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"The reflective process in achieving Senior Fellowship has helped me on this path..."

09 Jan 2023 | Maria Zaheer Maria Zaheer, an English Language Lecturer / Teacher Trainer at Interlink Institutes Al Yamamah University, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the founder Educational Webinar Jam, reflects on Senior Fellowship and her work to support the professional development of staff

The process of becoming a Senior Fellow of Advance HE in 2019 was instructive in reflecting on the best practices of my teaching and learning journey. The career path I have taken since has led to distinctive roles which have proved an opportunity to employ that reflection of my teaching leading of teaching, making a difference among my colleagues and students. In a sense, my Senior Fellow application is a manifesto of a teaching and learning philosophy that I built upon language theories structured around behavioral, perceptual, and other differentiated instruction and procedures.

Like many academics, I have a thirst for knowledge and thrive in new experiences which push me out of my comfort zone: so leaning heavily on my ‘manifesto,’ I felt well equipped to design tasks with a pedagogy that while ‘constructively disrupting’ the predictable routine of my students, allowed me to deliver lectures with carefully targeted outcomes but in original ways; creating and delivering lessons that articulated the lesson's aims, enhance effective student engagement, and allows them to assume responsibility for their learning and cognitive growth through self-direction.

I regularly examine and acquaint my students with aspects that have experiential learning. This comprises passing on knowledge and learning with the help of peers, as well as reducing dependency on teachers. To intrinsically motivate these 21st-century tech-savvy cohorts, I incorporate self-study language learning apps – commonly referred to as ‘Computer Assisted Language Learning’ apps (CALL) – because I believe they provide additional support for my students at any language proficiency level and allows them to learn in their own time and space. I found that this concept of causal learning via gamification promotes students' intellectual processes and aids in breaking down complicated ideas of newly acquired knowledge. This provides a framework for my students to take the initiative and responsibility and accomplish positive outcomes.

Remedial interventions bearing gains for Teaching and Learning:

Senior Fellowship champions effective teaching leadership, and my reflections through my SF application highlighted where I had the pleasure of undertaking staff professional development roles or interventions. Contextualism of teaching philosophy, which implicates delivery using a connectionist teaching approach, was key to introducing a creative practice that views students as co-creators at undergraduate and specialized teaching project module levels. My work to enhance teaching, learning, and professional development at the executive level encompassed a variety of instances: such as providing seminars, mentoring, and one-to-one guidance to improve teaching practice. In addition, working with in-house multi-disciplinary trainers, I lead several workshops on various topics, such as the integration of itools in teaching and learning that have directly impacted students’ classroom experiences and results. The motivating factor was knowledge drawn from the distinctive institutional settings. These sessions were designed around the challenges that surfaced by the faculty with a paradigm that had focused aims to accomplish and timely feedback on their progress. The institution’s recognition of upgrading to contemporary and dynamic teaching and learning experiences has always been a priority. Complementing this aim and to achieve a ‘full gain’ of the in-house rich resources such as Smartboard, LMS, and itools that supplemented the course book, I held training sessions with the assistance of the IT department, with higher frequency for teachers and students in the computer labs.

Pre-pandemic wayward skills to Post-Pandemic Triumphs:

It’s probably fair to say that the post-pandemic transformation in the educational arena created some anxiety among many educators worldwide when teaching – and perhaps teachers - were in something of a watershed moment, facing significant teaching challenges. However, many faculty members had previously received training about online teaching tools; the staff’s prior expertise and post-pandemic practices delve deeper into the pedagogical justification for employing technologies. My role is as a facilitator for a "Community of Practice," if you will, and this is a concept I have used in various elements of my teaching too. As a result, I created many instances during the pre - covid era for the cohorts to exchange knowledge and expertise to facilitate their exploration of, for example, a) how students would experience the module, b) how the assessment would align with online activities, and c) how support could be factored in effectively while also efficiently. Online teaching had challenges of its own, and teachers ‘occasionally’ faced reluctant student involvement. However, those teachers who went through my training reported that they had seamless delivery of the lessons, which kept the students engaged, enhanced their lifelong learning skills, and continued to perform well academically. We work hard to ensure that the delivery of the lessons represents best practices and is current and pertinent to the requirements of the staff teaching at my current employee too. I continue to draw on my experience with an understanding of educational technology while collaborating with co-workers.

What’s next in my teaching journey?

2022 was a year of achievement for our 'group'. In a personal capacity, I was delighted to receive our institution’s ‘The Teacher of the Year Award’ for distinguished teaching as a culmination of a nomination and panel performance review for my contributions to the field and sharing of "good practice" among colleagues, and to promote digital literacy in my teaching and learning: both in my classroom and beyond. I was incredibly pleased to receive this recognition for my passion, which was focused on sharing, as this is an important aspect of my work style and ethics.

I firmly believe that the reflective process in achieving Senior Fellowship has helped me on this path. My candidacy for Ph.D. was delayed due to the disruption of the covid pandemic, but at present, my quest for this destination has finally reached its course. Being passionate about the field of education, I hope to continue to make a valuable contribution in the future.

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