Gaining a National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) is undoubtedly one of the hardest forms of recognition to achieve. Annually, hundreds of excellent educators apply for the accolade, but only a handful can be successful. This blog provides an insight into the internal processes provided to potential applicants at the University of Lincoln, specifically addressing how we encourage and support such innovative approaches to teaching and learning, whilst also focusing on how we take a realistic and grounded view, acknowledging the competitiveness of such awards. This blog also provides a lens by which we share our experiences as supporters and mentors, in an inspirational message to all interested in the process.
Contextually, at the University of Lincoln, we had what can only be described as an NTF drought. Professor Richard Keeble received the award in 2011 for outstanding contributions to teaching journalism, but we then had a dearth with attempts and had to wait until 2020 to receive the next, when Tracey White was successful for her contributions to distance learning pedagogies. So, what happened in between those dates? Below are a number of tips we feel have been effective and impactful:
Resilience, giving yourself the ‘green light’ to work on those ‘light bulb’ moments!
In the years between successes, Lincoln applicants certainly continued to apply, but we struggled to find the magic formula for staff to be recognised for their achievements in their applications. There was a shift however in 2019, when a new form of centralised support for NTF candidates was assigned to the Lincoln Academy of Learning and Teaching (LALT), whereas in the past it was a more localised form of support through academic departments. What was the change here? Was it the more bespoke guidance and support provided by the Assistant Director of LALT, Dave Prichard, or was it the clarity that came from the light bulb moment illuminated in our support? Dave tells his story below about what made him more effective as a mentor.
“Our VC at the time, Professor Mary Stuart, introduced me to Celia Whitchurch’s Reconstructing Identities in Higher Education - The rise of 'Third Space' professionals. This was one of the most influential texts I had ever read because Celia’s work gave me a language to my own role within higher education. More importantly, it enabled me to see the skills set I had that would help compliment mentorship for NTFS candidates. In essence, this text helped me see what I could offer from my experience and skills, and what I could bring to academia at the University as an experienced Professional Services colleague with one foot firmly in academia - it felt like an invisible barrier had been lifted.”
Be directed by insights, recognise the abilities of others, but also your role in building them!
In 2020, LALT introduced a new form of mentorship to supporting colleagues, this applied Dave’s skill set from his communications background, and ability to tease out of colleagues’ innovative pedagogies. Quintessentially, they often think such approaches are standard, just what they do, “It’s just normal practice”, but it’s about getting them to realise that their ways, as educators, are in fact extraordinary. Dave was a journalist for many years and specialised in Internal Communications. The skills he developed in these roles were primarily editorial, but with that comes the ability to see something in others that they perhaps find difficult to see in themselves. LALT recognises this skillset and tasked Dave with leading on mentorship as he sees it, to be guided by his own experiences to enhance the success of others.
Believe in your own achievements and give yourself the necessary time and headspace!
It is important to acknowledge the external and internal pressures on all of us working in higher education at the moment. LALT’s ethos is to provide centralised support and guidance by leading on initiatives and projects within teaching and learning. To be the vehicle for sharing good practice, exploring new pedagogies and embedding student engagement to the learning community at Lincoln. Part of this vision is an acknowledged consideration of the value with self-reflection. This is indeed fundamental with the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTF) so that applicants use this process as an opportunity for them, to reflect upon their own practice, just as you would ask of those submitting Senior Fellowship application. It is part of the remit of LALT to ensure that colleagues are supported with finding this required space to understand what they do well, and how this positively impacts upon others. This is a vital stage of the application process, and of their own development.
Take the offer of support from others - we can collectively learn from each other in the process
In the role of leading on mentoring for NTF, the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) and other awards and recognitions, LALT is fortunate enough to work with many outstanding educators. Dave takes this experience, as the first step towards identifying if and when a colleague is ready for the NTFS - recognising the exemplar of innovation and good practice. LALT encourages staff to come forward if they feel they are ready, however the most effective way seems to be to identify our ‘pedagogic stars’ through the wider community of practice that LALT supports. We have had much more success by identifying the impact of colleagues through our forums, such as School Directors of Teaching and Learning, Programme Leader Network, Apprenticeships or other role-focused fora. Importantly, this approach allows us to see staff in action, to witness their impact and influence on good practice first-hand.
Have a plan, be patient and be willing to put in the leg work!
The mentorship approach is not a quick win, essentially, it’s a two-year process. After identifying candidates who are “ready”, meetings are arranged with them to discuss their approach and highlight specific aspects relevant for the application. The primary focus of the initial year is around evidence gathering, taking the time to pause to understand their own pedagogies and impact. About six months prior to submission, we begin drafting, with bespoke mentoring with the candidates, taking the role as a critical friend, investigating their evidence, teasing out what motivates them and how they might create a narrative that is authentic, honest and impactful.
Dave supports three to four candidates at any one time. It is essential that the applications do not replicate each other. Essentially NTFS is a competition, albeit a pedagogic exercise, but whether we like it or not the applications will be competing against each other. LALT’s role is to ensure that candidates remain distinctive from each other, it is their practice that is the focus. Essentially Dave helps the candidates find their narrative through the application process, to build this during the process taking the role as a storyteller, to explore their evidence and impact.
It seems to be working - if it isn’t broke…
Since taking on this third space mentorship approach, the University has had considerable success, gaining one award each year for the past three years. Working with talented academics is a gift in the job as a mentor, but also for LALT more widely, whereby such experiences have enabled us to package successes and work from these leads for others.
However, to end this discussion there is an important message for those who have been unsuccessful - remember you have been recognised on an institutional level for your innovation, impact with pedagogic practice and as an exemplar of teaching and learning excellence. Be proud of what you have achieved and keep going. You are a recognised leader in higher education as a nominee for the NTFS awards, and this means you are an inspiration to others. Resilience is a key part of the process and this is why you will go far!
David Prichard is the Assistant Director of the Lincoln Academy of Learning and Teaching (LALT). His responsibilities include running the University’s Fellowship scheme, academic project management such as APP and TEF, NSS, corporate student engagement and supporting academic development through the Academic Apprenticeship Programme and PGCHE.
Dr Kate Strudwick is Dean of LALT. LALT is a community of practice at the University of Lincoln, a central department that represents all academics and support staff who teach and serves to lead on initiatives and projects for sharing good practice, exploring new pedagogies and student engagement.
NTFS nominations for 2023
The National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) nominations for 2023 are now open.
NTFS nominations close at noon (GMT) on Wednesday 8 March 2023