Reflections on preparing to teach in a dynamic environment – David S. Lee
Over the last few years, a key area of focus for many businesses and organisations is developing a capability referred to as leadership agility. Leadership agility is the ability for leaders to continue delivering superior and effective performance while navigating a complex, dynamic environment (Joiner & Josephs, 2006). Increasingly, I believe that if teachers adopt a leadership agility mentally it will help increase teaching effectiveness.
Admittedly, most people would not describe universities as agile, and from an institutional perspective this fact will not change anytime soon. Our classrooms and learning environments, however, are no longer static. Previously, the external environment seemingly stopped outside our classroom door, but this is no longer the case. The protests and public health crisis that we have all witnessed over the last few months should compel us as teachers to realise that leadership agility is required in our teaching as well.
As teachers, we are leaders in the classroom, lab, and frankly, whenever we interact with students. This mantle may be uncomfortable for some, and understandably so, because it requires us to be our best selves and constantly hone our pedagogical craft.
I was not able to fully articulate this connection between teaching and leadership agility until recently reflecting on the results of a Teaching Development Grant (TDG) I received that concluded in 2019. This particular TDG was focused on creating multimedia materials in preparation for blended learning and flipped classroom instruction.
My team and I were pleased to discover that due to improvements in creative technologies, we were able to produce compelling videos and animation at a much lower cost and much more efficiently than expected. Additionally, to my delight, the technological knowledge barriers to entry were also much lower, allowing a novice like myself to create digital content fairly quickly.
I started experimenting with different methods of employing these tools in my undergraduate and taught post-graduate courses. For example, in certain situations, a video might be used for pre-class preparation prior to a class discussion or alternatively, used to conclude a case analysis by showing a video that explained to students the actual real-life outcome of the case. Overall, student feedback was generally quite positive, and this experience extended to other efforts I made to incorporate more digital tools in my teaching. Sometimes this meant employing materials that others had generated but also creating more original content, such as a massive online open course, Fintech Ethics and Risks, that my colleague David Bishop and I launched with the Technology-Enriched Learning Initiative (TELI) team.
From a tactical perspective, this TDG experience helped me realise how to better integrate digital media into my teaching practice and doing so has become a key component in the teaching approaches that I cycle through in a particular course-case discussion, group activities, traditional lectures, and other methods. This alone has added a number of tools to my teaching toolkit that have fostered increased dialogue, engagement, and understanding in the classroom.
Perhaps more importantly, however, are the unexpected benefits I gained from this TDG experience. The TDG compelled me to do something new in my teaching and learning activities, moving beyond my normal practice, kindling an interest in using, creating, and feeling more comfortable with digital mediums. Moving outside my traditional comfort zone required me to grow as a teacher. Frankly, the rapidly changing nature of technology, the volatile external environment in which we operate (e.g. political unrest, coronavirus epidemic), and the expectations of our students and other stakeholders will require all of us to expand our capability as teachers if we want to be effective teachers and leaders in the classroom.
Navigating this dynamic terrain is central to a teacher who understands that teachers are also leaders and need to incorporate leadership agility to be effective in how they teach and lead. I have found that participating in TDGs and other forms of pedagogical advancement and skills development are important forms of preparing for such change. Though this was not the objective, my own experiences with creating and incorporating multimedia materials in my teaching practice prepared me to adjust to the abrupt change in learning environment we have experienced since the latter part of 2019.
Unfortunately, turbulence in some form seems to be the new norm globally and our classrooms are not immune from the impact of this volatility. It is imperative for our community of educators to consider how we prepare to teach in such an environment. I believe part of that preparation is a deep commitment to pursuing opportunities to hone our craft, which my TDG experience allowed me to do.
This blog article is inspired by a TDG: Teaching the Law: A Flipped Classroom Approach to Teach Legal Principles to Non-Law Students
- Joiner, W. B., & Josephs, S. A. (2006). Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change (1st edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.