What The Pandemic Has Meant For Us

In this post Tommi reflects on the unprecedented events of 2020 and how they have affected us as a business and as a team.

Well, what a strange year this has been! As England starts its new month-long series of restrictions, it’s a good time to look back on how this year has been for Multilingual Matters and Channel View Publications.

At the beginning of 2020, Multilingual Matters and Channel View Publications were looking at a good year of publications and a very healthy production pipeline of new materials. Following on from a year where sales had been quite depressed, we were seeing really good financial figures and the business was looking very healthy. We had two members of staff away on parental leave, but we were looking forward to welcoming them back in the summer and to really forging bravely into the future. Brexit loomed as a potential difficulty, and we were thinking about what steps we could take to make the business more environmentally friendly.

During a February vacation taking some friends to visit my home in Finland we had started to see an increased number of reports of coronavirus spreading, and the seemingly drastic measures taken in Wuhan to contain the virus as much as possible. It seemed like a sad situation, but such a long way away from us. I returned to my desk in early March and discussed with Anna Roderick whether we should start to consider our work-related travel to conferences, not really so much from a health perspective, but more because we felt it might just not be worth flying to the conferences if few people would attend. Then slowly the conference cancellations started coming in, and before long there was talk of what would happen if the UK government announced a lockdown. Every day brought different announcements, and it was getting very difficult to believe that anyone had any sensible plan at all. I found it almost impossible to concentrate on actual work, and we all speculated on when we might be told to work from home.

One evening while giving blood at my local blood donor centre, I sat and watched the news on the TV. Since our national government clearly wasn’t going to make a decision anytime soon, I typed a message out with one hand to my colleagues saying that “from tomorrow, we’ll work from home”. We all took our laptops home, and that was it. I expected it to be six weeks, or maybe two months. I did not expect that in November, eight months later, I would still be working from home and that I would have only seen my colleagues face-to-face a handful of times during that period. Had I known it would last this long, I would probably have suggested that we work in the office one last day, all have lunch together, and then go home, but at the time it seemed more sensible to break as many chains of contact as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, over the years our systems have been designed to allow homeworking and remote working while travelling, so the switch to working from home was technically not too difficult, and our team was pretty quickly coming up with strategies to make home working seem less lonely, including a shared 2.30pm break to listen to the same song, with each member of staff choosing the song on rotating days. We definitely have an eclectic taste in music across the whole team! Some of us had been working from home for a long time already, and so Sarah Williams and Anna Roderick were able to give us “newcomers” some tips and advice on how to organise ourselves, and enjoyed a more social atmosphere than before, now that us office workers began to understand the importance of regular contact!

About 10 days after we had decided to work from home, the government made a national announcement that we should all work from home and not leave our houses unless shopping for food, or for essential exercise once per day. All non-essential shops were to close, as were all workplaces that could not operate in a COVID-safe manner. Amazon stopped ordering books to focus on other product lines, and our two biggest wholesale customers closed their doors for an indefinite period. It was clear that this was not going to be a short, sharp shock and then back to business as usual. Together with the senior management team at Multilingual Matters and Channel View Publications, we took the decision that the two most important things that we could do were to focus on staff wellbeing, and to conserve as much cash as possible. We immediately stopped all longer print runs and switched to digital printing, and decided that we would delay sending the usual complimentary copies of the books. We also wrote to all of our authors asking for patience with our annual royalties payments. We asked that authors who were either self-employed, in precarious employment or otherwise in a financial situation where the money would make a difference to their daily lives identify themselves to us so that we could prioritise payments to them, and that otherwise we would delay payments to a time when cashflow would allow. Our authors and editors responded with such warm and supportive messages. Many people wrote to offer words of encouragement and support, to insist that others were prioritised, and a good number even offered to donate their royalties to us this year. To all of you, I would like to extend a very heartfelt thank you from the whole Multilingual Matters and Channel View Publications team. The financial breathing room that this gave us was vital. But even more vital was the psychological boost that we got from feeling that we were genuinely valued as part of the community.

As the weeks went by, the news was mixed. One of our biggest wholesale customers declared bankruptcy, leaving us with a considerable bad debt. Fortunately, around that time the other wholesale customer started to re-open their warehouse, and orders began to come in, albeit at a much reduced volume. At the same time we started to see the sales of ebooks to libraries increase, which gave us some confidence that we weren’t going to be facing a complete halt in income. We were able to start sending out complimentary copies again, and we started to pay royalties. By the end of July we had caught up and paid all outstanding royalties where we knew we had payment preferences recorded. We also saw an increase in the number of manuscript submissions and so we felt that the decision to keep working rather than to go on furlough was definitely the right one. We have been innovative, arranging webinars and events on Zoom to promote the books from authors who have not been able to show off their work at conferences. Expect to see more of this over the coming months as we plan to introduce more of our publications in this manner.

Our “summer” pub lunch together

We arranged a few social events, including the ubiquitous Zoom “pub quiz” that has been a lockdown experience for most Brits, afternoon drinks, and even a shared Devon cream tea, which Sarah Williams organised for us one week. In the summer we managed to meet face-to-face on one occasion, with seven of us sitting around a large pub table at a time when social restrictions had been lifted temporarily. I still hold onto that lunch as one of my favourite lunches of the year! Although I certainly miss seeing my colleagues every day in the office, I think we have managed as well as is possible to keep a sense of togetherness going, which will prove vital as we now head towards a more difficult winter lockdown.

What will the coming months bring? I think February 2020 shows that we cannot take anything for granted, but equally so does March, April and May. It has been a much tougher year so far than I could ever have imagined when it started, but it has not been as bleak as we thought it would be at some times during April and May. We still expect that Brexit will cause some headaches for us as trade regulations and rules around exporting change. We do not yet know how bad the winter spread of coronavirus will be, or when we might be able to have more normal interactions with each other. Conference travel and bookfair travel seem a very long way away still. We can only imagine that with the levels of financial intervention that many countries have had to take over the past year, budgets of all publicly funded institutions will be strained, and this will no doubt have an impact on us in the future. But we are financially much more stable today than we were in February, and I believe that we are also more resilient as a team.

I could not be prouder of how my colleagues have responded to the difficulties and challenges this year has produced, and how we have still managed to find positives and celebrate successes. I strongly believe that this year has shown that we can overcome some really difficult situations when we, both in-house and as a wider community, work together to make sure that we look after each other’s interests.

Tommi

Dual Language Bilingual Education Implementation in Unprecedented Times: Issues of Equity Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic

This month we published Dual Language Bilingual Education by Kathryn I. Henderson and Deborah K. Palmer. In this post the authors discuss the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on dual language bilingual education.

Weeks ago when we agreed to write this blog post, we knew we wanted to connect the core messages of our book about teachers implementing dual language bilingual education (DLBE), to current issues of equity and the role of the educator at their heart. In our book, we describe the shift of DLBE implementation in the United States from small-scale, often grass-roots efforts to large-scale, including state-led and district-led, initiatives as ‘unprecedented.’ We had no idea that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to take DLBE – and public education in general – into an entirely new and unprecedented time. Under the circumstances, it seems impossible for us to discuss anything but the new and very rapidly unrolling reality of shifting DLBE curriculum and instruction online on a massive scale, and the role of teachers in navigating this uncharted terrain. We will share three potential issues of equity in DLBE implementation that we believe are more important than ever in this new and shifting online terrain: a) ensuring access, b) centering marginalized students, and c) engaging a critically conscious curriculum.

Ensuring Access

Access to DLBE, including access to both programs themselves and to the curriculum in them, is always a central equity issue. The shift to distance learning magnifies this issue. How do we provide equitable education in an online medium under circumstances of extreme disparity of access to reliable internet and technology tools, potentially through languages not understood by adults in households? The educator is at the heart of this issue. Teachers and school leaders around the world are asking themselves as they struggle to reach families: Do all our students have access to reliable internet? What devices will they be working on? How much support will they have? How do we provide equitable access to technologies, resources, and support in all the languages our families require?

Centering Marginalized Students

The rapid increase in DLBE programs across the United States through new large scale initiatives has, in some cases, led to processes in which the linguistically and culturally diverse emerging bilingual students that these programs were designed to serve are no longer the focus. Scholars have dubbed this the ‘gentrification’ or ‘whitening’ of dual language. As educators grapple with transitioning to distance learning, this dynamic is more visible than ever: it is imperative that the choices we make online center our most vulnerable students, in terms of expectations upon students (and their families) for learning to use new tools and engage in new ways, requirements for internet access, and finding multiple ways to communicate with and support families. Educators are on the front lines: because teachers engage with children every day, they may be the first to learn which families have lost income, are not eligible for government assistance, and/or are isolated. They know which families are experiencing illness. Teachers are making sure to have resources at their fingertips so they can get them to families in need.

Arguably, as DLBE teachers in a time of crisis, our time and energy are our most valuable resource right now. Where is your time and energy being spent? Are you finding you are able to focus first on the basic needs and human rights of students who need it the most?

Engaging a Critically Conscious Curriculum

Who are we and who do we want to be? Do our community’s actions reflect generosity, compassion, and community well-being, or are some members of our community mired in selfishness, racism, or individualism? This historical moment brings this question – always present in DLBE schools – sharply into focus. Teachers in DLBE classrooms constantly balance the needs of families with vastly different backgrounds – racially, ethnically, linguistically, and socioeconomically. While all of our students may be experiencing stress, anxiety and a disruption to routines during this pandemic, some of our students’ families are likely struggling with much worse: food insecurity, homelessness, or a lack of healthcare. Addressing students’ and their families’ socioemotional and physical well-being must take precedence; it is unreasonable to expect any child to learn new math or reading skills in any language before these basic needs are met. Meanwhile, this moment has the potential to open up a space for deepening critical consciousness in our diverse classroom communities: the discomfort and vulnerability that even our most privileged families are feeling right now may actually support cross-linguistic, cross-cultural empathy, compassion, and critical listening. Perhaps in this moment of crisis, DLBE families can organize across difference to support one another.

In our book, we focus on teachers. We provide windows into different (actual) classrooms and the complex and multifaceted way teachers adopt, navigate, and implement DLBE in a top-down implementation context. During this crisis, we believe many of our central messages are the same – though they are certainly transformed into a new context and a heightened sense of urgency. Teachers are critical language-in-education policymakers who can engage in transformative pedagogy through centering the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse children and their families and adopting critical consciousness as a central goal. We believe more strongly than ever that this is a time to (re)invest and (re)commit to this transformative potential of DLBE. Hang in there, bi/multilingual maestr@s!

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Teacher Leadership for Social Change in Bilingual and Bicultural Education by Deborah K. Palmer.

Activities for a Lockdown

Now we’ve been in lockdown for a couple of weeks here in the UK, we’re starting to get used to a different way of life and a lot more time spent at home. Of course, for some of you the pandemic doesn’t mean you have more time on your hands, and it might mean quite the opposite – working, while simultaneously trying to home-school children and stay sane, for example…but if you do find yourself at a loose end, here is a list of ideas to keep you occupied!

  1. Anna’s sourdough loaf

    Making lengthy recipes that you’d never normally have the time to do. Anna made this amazing-looking sourdough bread that took a week to produce!

  2. Gardening and growing things – even if it’s just house plants or herbs. Not only can this be very therapeutic, but depending on what you grow, you get to see and enjoy the results for months or even years to come. Alice has started a series of vlogs documenting her progress which you can watch here!
  3. Catching up with friends and family with whom you haven’t spoken in a long time. People seem to be checking in on each other more at the moment, which is one of the nicer aspects of these strange times. As great as social media is at a time like this, it’s also a good chance to reinstate letter and postcard writing – everyone loves getting post!
  4. The team having a ‘Friday lunch’ chat

    Socialising online – the MM/CVP team has been busier than ever, participating in online drinks, pub quizzes and even weddings, all from the comfort of their own homes.

  5. Reading. Finally a chance to get through that to-read pile and not just squeeze a few pages in before you fall asleep…
  6. Doing arts and crafts. Whether that’s painting, writing, knitting, scrap-booking…being creative can be a really good way to relax and distract yourself.
  7. Learning or improving a language. Time to dust off the books or download an app – you might even be able to find an online tandem partner to learn with.
  8. Sunrise over Dawlish taken by Sarah on an early morning walk

    Making the most of your walks. At the moment, we’re allowed to go out for a walk (or run, or bike ride) for exercise once a day in the UK. Since it has to be done in your local area, it’s a chance to explore parts of your neighbourhood you wouldn’t usually, get some vitamin D and appreciate how much more clearly you can hear the birds with fewer cars on the road!

  9. Moving your body. There is probably every type of exercise video you could possibly imagine on YouTube, all of which you can do from home, often with no special equipment at all. Dancing, yoga, aerobics, martial arts…it’s a good way to get moving even when you’re not allowed to move anywhere!
  10. DIY projects. A drawer that always sticks, pictures that you keep meaning to put up, a room that needs painting. Now might be the time to tick them off your to-do list!

Whatever you’re spending your time doing, we hope you’re all keeping safe and well and in good spirits!

Digital Conferences and a Virtual Book Fair

Having posted on the blog earlier in the year about our busy upcoming conference season, unfortunately the outbreak of coronavirus worldwide has forced many of these events to be postponed or cancelled. We always look forward to catching up with our authors and other contacts and it’s a real shame that these important gatherings won’t be going ahead, but given the circumstances, it’s a wise decision for the organisers to have made.

So that our authors and customers don’t miss out from a book-buying perspective, we are holding a ‘virtual book fair’ this conference season (originally the brainchild of publisher Trevor Ketner who started the hashtag #AWPVirtualBookfair on Twitter after many presses were forced to pull out of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference). If you were hoping to grab a bargain at a forthcoming conference and now won’t be able to, you can use our code SPECIAL40 at the checkout on our website to get 40% off your order.