually worked to hire advocates who “have education in their background” so they “have useful training and background in modifications.”
Advocates also supported cognitive engagement by facilitating collaboration between others. One way they did this was to use a daily “focus group” time to invite teachers to tutor students who needed help, and then facilitated academic collaboration between students. Administrator 2 shared, “If you have a couple of students in a focus group that are working on the same assignment, that can be a collaborative assignment.” This method proved to be effective among students, providing informal peer tutoring for those who needed it. Additionally, sometimes students who were assigned to group projects had a member who was not performing a fair share of the work. In those cases, advocates would step in and help the group collaborate to ensure participation from all group members. Administrator 1 shared the following:
You know, as happens in any group, there are some students who are happy to not be a part of the group work. And the advocate was able to say, “Hey can you stay on after homeroom and we'll find a time for your group to meet.” So they were able to bring in the student who was not participating in the group work without necessarily calling them out or saying that anyone had tattled on them.
This non-confrontational approach involved the non-participating student in the group project without any embarrassment and ensured a better academic outcome for all members of the group (Table 4).