Reflecting on Leaders in Teaching
Jo Williams is Project Officer working on Teaching and Learning projects in the School of Natural Sciences in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, and in this post she reflects on her experience of participating in the ITL’s Leaders in Teaching programme (2022).
Why did you apply to the Leaders in Teaching Programme?
I started my role at the University of Manchester in February 2020 and working from home has made it difficult to sometimes part of the bigger picture of the university and to meet colleagues outside my immediate team. I’ve always loved the way that universities offer opportunities to work with colleagues and teams across faculties and central teams so it was quite difficult to adjust when we moved into online working.
I was immediately interested in the Leaders in Teaching programme because it was clear that the course would be focused on working on and developing relationships with colleagues in similar roles to myself, but also with staff who worked in different roles such as academic positions, the library, the Institute of Teaching and Learning etc, to share good practice and to form a support network that would last after the course was finished.
The syllabus was also a big factor of me applying for the course, as each session focused on a different theme which together covered all the aspects of working to provide the world-class support that The University of Manchester is known for. Some sessions covered topics, such as ‘Leading Change’, which were of particular interest to me as the landscape of teaching and learning had been completely changed by the pandemic, while others were topics which I knew I would find difficult but needed to work on in order to get to the next step in my career (e.g. ’Communication and Influence’).
How did it match your expectations?
I have to admit, I was a little hesitant about applying for this course due to being a Professional Services member of staff, as I thought that all attendees would be senior academics. I was self-conscious that my experience or knowledge in supporting teaching and learning mightn’t be enough and that when I walked in the door, everyone would think I was there to take notes.
However, from the first session it was clear that my anxiety was unfounded, as Polly and Jamie assured me that every person on the course had something to offer and championed a safe space where I, and the rest of group, could feel confident in sharing our ideas and experiences, no matter what grade or role we were. This has been paramount to setting the groundwork of understanding my role within the university and my long-term career aspirations.
I was also really pleased at the way the sessions were run, providing a great mix of discussion about personal examples and situations, to learning about leadership theory which was a completely new to me. While there was a lot of participation in the sessions, it was always linked back to the session’s theme and both the facilitators took their time to make sure we understood not only what we were doing, but why we were doing it.
What was the most impactful session or aspect of the programme, for you?
The most impactful session of the programme was when we looked at Communication and Influence, in particular looking at ‘non-violent communication’. This is an approach to communicating during difficult situations and developing methods to create empathy instead of using manipulative language, which we might not even be aware of. This session was challenging as it held up a mirror to a lot of tricky conversations I have had, and why the outcomes haven’t always been what I wanted. Nevertheless, it has truly become a vital tool in having meaningful conversations with my team when we are under pressure for deadlines, or when I have been trying to discuss my role in context.
Can you give an example of something you learned from the programme that you’ve put into practice in your working life?
During the course, I have created invaluable contacts and joined a network of people that I know if I messaged them, whether work related or just to grab a coffee, they would say yes! I have already been able to put staff in my team or Faculty in contact with people from my cohort who are working on similar projects, providing new opportunities to share good practice and developing networks which span across the university.
What advice would you give to others thinking about applying for the programme?
I would definitely recommend this course to anyone who is interested in professional development, especially in moving into leadership roles within the university, and wants the supportive space to learn and explore ideas that can help to create practical solutions for both specific and general issues that you’re facing at work.
And arm wrestling…
Yep, that’s right – arm wrestling!
- More about the Leaders in Teaching (LiT) Programme and how to apply