Conversation and collaboration
My philosophy of educational development starts with a belief that change and inspiration happens through conversation, “…the kind of conversations that bring people closer to the heart of a shared concern, give them new eyes to see both the problems and possibilities, and set the stage for taking creative action” (Palmer et al., 2010, p. 21). I believe that educational developers possess the capacity and facilitative leadership skills necessary to bring people together to engage in authentic, meaningful, and productive conversations about enhancing teaching and learning in higher education. As Roxå and Mårtensson (2009) state, “…communication is the driving force for development” (p. 549). It is through these conversations that we build upon the input and perspectives of others across the academic community to generate new insights and ideas that inspire further growth within ourselves and enable actionable change in our teaching and learning environments. This ability to discover new meaning is where the magic of conversation exists. It is here that something is created that would never have surfaced without the process of collaboratively exploring multiple points of view. Through authentic and meaningful dialogue, we develop an empathetic and compassionate understanding for others’ points of view and a sense of trust that flows into our future conversations and interactions (Senge, 2006). Whether I am facilitating a discussion in a teaching and learning workshop, global café, or focus group, supporting an institutional decision-making process, adjudicating an awards committee, engaging in strategic planning, or working with a colleague in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning on a specific teaching and learning initiative, my intention is to consistently create the conditions and the space for meaningful conversations, open dialogue, and collaboration to occur amongst colleagues. I have found that staff from the Educational Development Unit and colleagues across the academic community value and appreciate the opportunity to actively participate in decision-making, such that they actively see themselves and their contributions within the broader context of the teaching and learning community.
Building and sustaining networks
I deeply value the existing teaching and learning experiences and expertise that exist across the academic community. My educational development practice has been strongly influenced by Roxå and Mårtensson (2009), whose research suggests that teaching and learning practices and cultures are strongly influenced by the small, but significant conversations that occur amongst colleagues. When educational developers work to intentionally foster, integrate, and provide opportunities for knowledge sharing within and across interdisciplinary networks, we help to form the foundation for a strong teaching and learning culture. Through our work at the Taylor Institute we consistently encourage staff to consider how our programs and initiatives can further support the flow of knowledge related to the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning. I have worked intentionally to ensure new programs, such as the Teaching Scholars program, are designed to help others actively build and sustain integrated networks of practice across our teaching and learning community. EDU initiatives such as the Teaching Academy, Postsecondary Conference on Learning and Teaching, and the Technology Coaches program also reflect this commitment. Alongside colleagues, I have committed to actively disseminating this approach of building and sustaining integrated networks as an ethos of our practice in our strategic plan and through many recent scholarly presentations and publications. This dissemination has garnered much attention from colleagues across our national teaching and learning community, and has continued to raise the profile of the Educational Development Unit and the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.
Building capacity and enabling others
Through my teaching, leadership, and educational development practice, I have become grounded in a fundamental commitment that, “It’s not about me, it’s about them.” Simple though this may sound, this is a belief that drives my daily practice. I fundamentally believe that my most important role in my work (and life) is to help others identify and realize their full potential. Within my role as an instructor, educational developer, and a director, I have quickly come to understand that transformation happens through building capacity in others (Grabove et al., 2012; Hargrove, 2008). This commitment is based firmly in creating a learner-centred space (Weimer, 2002) that enables others to take ownership of their learning, growth, and development. Core to establishing conditions that enable others’ growth and success, I strive to develop interpersonal relationships based on trust, mutual respect, curiosity, humility, kindness, and compassion. My commitment to building capacity and enabling others is clearly apparent in my consultations with individuals and small groups, where I often find myself consciously holding back input and advice, focusing rather on asking questions that inspire reflection, idea generation, meaningful dialogue, and future action. As evidence of my commitment to building capacity and enabling others, I am currently preparing a chapter for an upcoming guide for the Educational Developers Caucus on how I have worked to integrate this intention by using a managerial coach-approach to build rapport with staff.
Enhancing and Aligning Practice
I am always learning. I am deeply committed to strategically aligning our work to the larger whole, to taking scholarly approaches to practice, to engaging in practice-based educational development research, and to reflecting critically with a focus on continuous improvement, learning, and growth. Over the course of the last two years, I led a collaborative process to develop clear strategic priorities and goals for our unit, and a plan to assess the scope, quality, and impact of our programs and initiatives. We have worked to ensure informal and formal assessment methods are implemented for our educational development programs and initiatives, and that all members of the educational development unit contribute actively to our EDU ePortfolio, where we align these programs back to our strategic priorities, communicate their impact, and reflect upon how we will continue to improve.
Timmermans’ (2014) identifies adopting a scholarly approach to practice as a core way of knowing and being for educational developers. Whether I am using scholarly work and collecting evidence to inform the development and enhancement of educational development initiatives, or collaborating with colleagues to create and disseminate knowledge related to educational development, this tenant grounds my work. My active engagement in the scholarship of educational development and teaching and learning provides evidence of my commitment to a scholarly approach to practice for the broader benefit of the academic community. This work has contributed enormously to my development as an educational development scholar, and has also helped to inspire a reciprocal sense of spirited curiosity and collaboration alongside many colleagues from a variety of disciplines.
I have been influenced deeply by Stephen Brookfield’s (1995) work on developing a critically reflective practice. I am consistently asking, “What went well? What could have been better? What would I do differently next time?” As a unit, we routinely come together to collaboratively reflect on these questions to continuously improve the programs we support, such as the Teaching Awards Program, on an annual basis. This process has resulted in identifying key strategies and resources for ensuring the ongoing success of our programs and initiatives.
I am grateful to experience the ever-increasing influence and growth of the field of educational development. Educational developers play a critical role in advocating for and contributing to positive change in post-secondary education, within and across multiple levels – from individual instructors to departments, faculties, institutions, and throughout our national and international post-secondary landscapes. I am inspired to advance my leadership in this field. Postsecondary education requires leadership that listens and adapts to ever-evolving contexts, creates spaces for meaningful dialogue, and enables individuals and communities to work towards a common goal of enriching student learning. It is no secret that our work is challenging and complex. There is no one single solution or approach to educational development. I seek solace in grounding my work in scholarly and authentic approaches to practice that are meaningful to me, and most importantly, to those I work with on a daily basis, and the communities in which I serve.
Brookﬁeld, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reﬂective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Grabove, V., Kustra, E., Lopes, V., Potter, M.K., Wiggers, R., & Woodhouse, R. (2012). Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.
Hargrove, R. (2008). Masterful coaching (Third Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint.
Palmer, Parker J, Zajonc, Arthur, & Scribner, Megan. (2010). The heart of higher education: A call to renewal: John Wiley and Sons.
Roxå, T., & Mårtensson, K. (2009). Significant conversations and significant networks–exploring the backstage of the teaching arena. Studies in Higher Education, 34(5), 547-559.
Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Currency/Doubleday.
Taylor K. L., & Rege-Colet N. (2010). Making the shift from faculty development to educational development: A conceptual framework grounded in practice. In A. Saroyan and M. Frenay (Eds.), Building teaching capacities in higher education: A comprehensive international model (pp. 139-167). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Timmermans, J. A. (2014). Identifying threshold concepts in the careers of educational developers. International Journal for Academic Development, 19(4), 305-317.
Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. John Wiley & Sons.