In this post, Michelle reflects on her application for Senior Fellowship and considers that it's not all about named leadership roles, it's about you.
I am a Study Adviser working as part of the Library at the University of Reading. If you asked me why I applied for Senior Fellowship of the HEA (SFHEA) I would say something like, I wanted to demonstrate the leading contributions to learning and teaching made by academic support services. This reason is true, but the underlying reason I applied was because of the encouragement of my colleagues, both within our Study Advice team at the University of Reading and in the wider network of Learning Developers. My first reaction to the suggestion I go for SFHEA through Reading’s new continuing professional development scheme was, ‘But I don’t feel senior enough!’ Despite being in my role for seven years and becoming recognised as one of the University’s leaders in teaching and learning through activities such as providing consultancy on embedding study skills, and sharing expertise in developing innovative resources (like our recent suite of study tutorials) I didn’t feel I met the expectations of ‘seniority’; I couldn’t see myself as a Senior Fellow.
It took the prompting of my colleagues to make me reflect on the ways in which I am a leader in teaching and learning practice through my role as Study Adviser. I think this feeling of ‘not being senior enough’ is common, especially with people working in academic support services or outside the conventional subject academic roles, as the opportunities for influencing others are often more informal and creative, and there are fewer clearly defined paths for career progression. My colleagues’ supportive (but insistent) prompting made me realise I was incorrectly thinking of seniority in terms of a rigid hierarchy, as opposed to the activities I did and the impact they had.
I saw that the different activities I was involved in across the University were a good fit with the broader focus of the D3 descriptor for Senior Fellowship. This is also likely to be the case for many others in central support and professional roles, such as Learning Developers, Librarians, Careers Advisers and Educational Developers. We tend to be early adopters of teaching and learning innovations and are willing to support others in developing them. As a result of our central positions, we often have strong networks with other services and departments throughout our institutions, so we are naturally called upon to provide expertise and informal leadership. Also, as we usually work in smaller teams within an institution, it often means we take a wider, national focus, linking up with like-minded people in other institutions to disseminate and share what we do. An example of my own influence at a national level has been the work I have been doing with ALDinHE (the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education) to encourage Learning Developers to apply for HEA professional recognition through the creation of the resource LD-MAPS (Learning Development Mapped Against Professional Standards). This unique resource helps Learning Developers see how many of their creative and non-traditional academic activities align with the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) in ways they may not have considered.
As I am not in a clearly defined leadership role, I had to construct a multi-dimensional case for leadership out of many different activities, such as the work with ALDinHE above. I was conscious of the need to describe what I did clearly, as I was aware that people may not readily understand what I do as a Study Adviser. Having to unpick how my work has positively influenced the learning and teaching practices of others, as opposed to relying on a shared understanding of named leadership roles, such as Head of Department or School Director of Teaching and Learning, helped the depth and precision of my reflective writing.
My successful application for SFHEA has enabled me to continue to build on this success and the success of our Study Advice service. Taking stock of what I had done encouraged me to apply for Reading’s University Teaching Fellowship (UTF) - the highest award the University can grant for teaching and learning. The majority of the ground work and reflection for my SFHEA prepared the way for my application for UTF - in the best Study Advice tradition of getting at least two outcomes for every activity! I was awarded the Fellowship in a very competitive year and this has led to helping other colleagues in support service roles see that they can apply for the UTF too.
I am passionate about encouraging staff working outside the traditional academic roles to gain recognition for the contributions they make to teaching and learning. Applying for my SFHEA as part of the Library’s involvement in the pilot of Reading’s continuing professional development scheme - FLAIR (Facilitating Learning and Teaching Achievement and Individual Recognition) has given me the opportunity to give feedback on how to make it more inclusive for applicants from support services. I am now mentoring colleagues who are applying as part of the scheme and helping at our regular FLAIR writing retreats. I am also training to be a member of the FLAIR panel to examine applications and grant awards under the scheme. In the context of support staff developing their teaching qualifications and profiles, it is very satisfying to see the Library at the top of the University table for successful awards so far, with two Senior Fellowships, two Fellowships, and one Associate Fellowship.
Learning from my own experience, I would urge people to think about the difference they have made to students and staff, as opposed to being put off by ideas of ‘seniority’. I am very grateful to my colleagues for giving me the nudge and self-belief I needed to apply for Senior Fellowship. As part of my current training to be on the FLAIR awards panel, I have seen really good applications for Associate Fellow that have enough evidence of teaching activity for Fellowship, and applications for Fellowship that demonstrate the leadership qualities of Senior Fellowship. Who knows, it may have only taken a suggestion from a colleague to ‘go for it’ to give these applicants the confidence to reach further.
Have you supported someone in applying for HEA recognition already, or is there a colleague of yours who you might like to encourage to apply?