This blog has been authored by Paul Chesterton (NTF), Associate Professor, Teesside University; Jennifer Chesterton, Lecturer, Sunderland University; Emily Hedley, Lecturer, Teesside University; Daniel Moore, Senior Lecturer, Teesside University. It is a sequel to yesterday’s blog with a similar title, which can be accessed here.
The sequel: Hollywood’s favourite igniting topic. We can all relate to the long-anticipated sequels of which only some make the grade. Often the sequel is nowhere near as good as the original or the original was so bad that nobody should have considered a sequel! We will let you decide which category this blog fits into best, as we consider the support mechanisms which facilitated colleagues new to teaching over the past year.
As previously, the cast includes colleagues new to full-time academia, teaching across healthcare degrees during a global pandemic. Between teaching, the digital world became our playground, and the development of technology savvy skills ensured a safe passage for open communication with students, academics, and professional support staff.
Whether it’s writing the next multi-million pound box-office hit, or a module guide, the essence of a strong community and focused support is crucial. This support felt even more integral when it was colleagues ‘first run’ through. The online support resources provided by institutions, covering a magnitude of topics, facilitated the resolution of frequent queries. Additionally, the ability to call colleagues (sharing screens/documents instantly) enhanced the community feel and sense of fitting into the bigger picture. Specifically, the transition of staff training workshops online enabled this spirit of togetherness whilst providing a permanent record of induction sessions and the opportunity to ‘refer back’ to resources, historically lacking with face-to-face delivery.
Some colleagues also enrolled on teaching in higher education related courses, often a prerequisite of employment. This delivered an enlightening experience of being both a student and staff member during the pandemic, offering unique perspectives and insight. It developed a true understanding of how some students may feel, engage, and connect during these uncertain, and sometimes quite isolating, times. These courses opened channels to meet colleagues, from different faculties stimulating supportive discussion on university procedures, but importantly the sharing ideas from frontline practice. This allowed colleagues to submerge themselves in a reflective, non-formal learning environment and provided the opportunity to develop delivery and student engagement skills.
Colleagues in the main felt that these courses should offer the ability to reflect on teaching styles but also provide an introductory guide for new academics. Often, courses taught by experienced academics may neglect the real anxiety or challenges new academics experience when they begin on their teaching journey. Prior to full-time employment, those new to teaching have often done so in a supportive or cameo role. The transition to a lead role is often dauting and teaching itself is a performing art. Transferrable tips and advice to influence early career academics not only on the frontline of teaching but associated roles of tutoring, administration, research and enterprise were welcomed and embraced.
To this end, I was also fascinated to understand how more experienced colleagues could support peers new to teaching. A conscious effort to maintain involvement, creating regular virtual team meetings, developing relationships to allow approachability and actively listening to concerns has allowed for a supportive and nurturing culture. Resoundingly, the sense of being there, ready to assist, endorse and encourage were all valuable to colleague’s confidence and belief in their work. Let us not forget the power of positive reinforcement. We do not need the prestige of an Oscars like ceremony to celebrate colleagues’ successes. However, praise and encouragement are motivations we all need from time to time and they often come at just the right time.
My overriding reflection was that during the past year our colleagues new to academia needed support and guidance both technically and emotionally. However, all colleagues faced unique challenges during the pandemic. New colleagues have taught me more over the past year than the advice I could offer them. Community, support, and a sense of inclusivity is a fluid relationship we all benefit from. It has been a blockbuster of a year, and as a learning and teaching community, we need to support students and colleagues who are both seasoned and fresh to Higher Education.