A quick call with the education coaches: ‘Teachers could learn so much from each other’
In September, university lecturers Olga van Marion and Astrid Van Weyenberg started working as education coaches. How did their first semester of activities go and what is next on the horizon?
‘When I was first given the opportunity, I didn’t hesitate for a single second,’ says Van Marion. ‘I thought this would be a good way to give more depth and breadth to my job.’ Van Weyenberg was also immediately excited: ‘This is exactly what I missed out on when I was still just starting out, so I think it is wonderful that the faculty is taking steps and teachers are getting more guidance. Teaching is simply very difficult. As a new lecturer with a heavy teaching load, you usually spend your time preparing non-stop. On the other hand, these lecturers also often have a temporary contract and when applying for a job, it's the publications that count.’
This is why Van Marion and Van Weyenberg work with new lecturers to find the right balance between teaching and research. ‘We want to show that lecturers shouldn’t spend their research time preparing for lectures,’ says Van Marion. ‘Lecturers who are just starting out tend to spend too much time explaining during tutorials, but if you do that, you’ll end up overloading your students with knowledge. Moreover, it takes a lot of time to prepare these kinds of lectures, which often only leaves time for research in the weekends. That’s a sure way to a burnout. We try to promote a healthy attitude more time preparing, but make the right choices. Students should come to class prepared. You can get them to do that by asking specific questions or having them make presentations during lectures. That way, your class will be more active, your lectures will improve in quality and you will put in fewer hours preparing.’
To become more comfortable with their work, new lecturers can register for an peer review group led by Van Weyenberg and Van Marion. ‘Teachers could learn so much from each other,’ says Van Weyenberg. ‘In the peer review group, they can discuss issues they come up against, and learn from each other’s expertise and experiences’ And it’s not only new lecturers that benefit from the group. ‘I still regularly hear things during sessions that make me think: that’s a smart solution. I’ll keep that in mind.’
Positive BKO track
While the peer review group is voluntary, Van Marion and Van Weyenberg are also part of the track lecturers are obliged to follow in order to obtain a University Teaching Qualification (BKO). Starting this semester, this will include two lecture observations, of which at least one is conducted by an education coach. ‘The idea behind this is that we can take a more targeted look and give specific advice,’ explains Van Weyenberg, who views the track as a positive development. ‘For many new lecturers, the BKO seems quite daunting. We consider it our task to paint a realistic picture. The observations are necessary for the portfolio, but most of all it’s useful to have someone observe and then discuss together what is already going well. In my opinion, the emphasis should be on the fact that teachers have their own ways of doing things and are already doing lots of things extremely well.’