Self-reflexivity as good academic practice

I am coming to the end of what may be my last term teaching. While I hope it isn’t the end of my higher-education teaching career, I want to take this opportunity to be self-reflexive, and to encourage all of you to be self-reflexive alongside me.

Self-reflexivity is one of the most valuable tools we have as academics (to those who have left the folds of the academy, this is a transferable skill!). It is the ability to examine ourselves as close to objectively as possible and to figure out what needs changing or improving, and what’s working. (Of course, it’s a double-edged sword – we are also taught to be our own Reviewer-3-on-steroids, so it’s also nice to remember to be kind to yourself.)

One of the self-reflexive activities that I do (on my own and with my students) is free writing. In the spirit of being self-reflexive I have done some, and (perhaps unwisely!) shared it below. I’d like to encourage you to take some time, as we approach the end of term and the end of the year, to do some free writing and be honest with yourself about what needs improvement. And, please feel free to share some or all of your free writing (either in comments below or leave a link!) or your impression of the free writing/self-reflexive process.

My teaching this term has been… (3 minutes)

I went into this term determined to do everything I have ever really wanted to do. To be innovative and exciting and engaging. I have done many of the things I wanted to but they haven’t all turned out how I imagined they would.

FIRST YEARS: My first years this year are SMART and I have been able to be more conceptual with them that I was last year because I know the course better (not because last year’s cohort wasn’t as smart, they were). As a consequence I’ve…*

I want to be a … kind of teacher (3 minutes)

I want to be a rigorous, tough, conceptual, challenging teacher. I want to make my students think in ways they haven’t before and to connect and consolidate between my class and everything else they know.

I want to be fair, but not easy.

I want to be challenged by students who are confident and engaged – that is the biggest win, when you push and they push back just as hard. I want to make them think.

I want to be innovative – I want to assess students in a better way than essay + exam. I want to make scholars out of them even if they aren’t going into academia or…

I want to be a … kind of scholar (3 minutes)

I want to be a clear, engaging/engaged boundary pushing scholar. I want to think about things in new ways. I want to do things that make non-scholars, non-students, non-engaged-people really see what is AMAZING about the ancient world.

I want to be a rigorous and methodological scholar. I want to make research that illuminates people – real, normal, everyday people from early Greece. I want to push beyond our disciplinary boundary and see what I can learn and teach in other spaces…

 *Three minutes is never as long as you think it’s going to be.

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 What I’ve learned about myself from this:

I think I am the kind of teacher I want to be, in a fledgeling right-at-the-start-of-my-career kind of way. I think the big thing that’s stopping me from thinking that I am that kind of teacher is that being at the start of my career, sometimes there are things I am jazzed about trying that just don’t work. Teaching is trial and error, in part, especially innovative teaching. And while it’s always ongoing (because you’re different, and students are different, and courses are different, etc. ad nauseum) I don’t yet have a full repertoire of teaching tools. But, I’m getting there – and I think I’m doing a good job. So, hooray me.

And hopefully you’ve learned something about yourself as well – and I’m looking foward to reading some of your free writing too!

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About Ellie Mackin

Ellie is a Teaching Fellow in Ancient History at the University of Leicester. Her current research focuses on ‘embeddedness’ in early Greek religion. Ellie completed her BA(Hons) and MA at Monash University, in Australia, before moving to the UK for her PhD at King's College London (2015). She tweets @elliemackin.

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