Becoming an NTF happened at a pivotal time in my life and career. My claim had been constructed around a passion for supporting and developing colleagues’ professional learning as HE scholar-educators through dialogue around practice and with peers in informally and formally constructed learning spaces (Appleby & Pilkington (2014) Developing Critical Profession Practice in Education).
My then institution was restructuring, and despite my success in the NTF application, I was faced with a tough decision about where to direct my future career outside of a role and environment in which I had invested so much. Within a very short time of leaving the institution where I had invested much energy and passion, I was creating a new career working for the (then) HEA supporting CPD initiatives, projects, and Fellowship, as well as enabling new colleagues and their development as a Professorial Fellow at Liverpool Hope.
As an NTF 2014, and an experienced and passionate academic, I have always sought to support others’ aspirations to excellence. For me it was a matter of identity. Where, I asked as I considered my new position, should I target my energy having left a single full-time role in one institution to occupy a more flexible and influential role in two, as well as building a new career in freelance work?
I was incredibly fortunate in having achieved NTF when I did. In a period of transition, it opened doors for me, gave me a sense of credibility and self-belief, also a sense of duty to continue to act in support of others. I therefore used my NTF award in a number of ways.
Firstly, I used funds and the opportunity to train in mindfulness and mentoring skills, a lengthy and – of necessity – highly reflective process. I now mentor colleagues across a number of institutions in achieving their own aspirations for NTF and leadership, and offer mindfulness support and courses.
I developed my interest in dialogue for professional learning by working with knowledgeable and inspiring colleagues across the sector. This culminated in the Advance HE Guide and meant I was in a position to promote the value of dialogue for Fellowship. Colleagues likewise acquired insight and appreciation of how to influence change in teaching and learning in turn.
In my new roles I was able to research and explore how academic leadership aligned to my NTF and professorial profile too. I consequently developed resources and support for those increasingly busy academics responding to leadership responsibilities in resource-constrained, dynamic and complex environments.
One outcome of this has been a fascination with the notion of what constitutes professorial work within the context of learning and teaching: supporting colleagues to ‘become, be and lead’ as scholarly educators within their respective communities of practice. Professorial work in teaching and learning is something of interest for the ANTF network more widely too and is provoking questioning and critical discussion across our community.
Finally, I using my NTF award allowed me to pursue an interest in academic writing (retreats): studying with Rowena Murray, and applying my learning to a number of collaborative writing ventures – such a rewarding and powerful experience to write in this way!! It seems to fit so well with how we as academics conceptualise the teaching act: ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. I now deliver writing retreats for academics, fellowship, undergraduate and postgraduate researchers using the skills acquired and hence passing on the value gained.
The NTF provided opportunities then through my own self-development; through networking, and collaboration that stretched and reframed my existing knowledge and capabilities for a novel (to me) and, I believe, more influential role. It furthered my passion for HE professional learning. It allowed me to flourish in exciting ways, something I never could have believed possible when I was going through the difficult process of restructure, loss, and defeat in 2014. It also enabled me to continue to pursue and enhance my passion for professional learning and dialogue and to share that far more extensively with others than I could have imagined.
So, thank you, NTF. I remain grateful and immensely proud to have gained those letters, and feel privileged each time I see and share in the achievements of my peers.
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Dr Ruth Pilkington (NTF, SFSEDA, PFHEA) is a freelance educational consultant, Visiting Professor at Ulster University, formerly at Liverpool Hope and the HEA. She consults for Advance-HE, SEDA, and UK institutions on professional learning; as reviewer and accreditor; mentor; on academic leadership and mindfulness; and on dialogue for fellowship.