We staff developers are teachers too (Baume, 2003) but also learners, I would add. We help academics and other professionals who support learning in HE to grow and (re-)discover the magic of teaching and learning. We challenge conventional and traditional practices and work in a change environment. Kahn (2003) reminds us that “developers are primarily engaged not in what is normally thought of as academic practice – teaching, research and the like – but rather in the enhancement of academic practice.” (p. 218). And I am so pleased that somebody else said this because it links really well with what I think about academic development. But also, I have asked myself many times: If academic developers would be doing what everybody else is doing already, what would be the point of our existence? Of course, some of the things we suggest disturb people’s practices, bring them in imbalance and are probably disruptive in one way or another. This is a fact and resistance is therefore something we live with. And therefore a genuine interest in others and interpersonal skills are essential to overcome such barriers.
The bottom line is we need to be people people. Pretending to be interested, doesn’t work, nor does pretending to be somebody else. This is something Light et al. (2009) highlights about the teacher who ‘should not feel compelled to adopt a persona that is unnatural or seems to go against the grain of his or her personality’ (p. 124)
We are all unique and we know it. But many times we don’t do anything about it. We just need to remember this and take it into consideration when working with others so that we can interpret our differences as enrichment opportunities and be accepted, respectful and inclusive. One size does not fit all! Our development approaches need to be flexible, bendy and elastic. Our toolkits versatile, adjustable and refreshing. Just like a glass of cold water under the hot summer sun. Our solutions and intervention need to add texture and flavour to what we do. Nobody likes a bland meal! If we want people we work with to love our food, we need to cook it well! And if we want them to request a second serving, third etc. serving we need to become master chefs! We can’t just dish up a ready-meal. Nor can we digest anything for anybody. We need to practise what we preach and learn to cook properly and creatively and use fresh ingredients too! Land (2003) said “Do as I do” rather than “do as I say” and that this “is seen as ultimately a more effective operational approach than the patient development and implementation of policy” (p. 3). Basically this is how I understand modelling. Swennen et al (2008) defines modelling as an opportunity to learn, discover and make sense of specific approaches which academics could use with their own students, through experiencing, reflecting, identifying links to own practice and theory. It is much more valuable if all that thinking and discovery is generated by the academics themselves. The immersive experience acts as the trigger for all this to happen. If we take this magic away, and digest experiences for others, we remove opportunities for discovery, deep, meaningful and perhaps transformative learning. So, let’s just do more of this.
In order to work effectively with diversity and promote inclusivety, academic developers need to be adjust practices to a specific situation, a specific group, a specific individual. Could this mean that we are chameleon developers? Context is king!!! Having a mix of orientations (Land 2003) will be very handy but also remembering that, as Neame (2011) states that interventionalist approaches work better at initial stages and should be seen as a temporary solution and a way in towards adapting democratic development and the creation of learning communities, collaborations and partnerships to grow and develop together.
Projects are great opportunities to bring people together and it is happens that academic developers not jut initiate projects but also participate in projects set-out by others, not as often perhaps as it could. I love projects, I love working with people from different disciplines. In a way, projects are playgrounds, especially the smaller and shorter ones. People are busy these days probably more than every and we are asked to do more and better with less. That is why probably little projects are more attractive. But also because they cost less!!! But little projects can have a big impact and can generate ongoing engagement, enhancement and innovation of practices. They are wonderful opportunities to learn through experimentation and dialogue, or as Segal (2003) puts it such “projects encourage individuals to test the water and may therfore be a less threatening forum” (p. 129). I think there are plenty of opportunities for academic developers to engage in project work with colleagues from different disciplines and professional areas and we haven’t really explored these fully. What hinders such vital collaborations?
Baume, D. (2003) Monitoring and evaluating staff and educational development, in: Kahn, P. And Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 76-95.
Kahn, P. (2003)Developing professional expertise in staff and educational development, in: Kahn, P. And Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 212-226.
Land, R. (2003) Orientations to Academic Development in Eggins, H. And Macdonald, R. (eds.) The Scholarship of Academic Development, pp. 34-46. The Society for research into higher Education and Open University Press.
Light, G. Cox, R. & Calkins. S. (2009) Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.The Reflective Professional, London: Sage Publications.
Neame, C. (2011) Exploring Models of Development of Professional Practice in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: What Can We Learn from Biology and Marketing? Educate~ Vol. 11, No. 1, 2011, pp. 9-19.
Segal, R. (2003) Working on educational development projects, in: Kahn, P. And Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 128-142.
Swennen, A., Lunenberg, M., & Korthagen, F. (2008) Preach what you teach! Teacher educators and congruent teaching. Teachers and Teaching; theory and practice, 14(5,6), pp. 531-542.