Letter from Bernadine to Toni

On Friday 7th May we will be hosting a workshop at the SEDA Conference: Letters from a plague year: co-responding to change with reflective storying. Participants in the session will be invited to respond to one of FOUR letters which we have created as part of our ongoing letter writing research. They are letters to imaginary friends – fictional but inspired by our actual exchanged letters. Here is the third in the series….

Dear Toni,

It was lovely to hear from you and to know that there haven’t been too many repercussions from your restructure. The new boss sounds like she might have a few promising ideas after all?? 

I’ve just had an email from a colleague that has left me floundering and I’m sure I remember you talking about something similar so I thought I would get in touch. Rather than pinging it across in an email or calling you, I wondered if the act of writing it to you then waiting for a response (no pressure!) would help me formulate my ideas.  

Anyway, this colleague is a non-native speaker of English and a brilliantly committed teacher with a lot of experience teaching both here in the UK but back in her home country too. I’d noticed when I did her teaching observation a couple of years ago that there was a small group of students in her class who were behaving oddly. They were whispering and passing notes around to each other, one was just staring at his phone constantly and one girl was even swinging on her chair back and forth. I don’t think XXX noticed this as this group were right the back of an exceptionally large and very full lecture-type space. Quite unimaginable in these covid-times… will we ever be in a huddle again??? Anyway, I digress… So, I was troubled by the disrespect these students were showing towards XXX. I could feel the tension at the back of the room as other students stiffened and tried to ignore the disruption. I was annoyed on behalf of XXXX because of this disruption but also for me, at their arrogance even when a stranger member of staff was in the room, they were oblivious. I thought long and hard about how to broach the subject in our debrief following on from the teaching observation, and I know this is something we’ve spoken about a lot in the past: our feelings of responsibility towards our colleagues in this role. I may even have spoken of this before because although I was shocked by this behavior, it was only the first of many similar displays I’ve borne witness to in the last couple of years. In fact, this treatment of a lecturer who is a non-native speaker of English by a group of young (white) Scottish students shames me deeply still. What is wrong with our society if this is seen as acceptable? Or, taking the question differently and moving away from my initial teacher-y response into more of an academic developer response: what can we do in the university sector to support our colleagues, non-native speakers of English, who are facing daily acts of racial and/or micro-aggressions in their classrooms?  

This colleague has now encountered some blatant racism in an essay she was marking and is not sure what do to about it so has come to me for guidance. As is so often the case with these kinds of dilemmas, I feel torn as an academic developer. Part of me wants to scream and rage at the madness of it all and yet I know I need to maintain my professional mask so she trusts me to respond in a way that enables her to vent and I will absorb. I also need to offer advice that will protect her legally, institutionally when all that I really want to say would only provoke an act of violence. Oh dear. Help? 

Your old friend and colleague, 

Bernadine

Co-responding to change

If you are coming to our session, see you there! But, if you are not you can still take part – in fact we would love this to be the start of some kind of network of correspondents! Simply pen a reply to one or more of the letters – keep it private to use for your own reflections . . . or send it to us (lacunae1@gmail.com ) and we will post it on the blog (anonymously if you would prefer)!

This link will take you back to the main blog post where you can access the three other letters.

Letters from a plague year: co-responding to change with reflective storying

In January 2020 the blog team began exchanging letters reflecting on the ways in which our lived experiences of academic development shaped our professional identities. We were attempting to create a methodology for reflection that liberated us from professional norms and expectations through an epistolary exchange. We were looking for an ‘uncanny encounter’, but what we got was a global pandemic, complete with learning and teaching challenges that reshaped our practice. We reflected on these challenges in the 24 letters exchanged between January and July, and out analyses of these data will be published in Spring 2021.

An open envelope with purple flowers inserted.

In the article we conclude that, in times of uncertainty, the reflective stories we tell can be powerful, particularly when this reflection takes place as a collaborative process. We believe there is something liberating in representing our professional selves to the people we trust. As such, we plan to explore ways we can engage others in diverse and playful approaches to reflective practice, and the workshop we will present at the SEDA spring conference will be a part of that exploration.

As part of the workshop, participants will be responding to a letter that each of the blog team have written to their imaginary friend. If you are coming along to our workshop it would be useful if you could read these letters in advance and choose which of our imaginary friends you would like to be!

If you aren’t attending our workshop, but would like to respond to any of the letters below as a way of reflecting on your practice, please do send us your responses (lacunae1@gmail.com )  and we will publish these on the blog (you can remain anonymous if you would prefer).

The letters

Letter from Me to You

Letter from Persephone to Amica

Letter from Bernadine to Toni

Letter from Mellifera to Cerana

Letter from Mellifera to Cerana

On Friday 7 May we will be hosting a workshop at the SEDA Conference: Letters from a plague year: co-responding to change with reflective storying. Participants in the session will be invited to respond to one of FOUR letters which we have created as part of our ongoing letter writing research. They are letters to imaginary friends – fictional but inspired by our actual exchanged letters. Here is the fourth in the series….

A jar of honey and a honey spoon.

Dear Cerana,

Congratulations on getting the job!! And welcome to the bright side 😊

You wrote that you were amazed that they appointed you when you haven’t held an academic/educational developer role before – I’m not! When I looked at the job specification you sent when you asked for the reference, I could see that you had all the relevant experience even if you have never had the specific job title. One thing you will discover is that the role varies such a lot across institutions, and people come to it from so many different backgrounds. We truly are the mongrels of the academic world! Although nowadays we would probably be referred to by some portmanteau-designer-dog term rather than plain ‘mongrel’. I wonder what that could be? Ideas in your response please!

It’s understandable that you feel nervous starting this new role – and I wish I had neat answers to some of the questions you posed in your letter. Sorry! For what it’s worth though…some thoughts in response to your questions…

Yes, we probably do say the word ‘pedagogy’ quite a lot! But no more than other disciplines say their totem words/phrases, and probably with the same objective. To mark out some boundary of expertise and knowledge. You link the term to ‘theory’, and worry about the depth of your understanding of these theories. I suspect you know more than you think you do if you consider all the work you have done (and written about) on course design and supporting colleagues with their teaching. It’s just that before this theory was just one strand of your work and now it will become a central focus. One bit of advice – keep up with your reading/research as you would do in any other academic job. Those good habits you developed as a researcher will stand you in good stead – Zetoc is your friend 😊 But also remember to look out for that aspect of the work that makes your heart sing! You need to make space for that. Do you have any thoughts about what that aspect of teaching and learning that might be?

You mention that you worry about your role in supporting institutional education initiatives, some of which you think are a bit dubious in intent. In HE policy, as in other sectors, there can a tendency to reinvent the wheel, with people rediscovering issues/concerns and pitching their solutions as the next big thing. If you keep up with research in the core areas of teaching and learning you can more easily see these Emperor’s new clothes for what they are and recognise that you do have the expertise to advise and support. Of course, there will be those who accuse (too strong a word?) you of supporting ‘management’ in the latest fad, but as long as you know that your work has sound foundations, it’s best not to take those accusations to heart. And, in my experience, you can often be in a better position to resist and subvert anything that is truly problematic if people don’t feel that your first reaction is always to criticise. Keep in mind that those who spend a lot of time telling everyone about their resistance/radicalism/criticality often have less time to actually get that work done 😊 You must have had to use different (more subtle?) kinds of influence to bring about change in your previous roles. Could be good to reflect on those incidences in a letter to me 😊 and think about how you could apply the same approach again.

You mention in your letter that you are worried you might miss carrying out research – both doing the actual research and being a part of networks. Really don’t worry about the networks issue. Academic developers are great at this! And be prepared for a much greater commitment to sharing resources/ideas etc. than some other academic environments. As for the ‘doing research’ part, it might often take a different form than you are used to, but you can continue to research. Sometimes you can end up doing projects that feel quite instrumental – back to the influence of institutional initiatives again. But there are plenty of ‘What is…?’ topics to explore, and your experience as a qualitative researcher will be invaluable in this regard. The discipline and skills needed to carry out rigorous qualitative research in other settings are just as important in academic development work. Are there any particular areas you think you might like to research? Would you be looking for partners? I can probably help with ideas/contacts. Let me know.

Look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Mellifera

Co-responding to change

If you are coming to our session, see you there! But, if you are not you can still take part – in fact we would love this to be the start of some kind of network of correspondents! Simply pen a reply to one or more of the letters – keep it private to use for your own reflections . . . or send it to us (lacunae1@gmail.com ) and we will post it on the blog (anonymously if you would prefer)!

This link will take you back to the main blog post where you can access the three other letters.