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What sessional staff want

During my years as Unit Coordinator in the School of Nursing I employed and managed many sessional staff.  I explored and discovered that they seek validation of their professional knowledge, opportunities to develop professionally, and to connect with their profession … More...

During my years as Unit Coordinator in the School of Nursing I employed and managed many sessional staff.  I explored and discovered that they seek validation of their professional knowledge, opportunities to develop professionally, and to connect with their profession and colleagues.  At the same time, they wanted to enjoy the experience.  They also want a clear idea of what they are supposed to do, to be supported by appropriate resources, time to plan, and regular feedback from the Unit Coordinator about how the unit and students are progressing.  I responded to their needs and the word got around.  I was, thereafter, assured of attracting sessional staff every teaching semester.

To ensure that during staff absences a comprehensive resource was available, I wrote outlines and guides for every lecture, tutorial and clinical laboratory session using the STAR format. It involved a great deal of time and effort but I successfully recorded on paper all that I carried in my head.  My classes are now more planned and formalised and, although this may reduce their spontaneity, I encourage my tutors to introduce their own activities if they wish.  My only demand is that students achieve the learning outcomes for a unit.  Several tutors have thanked me and told me how valuable the resource has been to them.

To maintain consistency in marking, I induct and support my tutors in how to moderate.  Their concern when marking assignments was about providing the right answers to student queries and assessments but I reassured and directed them, instead, towards posing questions or comments to students that lead them to investigate further and find their own answers.  Students have also been provided with a slimmed down version of the unit guide that contains all but the content for the unit, which they find valuable.

When new Unit Coordinators commence, I try to be explicit about passing on my knowledge and telling them what we, in our School, are trying to achieve, and how, and asking them for their version.  I think of the key questions they need to ask to elicit the information they need to know.  I tell them there is no neat manual that addresses every situation, issue and context; the information they need is spread across the campus in many different places.  I encourage them to meet regularly with their supervisor to seek feedback on how they are going and how they might improve. I make it clear that our students and colleagues are valuable and deserve our respect.  The tone is also embedded in the language we use and the documents we write to ensure that a consistent story is conveyed.

At the end of a semester my greatest joy is being able to say I survived, I have done a good job, my students connected with the materials, and I have contributed towards developing their knowledge, skills and understanding.  This energises me for the next semester.

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