Imposter Syndrome – On that rollercoaster – AGAIN!


Louise Rees, Senior Academic Developer in the Recognition Team reflects on recent emergence of feelings of imposterism.


Developing our Identity as an Educator in Higher Education

Developing as an educator in Higher Education and considering one’s identity is a topic covered in the last module of the PG Cert Teaching in Higher Education here at Swansea University.  We explore how our teaching philosophy and approaches can be represented through visual metaphors and other creative approaches which I shared at the 2023 SALT Conference.  As we start to consider how our identity is being influenced, many discussions note that imposter phenomenon (commonly termed imposter syndrome) is a prominent feature of the feelings of staff new to teaching, whether in academic or professional services contexts.  Teaching in higher education is often viewed as a roller coaster.  If we’re lucky, we get a ride which has seats with a firm base for our feet rather than a ride where our legs dangle!

Where is the support to address Imposter Syndrome?

There are a range of support mechanisms for postgraduate students in various institutions (e.g. Does the feeling go away if you progress to become a member of academic staff? And what about those professional services staff that support learning?  What guidance do they have?

Imposter syndrome is clearly a feeling that stubbornly refuses to go away for many in academia demonstrated by the 125 articles in our IFind catalogue covering this topic over the past 10 years (search conducted October 16th 2023) and a plethora of blogposts, podcasts, videos, images and websites offering tips (some recent sources at the end of this post). Many studies show its ongoing prevalence among female staff or those self-identifying as BAME (Reynolds, 2021) – hence the provision of leadership development courses such as Aurora and Diversifying leadership from Advance HE.

Why is it that we doubt ourselves?

I continue to doubt my capabilities, and I put it down to not a fear of failure, but one of perfectionism and that surely others will be able to do it better than me?  And it’s happened to me very recently when I was asked if I’d facilitate a workshop on creative approaches to support reflection for another institution arising from my presentation at the 2023 SALT Conference.

What could I possibly offer in terms of new approaches or a different slant?  The facilitator of the workshop series at the other HEI is themselves very well regarding in active learning approaches and creative reflective techniques!  I would be laughed at surely or mutterings of ‘well we learnt nothing new there since X has shared those approaches with us before!’

Before accepting the invitation to deliver the workshop, I thought about it and almost declined. But I decided to contact the facilitator (who I briefly ‘knew’ in other professional contexts) and was open with them about my imposterism!  What followed was a supportive conversation about how they hadn’t shared their approaches with the particular staff group who I’d be running the workshop for, providing reassurance in my approaches and a mutual recognition that we all experience these self-doubt feelings during our careers.

The stimulus for this blogpost

An October 2023 podcast with Ijeoma Nwaogu on Overcoming Imposter Anxiety stimulated my reflection about imposterism and why it is that we doubt ourselves. Not only as new teachers, but perhaps as experienced staff faced with something new.  Take online teaching, learning and assessment strategies for example.  Or responding to Generative AI to ensure assessments are authentic, or preparing for a curriculum review, or indeed facilitating a workshop on creative approaches (me!).

We have become ‘experienced’ and comfortable with methods, yet as the podcast recommends, we should adopt a growth mind-set (see Dweck, 2014) when faced with challenges, recognising that things may not go entirely to plan, (its OK to fail – that’s how we learn – that’s the message we tell our students so why not us?). Knowing when to stop working at something – that sufficient is OK – but the pressure of e.g., critical peer reviews of research and publications or metrics of student evaluations or comparison with others or our own perfectionism makes us fearful that good enough is NOT acceptable.

How our practice responds to imposterism

When we are faced with moving out of our comfort zone to learn and deliver something new, I would argue that we often regress down Kugel’s (1993) stages of development as a ‘professor’ to Stage 0/1 – we focus on becoming subject experts in the discipline and/or the approaches and practice until we are ‘perfect’.  We are very self-centred, focusing on our own performance and worried what students think of us.  Our immediate reaction is to want to appear to be ‘the expert’ and afraid that students might question our expertise.  That’s what happened to me.

However, as Nwaogu indicated in her podcast, its OK to be vulnerable (see Lowrie’s 2019 blogpost), to be authentic with our students (Fidler and Espinosa-Ramos, 2023), to use our individual personality to connect with our learners (Hockings et al, 2009) rather than comparing ourselves with that other lecturer who effortlessly connects with her students exchanging wit as if performing in a Comedy Club.

Important Concepts about Imposter Syndrome

There are a several concepts that Nwaogu discusses in her podcast – but a couple that I wanted to focus on.

  1. The difference between belonging and mattering, of
  2. “Reveal to Heal” and
  3. Of being present not performance.

That whilst it is good as an educator to experience a diversity of viewpoints and expertise, sometimes what gives us confidence is to have those around us who we trust, who share similar values and approaches, whom we can trust. Termed Mattering. Its important to feel we matter.

And when feelings of impostership start to emerge, be brave enough to ‘Reveal to Heal’ – since sharing one’s uncertainties can connect with those who share exactly the same feelings yet remain unspoken. Again, this has been my experience that others are just as scared as you are, just waiting for someone brave enough to voice their fears.  To do so, you need to trust in people, hence the Mattering.

And finally, that while we might consider that the only people learning in your class are those actively answering questions and engaging, it’s the quiet person who is thinking and reflecting, and comes out with the insightful question every once in a while that is probably gaining the most.  They are exhibiting deep learning. Sometimes called ‘lurkers’ or being vicarious learners learning from observation (Bandura, 1977 – see summary explanation Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory In Psychology (, Susan Cain also notes the power of listening often demonstrated by introverts. While I’m a great advocate for ‘active learning’ techniques, I am still challenged by that notion and find it difficult to recognise that learning is taking place even when someone isn’t ‘actively contributing’.  But that’s where I need to be inclusive in my approaches and enable them to contribute in ways that suit them.

How SALT can help give you confidence and thwart the imposterism!

There are couple of opportunities that SALT facilitates that I’d encourage you to engage in and another that I’d encourage you to perhaps take a different view of.  Ones which are safe spaces where its OK to share vulnerabilities and possibly lack of knowledge and get support to address any uncertainties you might be feeling.

PG Cert teaching in HE

The first is the PG Cert teaching in HE programme[i].  The programme gently scaffolds participants in their teaching experience from micro-teach observations from peers, through regular peer observation of themselves and by themselves and for those that take it, an Advancing your Practice module that provides a safe space where participant’s slightly longer microteach experimenting using different approaches is recorded to enable playback.  These have SO much personal benefit for participants in strengthening their confidence.

Peer Observation as a Positive Collaborative Professional Development Opportunity

The peer observation process followed in the PG Cert programme uses the official forms and process adopted by the University (see the Peer Observation Policy and Template).  Because it is approached in a developmental and supported process, the lens of reflection and preparation shifts for all concerned from a perhaps punitive or reluctantly mandatory aspect of scrutinising one’s ‘performance’, to a constructive, collaborative endeavour where both party learns.  I’d encourage you to undertake your regular ‘peer observation’ in the same way and not ‘because it has to be done’ but because it will enable you to grow, both as the observer AND the person being observed.

Seminars to share effective practice and teaching tips

The other aspect that SALT facilitates is the range of CPD sessions – Effective Practice and this year’s Teaching Fundamentals programmes (  While we would encourage all to be as effective as you can be, don’t be daunted by the practices share by our presenters and facilitators and think ‘I can’t do that’.

Take time to reflect on what they share, embrace the safe space of these sessions, ask questions or follow up with the session facilitators, and consider how you can apply it in your context, discipline and particular teaching approach.  It might not work exactly how they’ve shared or indeed work at all for you and your subject. But by adopting a growth mind-set, we can smooth out our roller coaster of emotions of ‘not being good enough’.


[i] The PG Cert programme is usually mandatory for new or inexperienced staff, but it is open for those who wish to do it.  It is a two year, part-time course which starts each September.


These views are the view of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swansea Academy of Learning and Teaching

Continue reading “Imposter Syndrome – On that rollercoaster – AGAIN!”

Fine tuning your practice – getting ready for the new Academic Year 

Person holding piano tuning fork and tools against open piano

There’s been so much to think about in the past year.  At the forefront may be how you can adjust your assessment approaches to be more authentic and address concerns about potential (mis) use of Artificial Intelligence platforms. 

SALT offers a range of tips and resources to help you consider carefully your engagement with students about effective use of AI, preparing them for the realities of using AI in the workplace or indeed considering changes to your assessments.  There’s also the recordings of the webinars available to watch back. 

We have past recordings of Effective Practice sessions for you to consider aswell as more planned for the coming academic year – check out our Eventbrite page for details and to book.  And a range of resources about being an inclusive practitioner and building accessibility into your planning, delivery, learning environment and assessment approaches. Hopefully these resources give you some ideas for what might work for you in your context.  

In September 2022, I wrote a blogpost providing a range of tips to get yourself ready for the new academic year.  It was stimulated by the blogpost of a peer and developed further by crowdsourcing.  I did that via Twitter.  The changes since last year to that social media platform has caused me considerable reflection since Twitter (now ‘X’) was – still is – a major source of CPD for me.  I now wonder how my links to colleagues and resources are hampered and we consider switching to alternative such as Mastodon, BlueSky or Threads.  A post from an individual at LSE outlines the challenges of using social media to support the development of academic communities: Where now for academics on social media, post Twitter? | LSE Higher Education

Do reach out and find a network of supportive peers to help you develop your practice whether that’s online or in person! 

The categories offered in last year’s post about preparing for the new academic year however still apply and hope you find these useful reminders as you prepare to teach/support learning using effective and inclusive practices in 2023/24! 

Read on for the tips….

Continue reading “Fine tuning your practice – getting ready for the new Academic Year “

Love them or Hate them – Ice Breakers: the Marmite of Higher Education

Jar of Marmite

I facilitate the learning of students on the PG Cert teaching in HE programme for new/inexperienced staff and their assignment is to reflect on their identity, their practice and to identify future professional development needs and avenues to address them. 

Recently, the issue of engaging with students and supporting their connections through appropriate ice breaker activities seemed to be a common need among several new lecturers.    

I raised this as a need we could help to facilitate amongst SALT – and I received quite a ‘marmite’ response.  People tend to be in one of two camps – love them or hate them and this is evident from Twitter discussions going back many years (using the terms “ice breakers college education” reinforces this!). For example:  

“When will higher education institutes realize that grown adults don’t wanna do ice breakers” – Jan 14th 2021.  

However, for lecturers, such as suggested by Virna Rossi, the ice breaker topic can be structured around the actual subject material and was particularly helpful when teaching online synchronously.  They can help start discussions both at social and knowledge level and as a form of creative “play” can help reinforce learning:  The Creativity Post | Play Matters: Six Play-Full Practices For… 

And so, we’ve started a PADLET of some suggested effective ice breakers in different contexts and with a range of ideas from elsewhere – we hope they are helpful.  Do add others that have been helpful for you – as well as ones you’ve found less successful and why! 

Follow the link to the PADLET to explore and/or add your own suggestions: 

SALT can help! 

If you need help with any of the above, please get in touch with us in SALT: or via our website: Swansea Academy of Learning and Teaching (SALT) – Swansea University 


Louise Rees 

Senior Academic Developer (HEA)

Celebrating Swansea University’s 700th person with HEA Fellowship recognition

Man sitting on top of mountain, arm raised in the year

Celebrating Swansea University’s 700th Colleague gaining a Category of HEA Fellowship!

Man sitting on door step holding piece of paper
Dr. Aled Singleton, School of Biosciences, Geography and Physics, AFHEA

In the HEA Fellowship blog, we’re continuing to measure the impact that HEA Fellowship has on teaching practices, on students and on the practices and approaches of peers. We’ve also asked for some suggestions when teaching/supporting learning online!

Darren Minister from SALT’s Recognition team interviews Dr. Aled Singleton from the School of Biosciences, Geography and Physics to gain his reflections on his impetus for gaining Associate Fellowship (AFHEA) recognition as post-doctoral staff member.  Aled offer tips for other researchers who have some responsibilities for teaching and/or support student’s learning in preparing their AFHEA claim.

(You can watch more tips from Aled and Marcos Quintela-Vasquez at our June 2023 Effective Practice seminar.)


Aled’s Top Tips – Give yourself time, attend seminars, come to the SALT Conference


Tell us about your discipline, the skills you teach, how long have you been teaching in Swansea and in HE

I’ve actually come to teaching sort of mid-career really. I spent most of my professional life managing place-based and regeneration projects. My discipline is Geography broadly, and about how our relationship with place and time. My first degree is actually in Computer Science, which is massively different to Geography, especially Human Geography, that I do now.

I came to Swansea to do a PhD which was about ageing and broadly about our relationship with places over our life. Studying these kind of emotional attachments to places led me more towards Geography as a discipline I wanted to concentrate on for the future, especially in terms of teaching. During my PhD, I did a bit of teaching on the Creative Writing Non-fiction course in English, because one of my supervisors is a writer. I did some tutoring during the pandemic on online tutoring, through the Brilliant Club.

In the last couple of years, I’ve taught workshops on research methods with Master students and PhD students. I also did a bit of work with Year Two geography students in 2022. But then this year I’ve taken up a role doing teaching and tutoring in Geography, so first and second year students. We’ve been covering subjects like globalisation and health, and different human geography techniques. Also, I have been tutoring 40 students in the first and second year. In March we went to Berlin on a lower carbon field trip. Plus, I work two days a week as a Research Officer.


You gained Associate Fellowship in November 2022 congratulations. You’re also a seven hundredth colleague within Swansea University to gain a category of HEA Fellowship. So why was gaining HEA Fellowship important to you and why did you apply?

As I was coming towards the end of my PhD, I started to realise more clearly that the University is not just about research. In fact, you can quite easily, as a researcher, just wander around the university campus and not even notice how many students there are. I know it sounds strange, but you operate in very different worlds. You go to different conferences and, especially in the pandemic, we weren’t here on campus very much.

A different motivation was that I struggled quite a lot in my first and second year as an undergraduate. After 20 years I guess that I thought a bit more clearly about wanting to do teaching. Moving to the Geography Department for a postdoc year meant that there was a lot more contact with students. I asked if I could do some teaching and they gave me some opportunities. Then last year I just realised that having the HEA Fellowship recognition was definitely going to be critical to taking my teaching forward. Also, I realised that I didn’t have any sort of formal recognition. The Brilliant Club was really good in terms of their training. They give you lots of guidance, and they make sure that you follow lots of online learning before they let you do any work with students. For example, when I got interviewed for the Brilliant Club they made me think hard about being in the classroom, and they even pretended to be young students when I had to give them a mock class. However, it doesn’t seem to be quite the same at university. You seem to just get chucked into things. The HEA framework was a good as it was structured, and it’s something which applies to every HE institution. I can talk a little bit more about the support here at Swansea, but the HEA framework felt like a structure, and it felt like some basic teaching principles to follow.

I think it was quite good that the HEA scheme does appreciate that people have to start somewhere, and the different levels mean that you can prove what you’re doing as you go along. It’s long-term commitment and a transferable qualification as well. Since getting the recognition I’ve done bits of teaching, not just at Swansea, and it’s been helpful to show that I’ve got that qualification. So, I think altogether it was something to aim for back in 2022. It took me a while to put together my application, and to plan ahead where I was going to gain my experience.

You mentioned online learning, so how have you continued to apply the standards of the UKPSF in your work since gaining recognition. Also, do you have any tips for anybody teaching online or supporting learning online?

I now spend a lot more time physically at the University. The Geography Department seems to be pretty good when it comes to arranging tutorials as one-to-ones and group tutorials outside of lectures. I can certainly see how that goes beyond what happens in the classroom, and particularly, offers more than an online scenario where you turn up and you deliver online and make a video recording there.

The tutoring helps to fulfil A4: supporting and guiding. For example, by creating different environments outside of the formal classroom or the online space. It’s been really good to help individual students and help them work together as well. The smaller spaces means that they’re a bit more confident. I can see how they’ve got more confident, certainly in terms of how to discuss ideas and help each other. For example, the first years looked at referencing and critical reading skills, and I think they’ve benefited a lot from that. It’s a very different scenario to standing up and delivering lecture that you have prepared. With the tutoring it’s a bit more directed by the students. This is now really apparent to me, having come away from the phase of teaching online.

One of the things that’s opened up for me is an opportunity to write a chapter for a book about Outdoor Learning. This was a link made by one of your colleagues in SALT, Louise. The book is being done through SEDA and will be published by Routledge. This is something that’s been chugging along in the background and means that I get to share some of the work that we do here at Swansea to the wider world. These scenarios, these opportunities, are helped by connections made through Twitter. In fact, the people I’m working with on the book, I’ve never actually met them in person, and it’s all been through online contact. This collaboration with others enhances what we do at Swansea and shares it with other people. Hopefully we will be able to bring in a lot of the other contents of that book to teaching here too. Did you ask about tips?

Is there anything that you learned about teacher online that you now apply in any face-to-face teaching? Or you are specifically supporting students as they get more used to face-to-face teaching again?

I found that using Mentimeter was really helpful when we were doing stuff online, because we could get the students to give some feedback and help shape the different teaching. Using Mentimeter in the classroom is something which I’ve carried on with since the pandemic. Also, it gives an anonymity to the students as, for some of them, it takes a while to get used to asking questions in class. It’s very visual as well, it goes up there on the screen during the lecture. This means that I can incorporate their feedback into the lecture recordings, and I also put it on Canvas afterwards. So that’s been really useful.

I think generally that Canvas means we can assemble lots of other materials, and not just the lectures. I think also, being able to offer online one-to-one meetings is a good thing as not all of the students live close to campus, nor the staff either. That’s been really helpful to be able to carry on using things like Zoom for the different meetings. I think one of the good things about Zoom, or whatever else people use, is you add links into the chat and incorporate resources straight away. Probably because I’m still ‘newer’ to teaching than lots of other people, the technology doesn’t daunt me: it’s all useful, plus, my first degree was in computer science, so I understand how it all works as well.

Sometimes when you are newer to teaching you are not as encumbered with as much ‘baggage’ as it were, so you are more willing to maybe try things which later on, as you get stuck in routines and everything, you maybe become bit less reluctant to do so, having that sort of mentality is really nice.

Yeah, I think things like using Panopto to record lectures doesn’t always work quite as we expect. Sometimes you get thrown by a room having different AV equipment to another room. But I think videos are pretty good; the way that we can just share stuff with students. Also, the deeper I get into teaching, the more I understand that students have got lots of work to do and other reasons, so digital recordings really help those students who, for whatever reason, can’t come to lectures. Furthermore, we can turn around the editing really quickly. I mean I generally just do lecture, come back, edit, get it out, and that’s something which I assume didn’t happen before the pandemic. I basically wrote my PhD Thesis during the pandemic, and finished my PhD in the pandemic, so working remotely wasn’t as big an issue for me. But I can see how it probably was for people who were used to doing everything in the classroom itself.

For someone not sure about applying for HEA Fellowship recognition. What words of encouragement would you offer?

I think, first of all, like everything in the academic world it is effectively based on peer review. So, it’s based on people reviewing each other’s work. Initially you have to get two referees to support your application and that involved one colleague coming to one of my lectures and giving an observation on my lecture. The other person was my mentor.

It is in the University’s interest to have more people go through this particular scheme and it is great, and actually quite surprising as well, to be the 700th person. In my case, applying for the Associate Fellow, set a direction for me in 2022. It made me think about what I needed to discover, what I needed to follow and it pushed me a bit harder. The thought of applying for full Fellowship this year is also pushing me harder as well; things like writing that book chapter, and any even things like writing a blog after the Berlin field trip. Thinking about made me think a bit more clearly about sort of what we could offer the students on that on that trip. Actually, one colleague, they’ve mentioned how students use things like Instagram as a way of telling us how they’re getting on with the field trip.

The process of applying for the Associate Fellowship was pretty rigorous. At times I did think is it worth it? Because it did feel like so much extra stuff to do. But they [SALT] did give you some useful guidelines, and it means that you can transfer these skills to other places as well.

So, what top tips would you offer to someone preparing an Associate Fellow application?

Tip 1 is about asking for help. I would say that the whole set up at Swansea is really well organised, and you can see which members of staff are behind it. The whole thing is devised as a Canvas course which takes you step-by-step through what you need to do, and the SALT team are very experienced. Sometimes it does feel a little bit overly structured, but having completed it I can see why now. Everything you need to find is on that Canvas course, which is useful.

Tip 2 would be to give yourself time to actually attend things like seminars. I went on quite a few seminars by BERA and I also went to the RGS (Royal Geographic Society) Geography Conference last year. There was quite a bit of content there which was about learning and teaching, some of them were recorded so you could listen to them again. I think each discipline will have its own sort of education angle. Like I said, for me, coming from that more research background and applying this education, it took me a while to find these things.

Point 3, I would go to the SALT Conference, and also pitch an abstract to the conference as well. I sent one last year, and it was really helpful for me to get some feedback from people and just make some useful connections. Quite a few connections have come from me doing that presentation plus I actually used it in my application as well. Make sure that you are part of what SALT does. Various members of stuff have been really helpful to me to take things further. And you know, like talking to you today, you can see that it is taken seriously by the University.

For Further Details

Visit SALT’s webpages for details of the internally accredited programme leading to Associate, Fellow or Senior Fellow and for links to Principal Fellow resources.

This year’s SALT Conference is July 12th 2023 at the Bay Campus.  Further details and to register, see SALT’s website:


HEA Fellowship – supporting effective practice and guiding colleagues as an assessor

lighthouse at dusk

In the HEA Fellowship blog, we’re continuing to measure the impact that HEA Fellowship has on teaching practices, on students and on the practices and approaches of peers. We’ve also asked for some suggestions when teaching/supporting learning online!

In this post, Adesola Ademiloye from the Faculty of Science and Engineering shares his story of gaining HEA Fellowship (FHEA) recognition through the PG Cert teaching in Higher Education programme and of the tremendous benefits to his practice he gains by mentoring and guiding others in his assessor role.


“I find the opportunity to mentor others in their journey to become better teachers and gain recognition for their teaching practices to be incredibly fulfilling, even as an academic on the enhanced research pathway


Man smiling, arms crossed
Dr. Adesola Ademiloye, Department of Biomedical Engineering

Continue reading “HEA Fellowship – supporting effective practice and guiding colleagues as an assessor”

Gaining a Broader Perspective – the value of being an assessor

two icons of human heads. from one are question marks emerging. The other has lightbulbs

In the HEA Fellowship blog, we’re continuing to measure the impact that HEA Fellowship has on teaching practices, on students and on the practices and approaches of peers. 

Mariolino Carta recorded a blog interview with Darren Minister from the Recognition Team on 26th October 2022. He discusses the value that being an assessor gives to enhancing his practice:

Photo of man sitting
Mariolino Carta, FHEA

…I’m assessing some of the HEA Fellowship applications and this gives me this extra perspective I was talking about. Sometimes I get very good tips from sound applications.

Continue reading “Gaining a Broader Perspective – the value of being an assessor”

Building a strategy to support programme directors- lessons from Australia

This is the last blogpost in which I summarise some of the key findings from chapters in the book Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in Higher Education: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Educational Developers and Programme Leaders, (SEDA, Routledge) (2022) edited by Jenny Lawrence, Susan Moron-Garcia and Rowena Senior. 

This post reflects on what we can learn from Chapter 3, in Part 1 on “Developing programme leadership in an Australian university” by Louise Maddocks et al. 


Griffiths University in south-eastern Australia is a multi-campus, research-intensive higher education institution. During 2014-2018, led by staff from its ‘Learning Futures’ Unit, colleagues embarked on developing and implementing a strategy to equip and empower Programme Directors (PDs) who are “responsible for the leadership and management of an academic programme”, Page 41).  This was part of wider strategic initiatives being implemented at Griffiths including:

  • defining a new role descriptor for PDs,
  • the establishment of key academic roles located centrally and within faculties,
  • a new quality ‘dashboard’ to provide key data about the programme, and
  • the implementation of a ‘Framework for Programme Quality and Programme Review’.


Following an extensive review of leadership literature (cited in the chapter) and several assumptions underpinning what they wanted their strategy to consider, their resultant strategy has the following ‘ecological’ stages:

Summary diagram showing the ecology of their programme leader strategy

Figure 1 Building Programme Leadership Strategy – Professional learning ecology – based on Maddocks et al (2022)

  • A set of induction workshops orienting Programme Leaders both new and experienced to their new role descriptor
  • A Leadership Series of leadership support and online modules.
  • A Programme Leaders Network established to practice, reflect and share experience
  • Guided Collaborative Action Learning/Action Research projects in Practice (e.g. curriculum development/enhancement/ sharing of programme level resources
  • Independent Collaborative Action Learning/Action Research projects in Practice

With progressively independent practices to support expertise in leading programmes as the final goal.

The chapter describes in a bit more detail each of the Leadership Series, Programme Leader’s Network and the Action Research Project stages.  The authors also summarise their evaluation of this strategy, with almost all respondents to their survey of PDs participating in the sessions confirming that the workshops within the Leadership Series were highly successful in providing foundational knowledge of leadership for learning, the knowledge of the role within the institutional context and the development of relationship and networks with other programme leaders.

There are more detailed reflections on the effectiveness of this approach in trying to support programme leaders become “agents of change”.  They concluded that the

 “Building Program leadership strategy has effectively enabled the creation of a professional learning ecology that supports individuals PLs in developing their identities and capabilities of learning and teaching” (page 50)


Why is this relevant to us in Swansea University?

A Programme Directors Working Group was established in February 2022 to scope how to better support those who fulfil this vital role within Swansea University.  The Group reported its findings about appropriate induction and ongoing CPD for Programme Directors at the PD Community Forum on December 7th 2022 and will be reviewing feedback to this in early 2023. 

There are several similarities with the approach Griffiths University has taken and what the Programme Director Working Group at Swansea is proposing. We can review aspects of this ‘ecology’ approach, learn from them and adapt approaches that will work in our context. The use of Action research groups is particularly appealing.

And its not just Griffiths University that can help guide our way. Other chapters in section 1 of this book outline how other institutions and indeed whole sectors (i.e. in Scotland) have approached the important issue of appropriate induction, ongoing support and appropriate reward and recognition for programme directors.  There is a rich evidence-base for us to use.

Recordings of the webinars hosted by OCAED regarding selected  book chapters are expected to be available from their website: 

Talking Teaching across the Globe – Oxford Brookes University 


Louise Rees

Senior Academic Developer (HEA), SALT

(1) Programme Leaders = Programme Directors at Swansea University

Building a Programme Leader network

This is the third blogpost in which I’m summarising some of the key findings from chapters in the book ‘Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in Higher Education: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Educational Developers and Programme Leaders’, (SEDA, Routledge) (2022) edited by Jenny Lawrence, Susan Moron-Garcia and Rowena Senior.

This blogpost reflects on what we can learn from Chapter 5, in Part 1 on “Harnessing the potential of formal networks and informal communities to support the holistic development of programme leaders” by Graham Scott and Jenny Lawrence.


The Value of a Network 

This chapter summarises research into the positive aspects of being a Programme Leader (PL) that come from engaging in a centrally organised Forum or more local discipline specific network. 

Central-formal networks enables PLS to keep up with University-specific policy and strategy and to gain insights into wider sector issues.  It helps attendees to develop a positive professional identity as a programme leader and raises their profile with senior decision makers. 

Discipline based ‘communities of practice’ however helped to better understand the PL responsibilities, often from the input of prior PLs), develop collegiality and to signpost to school/faculty/institutional information sources to help with the role. 

There are clear benefits of establishing and encouraging networks at both scales. The chapter provides useful 6-point advice tips on developing both kinds of networks but recognising that there needs to be some flexibility on exact implementation. 

Selected tips for the central-formal network include: 

  • Ensure that the membership is kept updated, at minimum annually
  • Have dates of meetings ‘pushed’ into calendars of PLs
  • Have regular (e.g. monthly) for a at regular dates and times, some of which may be with decision makers
  • Have the topics for discussion originate from PLs as well as new initiatives 

For local-informal community of practices, they recommend 

  • These are established local by PLS and may usefully include PL ‘alumni’ for mentoring and hand-over
  • They might have an informal, regular communication stream (the research case involved Slack, for example)
  • Have regular, informal gatherings (e.g. over coffee) 

The chapter describes in more detail how they sought feedback from the PLs about what was working well. The central-formal network had ceased to effectively operate  

‘many abandoned events early citing the top-down transmission of process information unappealing’.   

Their efforts then to research what had been positive aspects and what the PLS wanted, informed the shape of their re-launched network in 2018/19. 

Why is this relevant to us in Swansea University? 

A Programme Directors Working Group was established in February 2022 to scope how to better support those who fulfil this vital role within Swansea University.  The Group reported its findings about appropriate induction and ongoing CPD for Programme Directors at the PD Community Forum on December 7th 2022 and is reviewing feedback from the proposals. 

One key aspect is ongoing CPD and indeed what the Forum should cover and continue to operate.  For those supporting the central-formal network, the chapter has more detailed insights on what pitfalls to avoid, how to make the network a positive, vibrant community which helps to build esteem and recognition for the role, to prevent the role of PL being ‘isolating’ (Ellis and Nimmo, 2018), a ‘career killer’ (Cahill et al, 2015) and making the PL role, one of worth and value (Robinson-Self, 2020). 

But its also helpful for schools or faculties to consider how local networks of PLs might work and the nature of, for example, the School Education Forum.   

Watch out for other synopses of this great book in supporting Programme Directors over the coming weeks and the seminar series by OCAED and SEDA to support the book. 

Recordings of the webinars are expected to be available from their website: 

Talking Teaching across the Globe – Oxford Brookes University 


Louise Rees 

Senior Academic Developer (HEA), SALT 

(1) Programme Leaders = Programme Directors at Swansea University 



Cahill J., Bowyer J. Rendell, C. Hammond, A. and S. Korek (2015) “An exploration of how programme leaders in higher education can be prepared and supported to discharge their roles and responsibilities effectively”, Educational Research, 57 (2), pp 272-286.  

Ellis S. and A. Nimmo (2018) “Opening eyes and changing mind-sets: professional development for programme leaders.”  In Lawrence J. and Ellis, S. (Eds), Supporting programme leaders and programme leadership, SEDA Special 39. London: Staff and Educational Development Association, pp. 36-39. 

Robinson-Self P. (2020) “The practice and policies of programme leadership: between strategy and teaching”, Potter J. and Devicci C. (eds) Delivering Educational Change in HE, UK: Routledge 


Building shared understanding – a Programme Roadmap

road sign

This is the second blogpost which summarises some of the key findings from chapters in the book Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in Higher Education: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Educational Developers and Programme Leaders, (SEDA, Routledge) (2022) edited by Jenny Lawrence, Susan Moron-Garcia and Rowena Senior. 

It reflects on what we can learn from Case study 10, in Part 3 on “Facilitating educational leadership; building and sharing an understanding amongst the programme team” by Eva Malone and Stephen Yorkstone. 


Juggling frantically, trying to keep all balls in the air 

Eva Malone is programme leader for a range of undergraduate programmes accredited by the Royal Society of Biology at Edinburgh Napier University. Collectively these programmes comprise 37 modules and have approximately 500 students enrolled at any one time. 

In this case study she outlines how after feeling quite overwhelmed by dealing with the minutiae of programme management and trying to keep multiple balls up in the air, she enlisted support for the staff of their Business Improvement Unit to help with the task.

Steve Yorkstone assisted Eva in applying a ‘lean management’ approach first to the arduous process of allocating markers on a complex research project module. She later enlisted his help in applying the RACI model to the programme leader role and responsibilities not just for her but of the wider programme team. 

They, with the programme administrator, quickly brainstormed the tasks and roles or teams involved in delivering their suite of programmes. Having input from the administrator was invaluable since it both brought in a distinct perspective but have insight into the interactions with professional services teams. 

The output was an Excel Workbook (their ‘Programme RoadMap’) to which they applied the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) matrix (Project Management Institute 2013) but also added in ‘Uninvolved’ and ‘Participating’ categories to enable responsibility to be allocated to individuals, but for the contributions of the wider team members to be acknowledged (or otherwise!). 

Alongside the tasks, deadlines for completion were allocated and this enables the review and management of activities according to peaks and troughs and consider re-scheduling. All members of the team have access to the Excel Workbook and using simply sort and filter functions, enables individuals to isolate their own and/or related tasks. 

The impact on Eva as Programme Leader? 

There were enormous practical and personal benefits of the RoadMap for Eva. Some of these are outlined below: 

  • Acted as an Aide Memoire
  • Feel Less Overwhelmed 
  • Informs Meeting agendas
  • Reinforces Value of the team 
  • Helps succession planning
  • Frees up her ‘memory’ to be more creative and instigate educational leadership 

This Case Study was discussed further at the OAECD seminar series on 29th November 2022 and Steve generously shared the Excel Workbook for others to adapt (with a request for attribution and feedback on the usefulness of the tool).  

Both he and Eva stress that the Roadmap needs to be customised and shouldn’t be seen as a blueprint for adoption by programme teams without further consideration. As a ‘spreadsheet’ it may strike fear into many unfamiliar with the features of Excel, and so adoption and implementation needs to be supported and endorsed for all to benefit from it. 

I have a copy of the Excel Workbook should anyone wish to brainstorm their own activities, amend it and consider whether this tool may help them feeling overwhelmed by the volume of tasks. 

Why is this relevant to us in Swansea University? 

A Programme Directors Working Group was established in February 2022 to scope how to better support those who fulfil this vital role within Swansea University.  The Group reported its findings about appropriate induction and ongoing CPD for Programme Directors at the PD Community Forum on December 7th 2022 and will be reviewing feedback to this in early 2023. 

One of the outcomes and recommendations of the PD Working Group was to refine Swansea’s role descriptor and to enhance the existing ‘timeline’ to be an interactive resource (with links to the relevant policies, procedures) and also to develop a version for programmes not with a September start date.  

Eva notes that even though she has a role descriptor and checklist, she still needed “clarity around the tasks that were to be completed and focus on what was required and when” and the Roadmap (Excel Workbook) enables her to achieve that need. 

This Excel Workbook ‘template’ could be a very useful supplement to our existing resources and I’d encourage anyone who wants to consider adapting it for their own circumstances, to get in touch! 

Recordings of the webinars are expected to be available from their website: 

Talking Teaching across the Globe – Oxford Brookes University 


Louise Rees 

Senior Academic Developer (HEA), SALT 



Project Management Institute (2013) A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) Project Management Institute.

See RACI Matrix | Understanding Responsibility Assignment Matrix ( for a quick explanation of RACI

Being an Effective Programme Director

man juggling items on first

Why is considering leadership approaches helpful?  

I’ve been championing the important role of programme directors for almost 10 years, previously in my capacity as head of the Quality Office in Academic Services and recently resurrected in my role within SALT supporting professional recognition through Advance HE’s Fellowship scheme.  I see many colleagues struggle to articulate successful ‘leading’ when they make their claim for Senior Fellowship and see the value of providing the support BEFORE many indeed take on or inherit the programme director role.   

I also hear stories of the challenges of juggling and almost literally firefighting that are epitomised in both research literature and blogposts of everyday realities (see for example Emma Kennedy’s recent account 

I can see the value of reflecting on my own ‘small l’ leadership as I prepare my own claim for Senior Fellowship recognition. Many of the characteristics I can see myself demonstrating, yet I didn’t know that these were ‘recommended approaches’ of effective leadership.  Donald Rumsfeld (then Secretary of Defense of the United States) said in a February 12 2022 press briefing  

“[A]s we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”  

The literature about effective leadership falls into that unknown unknown category for me. 

What are effective leadership strategies for Programme Directors? 

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be summarising some of the key findings from chapters in the book Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in Higher Education: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Educational Developers and Programme Leaders, (SEDA, Routledge) (2022) edited by Jenny Lawrence, Susan Moron-Garcia and Rowena Senior. 

This post reflects on what we can learn from Doug Parkin’s chapter 6, in Part 2 on “Programme leaders as educational and academic leaders”. 

Some questions about leadership…. 

As Programme Director, how do you lead your team? 

  • What are the qualities of effective Programme Directors?  How do you know what is effective? 
  • What ‘training’ or guidance did you receive in effective leadership approaches? 
  • How DO you keep juggling (even when the issues aren’t “on fire” as in the featured picture)? 

Dimensions of Programme Leadership 

In his chapter, Doug Parkin outlines four aspects of leadership that he feels enables programme directors [1] to develop credibility and demonstrate trust so 

“that colleagues are inspired and trusted to innovate their practice routinely, deliver teaching inclusively and provide feedback for learning conscientiously” (Parkin 2022, p 97) 

These are 

  • Relational Leadership 
  • Embodied Leadership
  • Enabling Leadership and
  • Administrative Leadership. 

model of programme leadership comprising relational, embodied, enabling and administrative leadership interpreted from Doug Parkin's description - administrative leadership is disproportionately represented

Figure 1 Four dimensions of programme leadership – interpreted from Parkin (2022)

It’s a useful chapter not just for programme directors, but for anyone who is ‘small l’ leading and is therefore considering how their practice of supporting others best demonstrates the tricky Senior Fellow criterion of ‘Successful coordination, support, supervision, management and/or mentoring of others (whether individuals and/or teams) in relation to learning and teaching’ UKPSF, 2011, D3 Vii.  While ‘leadership’ isn’t explicitly mentioned in this criterion, its often inherent as staff reflect and evidence how they effectively engage and support colleagues to achieve a shared objective that enhances student learning. 

The chapter gives examples of what each of the other leadership styles might look like in practical terms for programme leaders (e.g. having a network of fellow Programme Directors to support relational leadership; modelling examples and active listening in showing embodied leadership) and also how institutions can enable the leadership through, for example, appropriate recognition of the value of the role, ongoing development for programme leaders, setting and clearly sharing the key vision and supporting communication with others. 

Too often it’s the administrative side of the Programme Director role that takes up the most time as suggested in my adapted Figure 1 and role holders get increasingly disillusioned and frustrated that they can’t necessarily do the staff support and pedagogical enhancements they’d like to.  In providing administrative leadership, the relationship with professional services staff is critical to freeing the time of Programme Directors and ensuring that administrative matters can run smoothly.  

Therefore, in the bedding down of the revised Faculty structure, we have the opportunity now to share the values of the programme and the administrative burden and to support Programme Directors to lead in effective learning, teaching and assessment practices in a more balanced way where the leadership dimensions can be applied more equitably (see Figure 2). 

A more balanced model of leadership (relational. embodied, enabling and administrative) overlapped in Venn diagram. Interpreted from Doug Parkin's description

Figure 2 A more balanced model of the 4 dimensions of programme leadership

And if we know what makes for effective programme leadership, why aren’t these qualities built into person specifications to get the most effective person for the role and appropriate CPD offered to support staff to gain the transferable skills?

An Institutional response 

A Programme Directors Working Group was established in February 2022 to scope how to better support those who fulfil this vital role within Swansea University.  The Group reported its findings about appropriate induction and ongoing CPD for Programme Directors at the PD Community Forum on December 7th, 2022, and feedback is being reviewed and next steps developed. 

Part of the remit has been to explore continual professional learning opportunities regarding ‘leadership’ and members of the Group made specific recommendations on this.  Contributing to that will be my recommendation that exploring the types of leadership as suggested by Parkin should be a key aspect to support professional development of Programme Directors.  And not just upon appointment.   

To be effective and address what Ellis (2019, p31) identifies as critical transition period “the months either side of becoming a programme leader have emerged as of central importance”, CPD in effective leadership skills should be available to all, to prepare staff to effectively lead programmes to provide an excellent student learning experience. 

Watch out for other synopses of this useful book in supporting Programme Directors over the coming weeks and the seminar series by OCAED and SEDA to support the book. 

Recordings of the seminars are expected to be available from their website: 

Talking Teaching across the Globe – Oxford Brookes University 



Louise Rees 

Senior Academic Developer (HEA), SALT 

(1) Programme Directors at Swansea University = Programme Leaders in the SEDA book