One of the things that social science academics like to discuss is the value of theory. We instill in our students the importance of academic research and theory. We discuss how theory can be used to better understand practice. We also like talking a lot about the importance of reflection; critical reflection that is underpinned by theory. Yes, theory, theory, theory. Everywhere you look there is more of it, Marxist, post-structuralist, Keynesian, feminist, the list is endless.
But do we practice what we preach? If theory and reflection are all that important then presumably we all engage in theory and reflection to underpin our own practice? Do we?
Actually, in order to become a ‘teacher’ at a university (I started in 2001/02) all you need is, ideally, one degree higher than those you are ‘teaching’. Of course it isn’t really ‘teaching’ but that might warrant another post another time. But there is no requirement for formal teaching qualifications. Or at least there wasn’t when I started.
Increasingly universities are requiring staff to undertake some form of training in teaching and learning prior to taking up a lectureship or other academic post. This is often linked to accreditation with the Higher Education Academy and aligned with the UK Professional Standards Framework. But rather than suggest that you must become a Fellow (or Senior Fellow etc) I would argue that you should become a Fellow of the HEA.
I undertook the process of applying for recognition as Senior Fellow in 2015 (via the QMU CPD Scheme). Prior to that I had not really taken much time to reflect on my approach to teaching and learning. What I did was largely the result of the many great lecturers I experienced as an undergraduate at Glasgow Caledonian University – which had so many amazing lecturers at the time that it’s impossible to list them all in one blog post. I had never truly reflected on this and considered what it was about the approach of academics there which contrasted so much with my experiences of school education and how this had impacted on my position in the seminar room / lecture hall.
The process of going through the UK Professional Standards Framework and the HEA application process forced me, for the first time, to properly engage with pedagogy. I read Mezirow, Freire and many contemporary texts on teaching and learning (references provided below). Going through these texts, and thinking critically about my own professional practice, made me much more self-aware. It helped me understand why I do some of the things I do but also made me question some of my practice. This isn’t a one-off process but something that I will continue to do.
Since I gained recognition as a Senior Fellow of the HEA a number of colleagues, from a number of universities, have asked me to send them a copy of my application. I have discussed my application and have supported colleagues in developing their ideas. But I’ve stopped short of sharing my application for one very simple reason – it would be of very little value to anyone else. My application reflects my experience, values and practice. So should yours. Every application should be unique. Every application should, in my opinion, be personal.
My top tip for applying for recognition from the HEA? Make it personal. Start with why you have chosen this career. What is it that has motivated you to be someone who supports student learning? What is it that continues to drive and motivate you.
And one more thing, don’t ask students to engage in theory and reflection if you’re not prepared to do it yourself.
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