On being not very good

Woo hoo!

The last few weeks have been a bit of a L&T whirl for me, speaking at various events on simulations and on my practice.

One theme that came up, especially on the latter topic, was me talking about my shortcomings.

At one level, I’m in a very strong position to make a case for being a ‘good’ teacher: I have lots of experience, I’ve held senior roles in L&T, I do this blog, I’ve got prizes.

But at other levels, I’m less good. My student evaluations are usually alright, but nothing to write home about (and this last year have been not so hot); there’s no clear additional learning gain from taking my modules over colleagues’; and some of the things I try out don’t really work (see, well, the past seven years of this blog).

In short, I’m like you: good at some things, less good at others. The main difference is that I’m writing about it.

And I’m writing about it because I was struck of late that talking about what’s not working is rare. We’re all encouraged to big ourselves up, to represent a bold vision of progressive and successful practice.

(You can add your own ironic thoughts about how we’re teaching students to become critical and self-reflective learners, yet we don’t do it ourselves.)

But this isn’t about humble-bragging (since I’m not sure I’ve much to brag about): it’s about the very practical question I got asked last week: “if you don’t have the kind of things like blogs or awards to defend yourself to your institution, how do you make space to try out new things?”

This is a really important question, because a lot of colleagues feel this way: they want to try something new, but it might impact their student evaluations or assessment outcomes, and they worry their boss will give then shit about it. That’s particularly true in an age of short-term contracts and the pushing of students-as-consumers.

My response to this would be, essentially, to take others with you.

If you want to try a new pedagogic moment, then plan ahead. Get your line manager to understand your ideas and to support you, certainly, but also ask advice of colleagues and of any institutional L&T development support. Let it be known that you’re working on this, in a systematic and structured way.

As you’re doing it, keep students in the loop too. Explain your approach, gather their feedback, discuss options with them.

And at the end, do some conspicuous reflection and debrief. If it’s worked, share that with people; if it’s, then – even more importantly – show you’re working on understanding why and how you can address that for next time.

In short, you’re using the institutional framework to your advantage.

Every single university says that they care about students’ learning and about giving them the best possible experience. Use that as a support and a shield: there’s enough work out there to demonstrate that different pedagogies improve student engagement, retention, satisfaction and performance to justify you having a go.

Again, you’re not promising it will work, only that you will work on it to the best of your ability and with the support of those around you.

And if it’s any use, that’s just how I started out, many years ago: identify a limited project, work on it systematically and publicly, and then build out from there.

Finally, remember, if you need help, then there’s a whole community of us here to give you a hand and you’re very welcome to ask anytime.

One thought on “On being not very good

  1. Great blog Simon. Some days we are good, other days we correctly feel we shouldn’t be allowed into the classroom! Honesty and reflection on this, and humility about where we can’t see the way forward and need another view, are what we need much much more of…

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