Educators in lockdown: living in the unknowing (but finding a better sense of our future and priorities)

This week, we have featured a series of blogs from Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning and Teaching, at Leeds Beckett University. Susan first shared her findings and reflections on educating in a lockdown back in May; in this final instalment, she reflects on how, while we are still in a state of ‘unknowing’, we are developing a better sense of our future and our new priorities. You can find Monday’s introductory blog hereTuesday’s instalment on lockdown working as a ‘messy business but getting tidier’ here, Wednesday’s blog about coping better here, and yesterday’s blog about finding new skills here.

Head shot picture of Susan Smith

Our future on campus is still unclear, and we must remain living in this state of unknowing. As I mentioned before, being in the psychotherapeutic state of “the unknowing” has become a valuable but tense reflective exercise and it is different for everyone. We blithely encourage students and colleagues into “reflective practice” on placement experiences, dire critical incidents, academic practice, failures. Now we are having to do it properly on ourselves. Some of the staff interviews I did as part of this research were deeply reflective. The pandemic has made us all dig deep, develop coping strategies to understand the present and make sense of the future.

The pandemic has profoundly changed the way we have worked- just as the Industrial Revolution shifted cottage industries to factories, moving from the country to large cities. The principle remained the same in the 1800s – you still left your home to go to work and returned in the evening. It’s not like that now. We are still primarily working at home. This current state of affairs is going to continue for at least the rest of this academic year and it’s unlikely that full face to face teaching, graduations and large campus meetings will resume any time soon.

Whereas our early days of sudden home working in March were marked by a sense of surrealism and shock, it does seem now, from the interview findings, that the future of our work is slightly clearer. We all would wish to retain this more flexible approach in the future with a mixed diet of home and office working to meet the requirements of the service.

Our interviews have shown how we had adapted and grown. We worry much less about the digital tools collapsing. We are now thinking constructively about approaches to support more robust and engaging blended learning, the future of the TEF & NSS, new ways to enhance continuation and emotional engagement, digital capability and pedagogy, ways to enhance inclusion and the hearing more staff and student voices, building higher level skills into the curriculum and exploring the real value of face to face teaching in a blended curriculum.  

Our priorities as a team, we all agreed, seem to be becoming clearer too.

As we now understand and recognise the importance of emotional engagement and collaboration for ourselves, so must we catalyse it in our staff so they then can model it for their students. As we have in our team stopped feeling overwhelmed by technology, we must now return to the core of our work – being led by the reasoned evidence, the “why? and the pedagogy and focussing much less on the overwhelming “how to…” of the digital tools.

It seems from our rich, qualitative data that we have also recognised we need offer colleagues responsive, pedagogically- led support and ideas tailored tightly to their practical needs. As they learn the new skills to emotionally engage their own students in online learning, we need, in parallel, to emotionally engage our staff colleagues by humanising ourselves, try to reduce social barriers through the screen and illuminate their contribution and discussion.

We press on into a much- changed future and have surprised ourselves by how well we have adapted.

Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning & Teaching, Leeds Beckett University

10.11.20

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