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Cats and blue skies: leading? education

Pam and I presented at INTED 2017 this morning on developing educational leadership. Our presentation is available on slide share . We were part of a session on leadership and management in universities. This was an interesting and lively session addressing various aspects and challenges of educational leadership.Papers covered some interesting techniques to engage academic staff in thinking about change and the future.  I think that we could consider some of these in relation to our own activities at City.  From Ecuador, D. Sucozhanay presented on how they had used a think tank approach to engage staff in blue skies thinking and influence university strategy for 2020. I liked this idea and would like to explore the notion of think tanks and supporting literature more fully.  I’ve been thinking for a while that perhaps we are not using the LD Advisory Board as effectively as we could and perhaps reconfiguring it as a think tank might be a positive way forward.  The Ecuadorian experience was that think tanks scaffolded academics engagement with change and provide a creative opportunity for them to influence and promote change.  There was some disengagement from one area and I wondered if this had been followed up, in the spirit of we learn more from our detractors often than our supporters.  The think tank approach could also be useful thinking about the LEaD evaluation and where we go next.

Another technique that was explored was by Janet Francis from Staffordshire was the notion of a learning commons in computing education.  Coming from a desire to refocus academic staff on positive discussions around learning and teaching – there was a statistic cited that staff only spend 30 minutes per week thinking about l&t – she set up a learning commons with around 16 staff where they discussed pedagogy. This was really positive and despite having a considerable administrative load, a forum that would continue and that staff had benefited from.  Again this is an idea that we might want to explore at City in relation to certain disciplines. I’m not sure a cross institution learning commons would work as it would be so broad but I can see them working in schools.

What strikes me about both these techniques is that although they are ostensibly about leadership they are about collaboration and engagement – not one person leading others.

Our session raised some interesting questions about how leadership is perceived, supported and developed in HEIs.  I talked about how leading academics is often similar to the notion of herding cats! We talked about how business acumen was becoming increasingly important for educational leaders to convince senior management as well as how to create educational leadership roles to allow academics to lead.  The points about business and resource management are interesting and something that I need to consider in relation to the leadership module.

An inspiring paper came from Abertay Uni which has undergone large scale institutional pedagogic reform, focused on 5 “ps”: purpose – principles – practice – participation – pace. Abertay has high student satisfaction.  Alastair Robertson discussed how they have created collaborative learning spaces to engage students and presented the idea of the “sticky campus” – the notion of identity and engagement assisting with student satisfaction. This concords with ideas presented in other sessions around student satisfaction.

For me, this collection of papers demonstrated that leadership in HE is a challenge and developing and supporting leaders is vitally important.  I think we need to challenge dominant notions of leadership – the idea of the heroic leader or that the leader is the one person “in charge” – as these are frequently disengaging and unhelpful in HE environments.  Collaborative and participatory leadership models seem to be the most compelling and engaging for those working in education.  There are some things to think about in relation to my own practice and supporting other leaders.

And as a complete aside there was a paper from California which starkly outlined the teacher crisis there, reminding me of the teacher crisis in London which has been discussed often in the Governing Body I am part of. Its funny how the personal and professional often coincide.


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