Receiving a thank-you note from a student is a gratifying moment for any academic.
But goodwill messages are not just good for the ego: they are also good for teachers’ career prospects, according to Annette Cashmore, director of the University of Leicester’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Genetics.
However, too many academics throw away these notes or are too modest to show them to promotion panels, she said.
Last year Professor Cashmore co-authored a Higher Education Academy report on promotions for university teaching, entitled Rebalancing Promotion in the HE Sector: Is Teaching Excellence Being Rewarded?
“People need somewhere that they can dump all the positive comments they receive. It could be an email folder, or a drawer. Some people just have a shoebox,” Professor Cashmore said.
Academics can then draw upon these materials when they are presenting their case for promotion on the basis of their strong track record in teaching, she added.
“Lecturers, particularly those in the sciences, think everything is about quantitative evidence, but it’s also about qualitative evidence too,” said Professor Cashmore, who spoke at an HEA enhancement event in London on 29 October.
“Promotion panels need some help in understanding what a lecturer has done, so having some direct quotations is a very effective way of achieving this,” she continued.
Many universities will have an “evidence framework” relating to promotions for teaching, in which the “impact on students” usually accounts for about 40 per cent of all material considered when assessing potential senior lecturers, Professor Cashmore explained.
Feedback from student questionnaires, senior staff or external examiners might be used to prove sustained “impact” on student learning, while specific examples of aiding student retention might also be presented, she said.
“If lots of students were leaving a certain module five years ago and you’ve stopped that happening, then you explain what you did and support your case with a few quotes. That’s a great way to show you’ve made a positive impact on students,” said Professor Cashmore.
However, promotion seekers need to be smart in how they present their evidence.
Rather than simply inundating a promotion panel with glowing student testimonies, she said, “you have to get a mentor who will say how well you’ve done – you can’t really say those things yourself”.
Those seeking promotion to higher salary bands such as associate professor or professor will need to show evidence of wider impact, such as spearheading department-wide initiatives to improve satisfaction, achievement or retention scores, she advised.
“Being a leader of academic initiatives is important, but it is also important to show you are sharing your work with those outside your team,” Professor Cashmore said, adding that proof of “externality” is likely to impress promotion committees.
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