Last summer after several years of reflection and procrastination, I finally made the commitment to work in a focused way towards the submission of my Principal Fellowship application. It was arguably a strange decision. As the director of an education development centre at a traditional face-to-face campus university combining both academic development and digital education teams, last year has been beyond intense and demanding. We have worked long hours to enable the education of our students near and far and to support our colleagues in building their confidence and expertise in mixed modes of teaching and learning (face-to-face, hyflex and online) in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the process we have moved mountains.
And yet, in retrospect, this was precisely the right time. It was an opportunity to reclaim some space for myself, to create an oasis for reflection on my professional journey as an educator and to step back from the reactive chalkface of academic development work during the pandemic. It inevitably meant working early morning, weekends and getting up early while I was on leave with my family.
Lots of my writing and reflection did not get to the final application but over the weeks of writing, rewriting, cutting and responding to the constructive critique of mentors, I came to see that the process was as important as the outcome. I saw new connections, common threads and values stretching across my career, a professional and personal learning journey spanning several disciplines, countries and roles:
- A passionate commitment to education with a focus on empowering students and enabling the development of people,
Receptivity, openness to the other/others and inclusion,
An interest in power and the complexities in the way it works in countries, in institutions, in relationships, in people.
It is these values that led me to academic development work where I have found my professional home and identity and it is this journey that I needed to reflect on in order to be able to effectively evidence my strategic impact on student learning, organisational policy and approaches academic practice in recent years for my Principal Fellowship application.
My background as a political scientist has influenced my thinking about the nature of academic development work in higher education, about the complexities of motivating engagement in education work and navigating the complexities of effecting educational change in research intensive universities – an interest which led to a productive research collaboration with Dilly Fung on an Advance HE study on rewarding educators and education leaders. I have also been inspired by the work of Stephen Rowland who highlights the deeply political nature of academic development work, one that demands courage in the face of pressures to conform both within and beyond the university’. (2006, 72) I reflected on this in a blog posting celebrating the year’s anniversary of our LSE HE Blog in May 2020 which, among other things, considered the liminal spaces in which we operate between overlapping academic and professional worlds. These political and politicised dimensions of our work have also been acutely apparent in the recent pandemic as we have worked and struggled to enable our students to study, learn and grow and as universities have had to make difficult decisions in the face of huge uncertainty and constant policy shifts.
It was deeply frustrating at times to be pushed to demonstrate ’my’ particular impact in the stories I was trying to tell when education and educational change are inherently collective endeavours. At the same time, it highlighted to me yet again the nuance and complexities of education work. In the end, I evidently managed to sufficiently pinpoint the impact I have had.
Working on my Principal Fellowship application also enabled me to remember, acknowledge and thank the many wonderful people who have joined me on this journey, colleagues who have mentored me, who I have worked with and learnt from along the way as well as the many inspiring students who get in touch now and again to tell me the stories of their lives.
Working on Principal Fellowship has its frustrations and definitely took more years than I expected. However, after an incredibly demanding year, I am really proud that I was able to finally eke out the time to do this and that, alongside the important pandemic response work, I was able to do something for myself. I strongly recommend others – if they can – to try to find this time for themselves as well.
Dr Claire Gordon is Director, Eden Centre for Education Enhancement at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Are you thinking of applying for Senior or Principal Fellowship? Writing Retreats offer 1:1 peer coaching and expert analysis, the space and time to process and craft your narrative for your submission. Find out about our upcoming virtual retreats here.