John Coumbe-Lilley, PhD Program Leader

John Coumbe-Lilley, PhD
Program Leader

Often in higher education I find myself like a solo perfomer. Most teaching experiences have been quite solitary without much collaboration, team work, community and communication with peers. I expend a lot of energy learning and working to be a better educator. but it is as though we work independently of our colleagues in our department. Often I hear “well you have different content”, “I am a scientist you are a teacher” as if both statements justify our constricted way of working together. Admittedly, there seem to be no tangible or intangible incentives to collaborate with peers. So I often imagine myself as my own stage crew and solo performer. As my Mum would say, “M’dear you are the chef, the waiter, the cashier and the dish washer” , in a regular semester this is quite often how I feel.

I have experience at five institutions of higher education in private and public settings. In one of them, three years ago I had a team-teaaching experience from the ground up. My colleague and me discussed, shaped, and developed our course together. I was aware of their content, and they of mine. We discussed teaching strategies and what approaches might work better than others. We delivered and implemented our program. It was evaluated highly and we learned a lot about the teaching and learning process when colleagues and students are

interdepedent on each other for us all to accomplish the expressed student learning outcomes.

That was three years ago. I have been working in higher educaiton ten years now. So, I guess I might expect to have a collaborative experience in the next decade right? Wrong! I got another one this year! Doing study abroad gave me an opportunity to work in an educational team. How did this happen? I scouted the venue and built relationships in six months before the program began. I met the host country faculty (Fred Anderson, Karen Smith and Pep Ingles) who had been carefully screened by our program partner (CEA)  to discuss the outcomes of the program and to learn from them what they felt they might / might not accomplish working with us.  I discussed my ideas with a range of study abroad professionals and prospetive host faculty for feedback and guidance to make better decisions in my preparation.

I realized immediately working with each faculty member six months before that I would have to be on my toes.

These were sharp minded educational professionals and serious about their work, their teaching and doing a good job! I was on my toes! I liked it because it sparked me out of my “solo” mindset and into a “we’re in this together attitude” which I prefer. I could feel their motivation and a bit of hesitation from them too. Why? Because they did not know me, or our college…and no kinesiology program had engaged them before. All good educators know you have to know your audience and your co-workers well to perform nicely.

Fast forward six months and I was participating in Pep’s class on Thursday night. We had Karen and Fred in the earlier in the week, but for this post, I chose Pep because I had more images to show you a little bit of what I mean. The workshop was about Tapas. You might think this is a straight forward thing, no it is not. Tapas has terminology, great cultural emphais, flavor and geographical diversity. It has a range of serving styles and regional varieties.There was no way I could

have delivered this content! Pep was the content expert and he matched his approach to the learning outcomes and to the energy of the students. His teaching space was a kitchen, a presentation space modifed into a dining area and he had a two person team to assist him too. He was the master of his educational domain and the English language.

Pep like Karen and Fred met the students where they were at. They checked in with me about the content, their approach and their pacing. I was the program leader, but I needed them to deliver an educational experience I could not and in line with the outcomes we were going for. They recognized this too. Pep was prepared, purposeful and on point. He made sure everyone had an opportunity to engage and he worked with the students. He commentated on his work and theirs as they worked together. Just as Karen and Fred did. The three of them added value I could not and they did it based on common goals for the students and our complemnetary roles. There were so many teaching best practices on display from Pep on top of those demonstrated by Karen and Fred, I feel like I got a teaching in study abroad experience myself!

Engaging three faculty validated my decision to accept help when I had a deficit. Seeking out host country educators

to add value to the student experience is important and shouldl be done. Do the upfront planning and preparation

work with them and listen for their strengths and do not sweat the small stuff. When I worked with experienced indviduals (especially like these with 20+ years of experience teaching American student) I remained composed and enjoyed the experience too. I learned a lot from our host faculty in terms of content but mostly in how to prepare for class and engage students in their own development in the context of study abroad. I will seek out host country faculty in the future and emphasize the interdependent nature of the work combining their strengths with my strengths to make an excellent program.

I have to remember too, that none of the work we did as faculty could be done without my colleagues and sounding

boards at the Study Abroad Office at UIC and my colleagues at CEA Barcelona. I had to listen hard to their decades of experience and use as much of their experience as possible to consider how best to lead a program I had never led before in this kind of format. Luckily, so many study abroad professionals have led programs, they are or have been teachers themselves and they have faced many challenges in the study abroad context. No faculy member should over look or take for granted these professionals. I consider the success of the academic part of the program as much their success as it is mine and the guest faculty. It as about what we accomplish. Not what I accomplish. I prefer to work as “we” than “me”, and I hope for less solo and more group performances in the next decade of my academic career.

The three messages I take with me from the teaching of my peers, Feed, Karen and Pep are these:

Fred – “If you can justify your work…then alright!”

Karen – “It is okay to feel different while you are here (away from home)”

Pep – “Try! If you fail. Try again!”

Roll on 2017 planning and preparation!