Unlocking education through relationship building: identity and agency in English educational institutions during Covid-19

Linda Walz, Charlotte Haines Lyon, Graham Bright, Joan Walton, Kalen Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article reports on a longitudinal study in the North of England with thirteen educators in schools, colleges and universities during two lockdowns. The project was designed to ‘unlock’ education by providing spaces to co-create new ways of thinking about education in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Focus groups were conducted with school and college teachers as well as university staff at the end of the first and second English lockdown, in summer 2020 and spring 2021. An initial analysis identified issues with expectations and communication between educators and executive management as well as a lack of agency of educators, and that participants framed them as impacting on their identity as educators. Therefore, the framework of tactics of intersubjectivity was adopted to explore how educators discursively positioned themselves and others through constructions of similarity and difference, realness and power, and how their professional identities were affected by the experience of working through the pandemic and by those around them. Whilst educators took opportunities to authenticate their identity and reimagine education, their agency was undermined by top-down governing involving little successful communication, leading to denaturalising and illegitimising experiences for educators. Executive management were perceived as lacking engagement with staff and understanding of the implications of their decisions on them. The findings call for relationship building and recognition of educators’ voice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)711-730
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number4
Early online date28 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2023


  • educator identity
  • authentication
  • voice
  • pandemic


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