There are reports that an October lockdown might be used as a ‘firebreak’ if cases of the Covid-19 virus rise too high with the return of schools and universities (Mason & Davis, 2021). As emerging literature suggests that teachers and school leaders experienced increased levels of anxiety during the pandemic – leading some staff to consider leaving the profession altogether (see for example Presley, 2021) – this blogpost suggests that school leadership teams should focus on practices which not only encourage collaboration in school, but also offer opportunities for staff to develop and maintain strong relationships and collaborative working when teaching remotely.
In spring 2020, during the period when school buildings were closed (except to children of key workers and those who were considered to be vulnerable) and teaching activities moved online, we conducted interviews with 30 teachers working in primary and secondary schools across England. The interviews explored teachers’ experiences of teaching remotely, considering changes to their roles, along with any positive or challenging influences on personal and professional relationships. Transcripts were analysed using corpus-assisted discourse analysis, an emergent method in education research (Pérez-Paredes, 2020). Corpus-assisted discourse analysis involves inputting bodies of text into specialist computer software; this software analyses word frequencies and helps the researcher to identify patterns of vocabulary and grammar. As we were particularly interested in how teachers discursively constructed their relationship with peers – and how this influenced their perception of remote education and their sense of wellbeing – corpus-assisted discourse analysis helped us to identify discursive patterns across the corpora of interviews conducted.
It was interesting to find that teachers who felt a strong sense of connection with peers constructed a salient social identity – expressed through the use of the pronoun ‘we’ – and appeared to have experienced a positive transition to remote teaching:
‘We’re more than just a department of individual teachers, we’re a solid team who work well together, respect each other, learn from each other, and support each other.’
‘I think we’ve stayed strong as a school, shared our expertise and remained confident in our ability to do the job we trained for [. . .] even in these strange times.’
In contrast, teachers who felt disconnected from peers constructed a salient individual identity – expressed by utterances of isolation or loneliness – and appeared to experience higher levels of stress and a reduced sense of professional identity:
‘Yes, it’s been very stressful from a professional point of view and a personal one. Professionally, I’ve found it hard to be isolated from the others and feel as if I’m missing out on things [. . .] It’s starting to affect the bond I used to feel with being a teacher.’
Furthermore, for some teachers in our study, feelings of isolation had prompted them to consider leaving teaching:
‘I’m thinking about leaving the profession, definitely about leaving the school at least. This has given me time to think about it without having to be with them every day.’ Robert
The findings from this study support previous discussions highlighting the importance of professional relationships and sense of connection for teachers (Spicksley & Watkins, 2020) along with broader literature within social psychology, suggesting that social connectedness and a sense of ‘we-ness’ leads to increased resilience and wellbeing (Jetten et al., 2017). These relationships and a sense of ‘we-ness’ should be considered as central to teachers’ wellbeing and resilience and to their commitment to the profession, not only when teaching in schools but, perhaps even more importantly, when teaching remotely.
This blog reflects on key findings from an article that was published in Frontiers in Psychology in August 2021. The full open access article is available here.
Jetten, J., Haslam, S. A., Cruwys, T., Greenaway, K. H., Haslam, C., & Steffens, N. K. (2017). Advancing the social identity approach to health and well‐being: Progressing the social cure research agenda. European Journal of Social Psychology, 47(7), 789–802. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2333
Mason, R., & Davis, M. (2021, September 7). No 10 not ruling out ‘firebreak’ lockdown if Covid cases rise. Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/07/no-10-not-ruling-out-firebreak-lockdown-if-covid-cases-rise
Pérez-Paredes, P. (2020). Corpus linguistics for education: A guide for research. Routledge.
Pressley, T. (2021). Factors contributing to teacher burnout during COVID-19. Educational Researcher, 50(5). https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X211004138
Spicksley, K., & Watkins, M. (2020). Early-career teacher relationships with peers and mentors: Exploring policy and practice. In A. Kington & K. Blackmore (Eds.), Social and Learning Relationships in Primary Schools (pp. 93–116). Bloomsbury.