Applying for a Principal Fellowship is daunting, especially when you’re far away working in a slightly unconventional context. Meegan Hall, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Mātauranga Māori) at Victoria University of Wellington, shares her ‘detailed’ experience of assembling a successful portfolio.
The Principal Fellowship portfolio may only be 7,000 words long but, to do well, it can be a complicated process that requires attention to detail. Having said that, if you start with some good data collection and a system for organising your examples, the write-up can become relatively straightforward.
He kanohi hōmiromiro
In the Māori (Indigenous people of New Zealand) language, we have a phrase ‘he kanohi hōmiromiro’. It literally means ‘tomtit eyes’ but is used to describe a sharp-eyed person or someone with an eye for detail. A colleague once used it to describe my assessment of a new course proposal. He may not have meant it as a compliment at the time, but I took it as one – and I definitely came to appreciate my ‘tomtit’ qualities while I was putting my Fellowship portfolio together earlier this year.
My entire portfolio ended up telling the story of my learning and teaching leadership, which started in a somewhat experimental lectureship and then blossomed into a senior leadership role as Assistant Vice-Chancellor. It also mapped my growing learning and teaching influence, initially within my own unit and then faculties, to now across my university and beyond.
It gave me a chance to think about how my leadership has enhanced student learning and improved teaching quality. More specifically, I was able to summarise how I have worked to embed mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) in the curriculum, influence learning and teaching practice, and help develop academic staff to be better teachers.
A detailed approach
The first part of my ‘detailed’ approach was to take the time to go back through my electronic calendar for the last five years and pull out every possibly relevant event I’d hosted or spoken at, committee I’d been on, strategy I’d written, project I’d led or participated in, role I’d fulfilled, qualification or training I’d completed and resource I’d produced. I also made a note of the dates of each example (well, I learnt that lesson eventually!). This process created a huge list of examples and evidence for me to draw on and became the basis of my Record of Educational Impact.
Having the long list of examples was great but I started to feel a little overwhelmed when I tried to just begin writing against each of the four descriptors. It was at that point that I decided to use a synthesis matrix to organise my material. A synthesis matrix is a simple tool that I’ve used in the past to teach students how to write literature reviews (see, for example https://writingcenter.ashford.edu/synthesis-matrix). It is basically a table, where you can cluster related ideas into themes/columns, and retain the source information alongside. Putting all of my material in a synthesis matrix first allowed me to spread my examples more evenly across all four descriptors and helped me avoid over-using the same examples. I could also see at a glance whether I had enough evidence to back up the key themes that I had identified for my portfolio.
When it came to writing up my portfolio, it was just a matter of introducing each of my themes and providing examples of my work to back up my point. It still took some wordsmithing but I know it was a much more comprehensive, and evidence-based portfolio as a result of my detail-focused methods.
Top tips for putting together a portfolio
My final words of advice for anyone think about or just starting to put together a portfolio are:
- Don’t skip over the evidence collection phase. The more material you have to work with, the easier it will be to back up your claims.
- Try a synthesis matrix to help organise your evidence. It will help you to spread out your examples across each of the four descriptors, and avoid using them all up before you get to 4.5.
As Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Mātauranga Māori) at Victoria University of Wellington, Meegan Hall provides strategic academic leadership in Māori learning, teaching and research. Her role focuses on Indigenous achievement in higher education, which combines her disciplinary background in Māori studies, law and history and her academic development work with Māori academic staff and students.
For further information about Fellowship please click here.