How do you celebrate SHED’s 25th birthday? By bringing together the SHED community at its annual residential, hosted this year at the University of Stirling. Yes, it was a cold and damp day, but this didn’t dull our enthusiasm! With gusto, we set out to rummage about in SHED, examining our own tools, ready to consider new ones from colleagues in the UK and further afield. And the theme for our event? “The role of academic developers in strategic leadership and influencing in Higher Education”
We began with 4 ‘provocations’. Alison Green welcomed us to Stirling and started the first provocation by exploring what ‘leadership’ can mean in academia we well as reminding us of the privilege of working in academia. Lindy-Ann Blaize Alfred took us on a poetic exploration of academic development leadership reminding us of the importance of knowing who you are, as well as venturing into uncomfortable territory. For Cathy Bovill, students came into the heart of it as well as the unquantifiable value of inspiring colleagues and for Kay Sambell, new to the Scottish scene, it was the time to pause and reflect on a career inspired by love and passion for making assessment and feedback better.
It is fair to say that we were by then sufficiently provoked to begin to create our own stories of academic development leadership and what it looked like in our context. This link will take you to the SHED tableaux, which weave together to create a plural rich text picture of leadership in our different worlds. Interestingly, the words we used to describe these pictures rarely overlapped, yet as a collective, they offer a pluralistic definition of leadership in academic development which focus on what we do: we question; collaborate; share; hope and – from time to time – we do battle.
We ended this first thought-provoking day with a strong and wonderfully-wise, yet witty keynote from leading academic developer, Roni Bamber. It was thrilling to be joined here by our friends in the Educational Developers Caucus from across the Atlantic, who were able to offer the reassurance that the challenges we face here in Scotland are shared in Canada too (a recording is available here). Drawing on evidence from the literature, as well as her many years of experience, Roni gave us three adjectives that make for successful leadership in academic developers – being principled, pragmatic and opportunistic. Wonderful.
An evening of bonding over a shared hospitality experience that is probably best described as slow food (!), we gathered the next day back in the SHED. Some new faces as well as the spirit of absent friends helped us move forward from thinking about what leadership is in our own contexts to what we can change for the better. SPARQS provided a brilliant introduction to the day – getting us to think explicitly about students and the increasing role they play in institutions in terms of academic leadership. Then, by identifying our metaphorical fairy godmothers and nasty baddies we started to plan how we could make change happen. The day ended by focusing on others – and we support them in our own leadership. A lovely end to what has been an energising and engaging two days.