HEAs a Jolly Good Fellow / by Joe Townsend

This is where I reflect on my Fellow of the Higher Education Academy submission. Reflecting on  reflection? the world's gone mad.

If had been asked about creating a good learning environment when I started working at Trinity Laban seven years ago I would have probably opened a window to let some fresh air in.

I have recently completed the Fellow of the Higher Education Academy accreditation exercise, which I decided to do it because within a year or two, it is bound to be a requirement of teaching in the sector.

I approached it with some trepidation, suspicious of having to take part in some Quality Assurance, TDAP compliance box ticking exercise that was perhaps more for the benefit of the institution than my own. As a creative musician, I felt my blood starting to boil as I read through some of the academic language, and thought that a much better format for the exercise might have been  a thirty-minute viva where you get to discuss your practice with a panel who understands the idiosyncrasies of the conservatoire education.

Having said this, I found the exercise of reflecting back on two years of teaching over a period of four days at the end of the academic year  a really valuable and energising experience, because with reflection came the desire to do things differently, better even.  The benefits were considerable and I actually enjoyed digging out references, which are not required for the submission. I decided to move towards a more democratic style of teaching and managing, inspired by the great educators of our age (Friere, Vygotsky, Kolb, Purcell and Caine).

It’s a pretty straightforward task where you have to write five statements about your teaching; so I went straight to the part where you can blow your trumpet about all of the projects and conferences one has taken part in. This was the easy bit and was quite satisfying; much harder was writing about how I design and plan, teach and support, assess and give feedback and create a good learning environment. These all have to be cross referenced against a checklist of learning and teaching essentials that are both highly personal and also reflect a high expectation from the HEA.

The process of having to squeeze the learning outcomes and key descriptors into the six hundred word statements is a bit of a game, but the brief is really quite broad because as an assignment it has to cover every area of higher education teaching.

I think when I apply for the senior fellowship next year I will have the confidence to highlight the areas that I find particularly challenging such as risk and potential failure and the things that are not so straightforward. For example, gathering feedback from students and colleagues is a relatively simple task, but listening and then acting upon it is harder and involves personal challenge and judgement.  And, implementing and understanding change at Trinity Laban, at times seems to have more in common with Mervin Peake or Kafka than reality.

So completing the fellowship application was not so bad and I even got an email to say that I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy which is worthy recognition and importantly the next time the students are falling asleep in a seminar I might do more than open the window.