On 26 September, Nat Skead and Mary Heath went to the LEAD meeting hosted by Flinders University in Adelaide. It is a pleasure to share the Smart Casual resources with people in roles with responsibility for sessional teachers and professional development in law. They are designed to address an unmet need for discipline specific professional development on teaching legal skills. The Associate Deans were welcoming and enthusiastic.
Some schools are already using the modules with sessional and permanent staff, or have plans to use them in the near future. At one school, for example, staff will undertake the modules over 12 months like a book club, getting together regularly to discuss and reflect.
There were questions about where to find support for managing sessional staff and ensuring best practice from the school and university. One good place to go is the BLASST project, which has established benchmarking standards and best practice guides for employing and supporting sessional staff.
There were also queries about whether the modules would be of use to permanent law staff, staff teaching law to business students, or teachers in other disciplines. We already have reports of the modules being appreciated by staff outside of law (despite the law examples), as well as by staff in law, no matter their employment status. Many of the modules (for example, Feedback, Communication and collaboration, Wellbeing, Engagement, and Problem solving) will be immediately relevant to staff teaching law to non-law students.
We were also asked about strategies to overcome staff resistance to professional development on the part of people who clearly are experts in their fields of research or practice. We have no magic wand embedded in the modules. Sorry! However, it is important for all content experts to remember that teaching requires a set of skills that is only partly about content knowledge; and that the skills most experts have internalised and now take for grated must be broken down into logically organised component parts in order for them to be communicated to novices. The modules are designed to assist in this process.
One suggestion for the time-pressed teacher offered by the LEADrs themselves was to use a single module as a ‘gateway’; letting sessional staff know that they don’t need to do an entire module all at once but can dip in and out. The online navigational aids embedded in the modules make viewing a module bit by bit very simple. Time-pressed permanent staff have certainly been known to do exactly this. There are entire books devoted to tips for higher education teachers, and having one sitting on the desk so that you can read a page or two and try out new ideas or be reminded of good intentions that have not been carried out lately can be of value to everyone.