Leaders in Teaching (LiT)
The University’s Leaders in Teaching Programme runs over a six month period each year, and supports and develops a small cohort of around 25 academic and academic-related staff involved in – or aspiring to – positions of leadership in teaching and learning. In this post, the programme facilitators, Dr Polly Turner (Senior Clinical Lecturer in Psychology and Mental Health (FBMH) and Dr Jamie McDonald (professional and personal coaching and development) talk about their experiences of delivering the programme.
Leaders in Teaching is an experiential programme, developed for staff at The University of Manchester, where the participants identify and build on their existing strengths alongside developing new techniques and trying out new approaches. The aim is to support the development of authentic leaders who will bring their personalities to their teams.
Over a period of six months, the group explores topics such as the development of teams and collaboration, effective communication, awareness and empathy and the ability to respond positively to challenges. Naturally, the pandemic presented us with a few hurdles: how to deliver an experiential programme online, how to maintain connection with a diverse group of participants on Zoom and how not to become overwhelmingly frustrated with the online learning platforms whilst trying to use them?
For instance, it was vital that in making the pivot to online delivery we were able to retain the same sense of community amongst the cohort that is usually developed through on-campus delivery. The most important aspect to both of us was creating a space where the group could openly and safely reflect on their hopes and fears about their leadership skills and aspirations, while also being open to challenge and growth. Looking back we believe we overcame some, if not all, of these challenges!
Even though we were all confined to tiny Zoom boxes, or perhaps because of this, we trusted and retained our playful facilitation styles rather than toning it down. We abandoned any attempts to be ‘perfect’ in our delivery. We are delighted to say that it seemed to pay off, and the 2021 cohort rewarded us with their similarly genuine and open attitudes and contributions.
Padlet was our go-to resource to encourage groups to collaborate in tasks and discussions. Breakout rooms in Zoom were invaluable for the participants to trial new ideas in small groups before sharing their learning with the whole group. Looking back, we wonder whether letting Zoom randomly assign individuals to breakout rooms meant this group were even more cohesive than the usual in-person format would have permitted: the frequent mixing up of small groups allowed participants to get to know everyone across the whole cohort, regardless of their faculty, departmental or team backgrounds.
Each iteration of the programme begins with us co-creating ground rules with the cohort. One of our agreements from the outset was to be able to ask the ‘pokey question’, to challenge and stretch each other to consider new ways of working. A member of the group referred to the course as ‘Academics Anonymous’, which we feel indicates the extent to which we had achieved our aim of creating a safe and open virtual space. In short, as many of us have learned in academia over the last two years, the online space is no different to the traditional classroom, as long as we focus on the learners at the centre of the experience, and engage with everyone in an honest and genuine fashion.