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Teachers’ narratives during COVID-19 partial school reopenings: an exploratory study

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Publication details

JournalEducational Research
DateAccepted/In press - 13 Apr 2021
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 6 May 2021
Early online date6/05/21
Original languageEnglish


Background: Many countries around the world imposed nationwide school closures to manage the spread of COVID-19. England closed its schools for most pupils in March 2020 and prepared to reopen schools to certain year groups in June 2020. Understanding teachers’ lived experiences at this time of educational disruption is important, shedding light on challenges faced and support needed by schools and teachers in the event of further disruption.

Purpose: The research reported here represents the second timepoint in a longitudinal study investigating what it was like being a teacher in England during the pandemic. Our aim was to better understand teachers’ experiences at a time of partial reopening of schools in mid-June 2020.

Method: We used the framework of Self-Determination Theory to explore challenges to teachers’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. A total of 24 primary and secondary state school teachers from 20 schools across England were interviewed and asked to tell stories of a low point, a high point and a turning point. A reflexive thematic analysis, using a mix of inductive and deductive coding, was conducted.

Findings: Six themes were identified in the data: uncertainty, practical concerns, worry for pupils, importance of relationships, teacher identity, and reflections. Challenging their basic need for autonomy and competence, teachers were anxious about current and future uncertainties while navigating school reopenings. Challenging their basic need for relatedness, teachers described the importance of connecting with pupils and their families, and with colleagues. Lastly, teachers searched for holistic meaning, evaluating what it means to be a teacher and reflecting on how these circumstances have affected their personal and professional lives.

Conclusions: Our analysis of teachers’ experiences provides insight into how teachers’ psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness have been challenged. It highlights the importance of supporting teachers to feel autonomous, competent and connected with colleagues, pupils and their families. Such support is likely to be beneficial to teachers’ wellbeing and their commitment to the profession, now and in the future.

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