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The long and winding road to a National Teaching Fellowship

19 Aug 2021 | Julia Reeve 2021 NTF Julia Reeve, a Teacher Fellow at De Montfort University, shares her reflections on the NTF journey.

“I’m an NTF! I’m an NTF!” has been my internal monologue for the past few days as I try to process the fact that I have finally reached this seemingly unattainable goal…

Here I share my journey, offering reflections and tips. My key points are:

  • don’t think that only academic staff can apply: those like me in professional services and who have followed unusual career journeys can be successful
  • NTF is part of a long-term developmental journey so if you don’t succeed first time (or second, or third), don’t give up
  • don’t do it alone: communities of practice, whether within or outside your institution can offer inspiration, support and solidarity.


My NTF journey has been long: since becoming a DMU Teacher Fellow 10 years ago, I’ve set my sights on joining this community. It’s also been a very winding road involving role changes and projects with many different organisations and individuals over the years.

I first applied for NTF four years ago, and found being unsuccessful a lonely and dispiriting experience (in spite of some positive feedback comments). Fortunately, for my next application I found the mentor who has worked with me ever since: they helped me to reframe my work, and I applied again the following year. This time being unsuccessful was extremely hard: it was difficult to come to terms with what I saw as a ‘failure’.

Supported by my mentor, I took a year away from the application process and instead took a more strategic approach to my practice, focusing on activities which would provide tangible evidence of impact (something raised in my feedback comments).

Being more strategic offered wider benefits too: obtaining data for dissemination, building a community of practice and raising awareness of issues close to my heart being just a few. I used the additional time to focus on my development, extending not only my pedagogic skills, but also building confidence and tackling impostor syndrome via leadership programmes and coaching.

My (thankfully!) final NTF application was still difficult, hugely time-consuming and personally challenging (impostor syndrome never completely goes away). The difference was that I felt clearer about what I do and the reasons for it, and had a range of examples to include. Reflection was key to this process, and my mentor encouraged me to think back to childhood and dig deeper into the roots of my teaching philosophy. The process enabled me to synthesise my diverse career history and identify key themes that flow through my work.

To reflect on my pedagogic journey, I used the multisensory approach that I adopt in teaching, and drew a visual journey map. Drawing out my learning and teaching journey to resemble a road with various milestones and diversions on the way was hugely helpful in identifying patterns and themes.

I also used collage as a reflective technique, prompting both self-awareness and self-compassion. A collage-based vision board hangs on my wall, depicting my overall life goals: this was powerful in envisaging what ‘success’ looked like for me. Visual, tactile approaches to the NTF process gave me an invaluable springboard into the challenges of writing the application: so, if in doubt, draw your journey, collage your practice and the words will follow!

Finally, here are my tips for future applicants:

  • remember, it’s a marathon rather than a sprint: think long term
  • lots of us do not succeed first time: do read the feedback and try to look on it as a developmental opportunity
  • accept that imposter syndrome may kick in, but do it anyway
  • connect with NTFs that you admire at your institution and elsewhere, and if possible, collaborate with them
  • visualisation can be a useful tool, both for reflection on your pedagogic journey, and for clarifying where you want to go.


Julia works across disciplines, building confidence and creative thinking via imaginative, multisensory learning including LEGO® Serious Play®, collage and drawing. Her fashion design background informs her teaching philosophy: she combines a constructionist ‘Thinking with the hands’ approach with compassionate pedagogy to develop reflexivity and embed mental wellbeing.

Nominations for CATE and NTFS 2022 open on Monday 4 October 2021. Find out more about the 2021 winners of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme and Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence.


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