Collegial support through collaboration
Collegial support may be challenging to foster, especially since higher education institutions have become more competitive with rewards reserved for productive individuals (e.g., Amutuhaire, 2022). Besides having to do research, teach and supervise, and organize projects with financial returns, another more recent role that academics have found themselves taking on is that of a middle manager (or unit/course coordinator; program leader), where they are expected to oversee courses or programs, including colleagues within these contexts (e.g., Floyd, 2016; Boer, Goedegebuure, & Meek, 2010). Being a middle manager can be rather isolating, which can be compounded further by gender, race, or nationality (e.g., Behtoui & Leivestad. 2019). Thus, those holding managerial positions may find themselves feeling removed even from their immediate professional community (see Lipton, 2019). To counter the feeling of isolation among academics in the higher education setting, research has suggested finding support through collaboration with colleagues (Aprile, Ellem, & Lole, 2021). Collaboration may come in the form of collaborative reflections (e.g., Rose & Montakantiwong, 2018) and even informal, unguarded conversations (Baker & Bitto, 2021; Lam & Loo, 2022). By doing collaborative reflection, academics have been found to become cognizant of their academic identity (Leibowitz, Ndebele, & Winberg, 2014), and to have an appreciation for each other’s professional beliefs and work experience (Edwards-Groves & Kemmis, 2016).
Intersubjectivity: A necessity for growth
The awareness of self and that of others is due to the creation of a space for intersubjectivity through collaboration where…
members reach some kind of comprehensibility and shared understandings about each other’s meaning and values, and also about how those personal understandings of the notions of ‘education’, ‘pedagogy’ and ‘praxis’ have been shaped by the local and national traditions of thought and practices. (Edwards-Groves & Kemmis, 2016: 80).
In other words, colleagues who are able to empathize and understand what it feels to be in his/her/their shoes would be sensitive and understanding towards opportunities or challenges present in the classroom or the workplace. Thus, for professional development, intersubjectivity is a crucial element for growth (Su, Feng, & Hsu, 2017). Being engaged in intersubjectivity can be achieved through various ways. Scholars have talked about being part of a special interest group, or even having informal conversations in the hallway. But one we would like to focus on is reflective collaboration, where the sharing of personal perspectives could lead to deeper insights of one’s principles or beliefs about teaching or about a subject taught. This serves as the foundation of this reflective piece, where we account for the collaborative reflection we carried out over an academic year as module coordinators.
In the 2020-2021 academic year, we found ourselves coordinating new modules—Aileen coordinating an undergraduate communications module for software engineers and Daron coordinating an academic writing module for graduate students. Since we were in new settings at the same time, we had informal conversations about this development in our professional trajectory. What started out as informal conversations, however, became more sustained. We found that we were both keen to understand the professional dynamics that shape the working relationship between us and the other tutors, as well as other factors that may be relevant to the operations of the module. With this, we decided to keep a reflective journal every week about teaching and coordinating our respective modules, as well as the experience of teaching online. Along with the reflective journal, we also engaged in relevant published literature about being a module coordinator in the higher education setting (Branson, Franken & Penney, 2016; De Nobile, 2018; Roberts et al., 2012).
Being able to reflect gave us the space to articulate our beliefs regarding our teaching approaches and the content or skills taught, and how these are shaped by our vantage point as module coordinators. Furthermore, this process allowed our intersubjectivities to identify aspects where we were aligned, but more importantly, areas where we diverged, which gave us an opportunity to ‘gain access to a world different from [ours]’ (DeLuca, Bolden, & Chan, 2017). Distinct aspects that we learned about each other, and of ourselves, were how our views about being a coordinator shaped the management of the module and our relationship with colleagues; and what factors instigated changes in our pedagogical practice. These distinct aspects affirmed Bottero’s (2010) argument that intersubjectivity is localized not only to the subjective views of a teacher, but also to the context of teaching. The context, of course, grew beyond the parameters of our modules and our perspectives about each other’s experiences. It also included what we have learned from our readings about being a module coordinator. Hence, what started off with a focus on being module coordinators soon evolved into concerns affecting the complexity of professional relations—vertical and horizontal—found in the higher education setting, and how these relationships may shape our teaching beliefs and practices, as well as our management approaches as module coordinators. Being involved in this process has presented us with new areas for continued professional contemplation and dialogue, which has furnished a collegial support system for growth.
Through our reflections, we found the space we inhabited to contemplate about being module coordinators to be rather open. This may have led us to realize the array of dispositions held by ourselves and that of others—colleagues or those overseeing our work. In fact, coordinating a module presented to us multiple instances where our own professional beliefs regarding pedagogical and teaching content were challenged; yet, it is through the reflective exercise where we were able to consider perspectives without judgment. It is at this juncture where we think more research is required, especially since this is a rather nascent area and the few studies published have cast middle management positions as a hindrance to one’s academic ambitions (see Thornton et al., 2018), given that emphasis is placed upon research output, and the successful delivery of teaching and students’ satisfaction towards the module.
Aileen Lam has teaching and corporate training experience in professional communications, media and academic writing. She has lived in Algeria, Boston, and Hong Kong, and enjoys meeting and learning from people from all walks of life. She is also passionate about education technology and has developed blended and online courses. She has won multiple teaching awards and continues to enjoy conversations about student engagement, curriculum development and digital learning as well as discussions about industry developments and trends.
Daron Benjamin Loo has taught applied linguistics, academic communication, and language pedagogy courses at universities in Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. He believes firmly in the value of listening – not only to his students but his colleagues as well – to foster a space where learning can be mutual. Loo has received awards in teaching, and has published in the areas of academic writing and corrective feedback; teacher identity and development; and representations in media discourse.
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