Inspire - a Teaching Fellows' newsletter

A quarterly publication on the contemporary issues influencing teaching and learning.

Seven insights on ‘Encouraging and enabling flourishing’

1. “Learning not knowledge”
By Dr Simon Best, Senior lecturer in Management
Our students are facing a world of employment that universities are struggling to prepare them for. Many of the jobs where a traditional degree was useful are shrinking or disappearing.  For example, most of the work accountants, pharmacists and scientists did is vanishing as the automation revolution emerges. 

Traditionally our approach is one focused on providing knowledge that we then measure. This is usually done by teaching from a core text book that is followed by an assessment such as an exam.  What this does is assess how much knowledge the student has accumulated through their course, but fails to measure what they have actually learnt. 

Recently, I have tried to implement a process that focuses on measuring learning rather than knowledge.  A starting point is to have no core text books and even trying to remove reading lists.  Each class is structured as a workshop where students are given a framework of what they need to know and how they might use this knowledge.  They then attend a feedback session where they attempt to demonstrate changes in their thinking and behaviour.  This puts students in charge of their learning and forces them to think more deeply about the knowledge they have accumulated and realise their potential - though they may not see this immediately.  There is some way to go! 

 2. “Generating stories”By Dr Carl-James-Reynolds, Associate Professor in School of Science and Technology

Stories play a significant role in our development as individuals, and in an educational context it is invaluable to have the stories of the students to inspire others.  Stories of students who walked into great jobs, who managed to overcome personal difficulties to cross the stage at graduation, and who have gone on to new projects. With such diversity and such a large institution we get many of these stories and we should harness them to inspire others.

One of the challenges of undergraduate project supervision is in getting students to take calculated risks by taking on projects that require the acquisition of new skills and knowledge. Yet, all too often, students seem to feel playing it safe is a good idea and that a project should require skills that they have already obtained.

In order to challenge these perceptions it is useful to have stories about student projects that show the qualities we expect in first-class project work; a rigorous approach, great presentation and demonstrating all the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy in a suitable context for the subject area.

Last year one of my students had a short paper accepted by the BCS AI conference and I have started using the story this year to encourage students to take on projects that involve a stronger research element. I then discovered that other students have published final year work with their supervisors – I suspect this is the case across the University.

These stories should not remain quiet whispers but should be part of our toolkit for giving new cohorts something to aspire to.

3.“Surviving work in healthcare: helpful stuff for people on the frontline”
By Dr Elizabeth Cotton Senior Lecturer in HRM
The Surviving Work in Healthcare web resource was the product of a 2-year project designed for people working on the frontline. The website is a joint project by Surviving Work and the Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust offering podcasts, videos and survival guides that take a jargon-free, de-stigmatising and practical approach to addressing the real problems of working in healthcare. This provides another resource to enable realising potential, build resilience and overall contribute to flourishing within and beyond university, highlighting that flourishing is an issue to attend to in all areas of life, work and study.

The resources take as their starting point the crisis of healthcare in the UK; impossible targets managed through command and control management and a stomach-churning rise in racism, whistleblowing and victimisation in the NHS. In response to the increasingly precarious system of employment relations in healthcare, these resources use the ‘ordinary’ expertise and experiences of people who are actually surviving work.

The podcasts and videos are divided into ten core themes:
  1. Bullying at work   
  2. Healthy organisations
  3. Understanding healthcare
  4. Precarious work 
  5. Precarious workers 
  6. Dynamics in groups 
  7. Racism
  8. Managing healthcare 
  9. Team working 
  10. Solidarity in healthcare 
Our ethos is based on a relational model of work that takes as given that to survive work we all need to build our relationships with the people around us. 

4.“Helping Business School teaching teams to develop bespoke learning programmes for industry”
Dr Mary Hartog Director of Organisation & Leadership Practice
Another lens of looking at development and flourishing is from an organisation point of view.  This is more than employability or productivity – this is about development and enabling potential to flourish. 

We start with where the business or organisation is at, clarifying its business strategy and goals and developing a partnership with the organisation that helps build leadership capacity. We generally work with cohorts of leaders and managers to support their organisation’s systemic change in leadership practice. We support learners in a range of different ways, including through Action Learning, where we work with managers in small groups to facilitate their reflection on action and develop a shared learning experience in which they actively engage in supporting and challenging each- other’s thinking and practice. This shift from individual learning to social learning builds understanding within the learning groups and a capacity for a community of practice in the organisation.

As a National Teaching Fellow and Principal TF of the HEA, I am concerned with how we develop strategy and practices for leadership education with industry, to maximise opportunities for knowledge exchange and knowledge creation. As such, evaluation to establish how our programmes help make a difference, to industry, to students and to people in general is central to our work. 

5.“Managing emotional barriers to learning”

Alexandra Pitt, Senior Lecturer, Learning Enhancement Team
When we think of students flourishing, each of us will see that through a different lens at different times, whether that be the employability, the self-development or the academic achievement lens, to name but a few.   I focus here particularly on the latter and one project we undertook to improve achievement.

There was a general feeling that students on our programme were not achieving their full potential and there appeared to be commonly held beliefs, among both staff and students, that those underachieving were potentially held back by their language limitations as international students.  However, when we correlated language levels on entry to the programme against achievement such a view did not hold up.  In fact, we found student achievement to be deeply rooted in their responsiveness to the context around them, namely their ability to respond to feedback and adapt to the disciplinary cultures. 

We further found that this responsiveness was in turn enabled or hindered by how their own beliefs interacted with those of the University.  Many could not respond to feedback offered because of lack of confidence, embarrassment, anger or fear, and not because of inability or linguistic disadvantage.  In essence, we realised that our practices were underestimating the complexity of emotional barriers to learning.  Following this we implemented a number of changes at classroom, module and programme level, specifically to tackle these emotional hurdles, and achievement rose dramatically.  This was despite one of those changes being to significantly increase student challenge and workload. 

In order for students to flourish, we therefore need to keep in tune with the complexity of their experience and manage our own unconscious bias in how we perceive that learning process.

6.“Centre for Research in Human Flourishing (CRHF)”
Nottingham University
The Centre for Research in Human Flourishing (CRHF) was established in 2015 to study the processes and outcomes of optimal functioning, with particular interests in wellbeing, human potential, agency and autonomy, character strengths, social behaviour and human systems.
The Centre adopts an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the nature of social environments that best nurture development, and how this knowledge can be applied to foster resilience, personal and professional growth, and quality of life.

Worth a read ……..

7.“Flourishing - It’s not about me it’s about you” 
A Poem by Ailsa Espie, Division of Nursing, QMU, 2015 (source:
So what does flourishing mean for me?
Some time to stop and think and see
‘What’s that honey? I’m trying to work
‘Yes of course I can take you, we’ve no time to shirk’

Flourishing, flourishing what does it mean?
A place to be and space for the keen.
‘Is that the phone? I’ll be right there
Now tell me about it, of course you can share’ 
Growing, thriving, creating something new
Feeding the soul, the spiritual you
‘You have a question? Of course I’ve got time
Sit down and tell me what you need for your climb’

Goodness, growth, and resilience that’s true
Time to be together, just time for us two
The infinite capacity to live with sheer joy
Scope to help others with no hidden ploy

To be with others, to want the best
To see the individual, despite the unrest
We’re equal partners, of course, but what can I do?
How can I help you be the best you?

What about me, what do I need?
A please and a thank you and some time to read
True gifts of kindness with no price to pay
A world where everyone is valued today.