Engaging students and staff with educational development through appreciative inquiry

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Nebraska, Lincoln]On: 10 October 2014, At: 05:09Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Engaging students and staff witheducational development throughappreciative inquiryKarima Kadi-Hanifia, Ozlem Dagmana, John Petersb, Ellen Snella,Caroline Tuttona & Trevor Wrightaa Institute of Education, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK.b Academic Development and Practice, University of Worcester,Worcester, UK.Published online: 13 May 2013.

    To cite this article: Karima Kadi-Hanifi, Ozlem Dagman, John Peters, Ellen Snell, Caroline Tutton& Trevor Wright (2014) Engaging students and staff with educational development throughappreciative inquiry, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 51:6, 584-594, DOI:10.1080/14703297.2013.796719

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2013.796719

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  • Engaging students and staff with educational developmentthrough appreciative inquiry

    Karima Kadi-Hanifia*, Ozlem Dagmana, John Petersb, Ellen Snella, Caroline Tuttona

    and Trevor Wrighta

    aInstitute of Education, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK; bAcademic Development andPractice, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK

    Appreciative inquiry (AI) offers a constructive, strengths-based framework forengaging students and staff in the enhancement of academic programmes ofstudy. This paper explores the basis of AI, its potential for educational develop-ment and the many agendas it might help address. Students and academic staffinvolved in an AI project, focused on improving inclusivity across an Instituteof Education, share their experiences and reveal how the approach can be usedin practice. In the process, they discuss their learning from the experience andestablish the power of envisioning development on the basis of hearing thepositive student voice.

    Keywords: appreciative inquiry (AI); student voice; participatory research;educational development; inclusivity

    Introduction

    Appreciative inquiry (AI) has recently been promoted as an appropriate methodologyfor researching learning (Cousin, 2009) and to revitalise evaluation in HigherEducation (HE) (Chapman, 2011). However, its value as a means of engaging anacademic community in educational development goes well beyond research andevaluation functions. The power of the unconditional positive question (Ludema,Cooperrider, & Barrett, 2001, p. 189), which lies at the heart of AI, is its ability toengage, enthuse, energise and enhance learning communities. As a form of educa-tional development, AI provides the means to address a number of current challengessuch as developing academic communities, developing research informed practiceand promoting engagement with meaningful change programmes, as well as engag-ing students as co-researchers and active partners in curriculum development. It alsoprovides a means of avoiding the pitfalls of deficit-driven approaches to developmentand managerial approaches to performance management. This paper explores thepossible advantages of AI, sets out a model for conducting AI in HE and worksthrough an example of its application to promote inclusivity in a successful Instituteof Education (IoE). The example is explored through the different perspectives ofthose involved in running the process; an educational developer, three studentresearchers and two IoE academic staff.

    *Corresponding author. Email: k.kadi-hanifi@worc.ac.uk

    Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 2014Vol. 51, No. 6, 584594, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2013.796719

    2013 Taylor & Francis

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  • The University of Worcester is known for its commitment to excellent inclusiveHE and has a recent track record in using AI successfully. The IoE, in which thisproject took place, is its largest faculty with student numbers of around 3000 andteaching staff of around 70. In this case, a focus on inclusivity was chosen becausethis work sought to enhance the Universitys practices in this area, building on pre-vious success as part of a wider national HE Academy project (Chapman, 2011;May & Bridger, 2010). This could have been problematic, and interpreted as teach-ing granny to suck eggs, given the IoEs established and respected Centre for Edu-cational Inclusion but our approach promised to highlight, build-on and use, ratherthan question, their expertise; an inclusive approach to inclusion.

    The educational developers perspective: the benefits of AI as educationaldevelopment

    Manathunga (2006, 2007) has rightly drawn attention to the discomfort felt bymany educational developers which comes from being trapped in that painful spacebetween managerial quality-assurance agendas and critical, personal understandingsof the roles and purposes of educational development (Manathunga, 2007, p. 29).While we may like to see ourselves as liberating enablers, helping colleagues toblossom as educators; managers and academic colleagues often see us as a key partof the institutional framework for domesticating colleagues and bringing them intoline with the latest strategies, policies and agendas (Land, 2001, p. 9). This has per-versely become more problematic in recent years, as quality frameworks in HEhave made what should be a positive move from quality assurance to qualityenhancement (Raban, 2007). As well, perhaps, as encouraging quality managers tobecome more developmental, this has all too often dragged educational develop-ment into becoming an arm of quality management. The move from quality assur-ance to quality enhancement frameworks means a shift from making mereintermittent checks to becoming increasingly interested in driving improved organi-sational performance through continuous cycles of audits, evaluations, reports andaction plans (Hussey & Smith, 2010). Educational developers increasingly findthemselves deployed to deliver and police action to address identified deficits;improving poor student evaluation scores, addressing action plan targets, trainingcolleagues in the latest policy change or otherwise drafted-in to address perceivedpoor performance. Such approaches have division, distrust and negativity built-in tothem; establishing opposition between critiqued and critic, damaging learning com-munities by emphasising division and embedding the rhetoric of whingeing stu-dents, interfering central services and intransigent academic staff. It is smallwonder that this alienates many academic colleagues and makes us feel profoundlyuneasy.

    AI offers a means of engaging colleagues and students in educational develop-ment without the baggage of these deficit-driven, performance managementapproaches. It adopts deliberately affirmative assumptions about people, organisa-tions and relationships (Ludema et al., 2001, p. 191). The focus throughout, then,is not on problems, failings and deficits but on strengths, successes, opportunitiesand innovations. Students are not invited or encouraged to see themselves as com-plaining customers, nor are academic staff positioned as defensive traditionalists,instead a dialogue is started about what works. AIs fundamental question, whatgives life here? re-focuses our attention away from complaint, blame and critique,

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  • and towards nurturing, celebration and invention. This is clearly better aligned withthe spirit of educational development as fostering growth and facilitating emancipa-tion. While critique establishes division, AI nourishes academic communitiesthrough the mutual celebration of what is good and life-giving in the present fol-lowed by the generative, co-creation of a vision for an even better future. This is anapproach which eschews critique as a starting point or action planning as an endpoint, instead preferring to help expose the positive core (Cooperrider & Witney,1999) of the community as a means of engaging its enthusiasm and energy inachieving its hopes and dreams. The two clinching arguments when engaging ourIoE in this activity were that it would seek to build on their existing strengths andit would not result in another action plan!

    The use of an AI approach to educational development thus addresses a numberof current issues. Smith and Rust (2011) draw attention to the current fragmentationof the academic community, and the importance of building and supporting aca-demic communities of practice which includes not just academic staff but studentsand related administrative staff. AI is a highly appropriate tool for this because itseeks to engage key stakeholders in the conversation from the outset and involvethem all in establishing their shared vision for a positive future. The approach setout here also engages students as active partner in the project from the outset andthroughout (Seale, 2010; Trowler, 2010). The student researchers were able togather data from their peers, and establish the tone and specific focus of the emerg-ing discussion based on their analysis and framing of the findings. The project thuspromoted student research-based learning (Healey, 2005) and brought the develop-ment of research and teaching together (Jenkins, Healey, & Zetter, 2007). Thedevelopment of research-informed teaching (Jenkins, 2005) from the process alsogave students a voice in ongoing curriculum development while avoiding the usualpitfalls of tokenistic participation on committees in the typical quality managementframeworks (Carey, 2011). This steps beyond the classroom setting in addressingMcWilliams wish to reposition teacher and student as co-directors and co-editorsof their social world (McWilliam, 2008, p. 263).

    The AI process works through a four stage model, the 4D cycle, of discovery,dream, design and destiny. Before this can happen, a suitable focus for study has tobe identified. The focus is important in AI as the approachs underlying theory isthat organisations move in the direction of what they study (Ludema et al., 2001,p. 192) (Figure 1).

    The Discovery phase of AI seeks to establish the positives in the current situa-tion. It is the key research phase, and involves the collection and collation of posi-tive comment from key stakeholders. In this case, it involved the studentresearchers gathering data about what their fellow students felt the Institute madethem feel included. This data are then analysed in a particular way, seeking to drawtogether the statements into a focused set of propositional statements which setout, in generalised terms, the best of the current situation, culture and practices.These statements are intended to be idealised and provocative in their tone andbreadth. Once these statements have been framed, they can provide the basis for theDream phase. At this second phase, the whole group is encouraged to worktogether to build on the best of what is and envision a future where these state-ments are not just true in certain cases but as a matter of course. Colleagues con-sider what the Institute would be like if it was attuned to their values and whatcould be if it constantly delivered on their ideals.

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  • The third phase of AI moves on from this vision to co-construction: whatshould the future Institute look like and what would be its guiding values, princi-ples and practices be? The conversation is particularly important at this stage.Everyone must feel included and that they are contributing towards the forging of ashared set of principles. Here, the focus tightens to identifying and building on whathas been established as the positive core of the Institute, what really matters tothem and what they and their stakeholders value about what they do. Finally, theDestiny phase invites colleagues to live their ideas, to innovate and act to move theInstitute towards their vision. This is not about establishing an action plan but aboutestablishing a sense of purpose and a will to move forward.

    The student researchers perspective: experiences, research and findings

    We were selected as student researchers and invited to attend a training sessionabout the process of an AI and how this will support research into inclusion. Areflection by one of us illustrates the value of students researching with staff: I amcurrently studying towards my Masters Degree in Education at the University ofWorcester, whilst also working full time as a secondary school ICT Teacher.Research has always interested me and I have therefore made it an important partof my professional development as a teacher and as an individual. I was asked tobe a part of a research group which consists of three students and three seniormembers of staff. Naturally this was of great interest to me and I was really excitedabout the prospect of being a student researcher for the University. The initialtraining phase of the AI process was fundamental in setting the tone for the rela-tionship between students and staff. The training was very informative and gave thethree of us the opportunity to gain a good understanding of what would beexpected. The relaxed and interactive nature of the training session allowed manystudent/staff barriers to be removed. Our input and ideas were valued and respectedenabling us to confidently share our thoughts and ideas. Subsequent face-to-facemeetings were held which improved team cohesion between ourselves and the aca-demic staff, and saw the shaping and development of the project.

    Figure 1. The AI process.

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  • As student researchers, we were all at different stages of our own learning jour-neys, two of us working towards Masters level and one of us a first-year undergrad-uate. Throughout our learning journeys, we have each overcome a number ofbarriers and challenges. Our own experiences have given us an incredible insightinto the difference that can be made to learning, self-esteem and motivation wheninclusion is effective. We each felt passionate about the possible outcome of theproject and the potential for other students to benefit as a result.

    Our role within the research group was to gather data from our peers, on thetopic of Inclusivity at the IoE and to relay this data back to the entire institute ata staff development day. The undertaking of the data collection brought the oppor-tunity to stretch all three of us as developing practitioners. Our brief was to collectdata from the student body with the overarching question of how is the IoE inclu-sive? We aimed to gain a perspective into what inclusivity means to students andto explore if this has been reflected in their personal experiences. We sought to col-lect meaningful data that would feed into the following stages of the process high-lighting the students view to the staff in order for them to enhance policy andpractice.

    The first stage of this discovery phase was the post-it activity. It allowed us toget a snapshot of the overall feeling from the students within the IoE. These cohortsincluded a variety of students ranging from undergraduates, postgraduates, interna-tional students and those with or without a declared disability. After a brief explana-tion of the appreciative approach and the reason for focusing upon the positiveaspects, each student was given three post-its. They were asked to write down oneach post-it an adjective that best described their positive feelings about studyingwith the IoE. We began by collecting three positive adjectives from each studentrespondent via an anonymous post it. This way the students were free to expresstheir honest views on inclusivity whilst remaining within the appreciative frame-work. As a group we collected 176 student responses, 522 words were expressedand 58 different adjectives were revealed. During one of our research meetings, weexplored our findings in more depth to highlight the top 12 adjectives which weremost popular among the student opinions. We tallied the responses from the post-itactivity to give us clear quantitative results to display both in diagram and writtenform.

    Figure 2 below shows a summary of the results. Welcoming and Interestingwere the top two adjectives described by the students, closely followed by, Helpful,Friendly, Inspiring, Supportive and Enjoyable. All of the words highlighted offereda positive platform on which to launch our staff development event to the Instituteand provided a productive start to our investigation.

    The second stage of the discovery phase consisted of interviews. Eachresearcher carried out individual interviews with students from a target group. Inorder for some students to access this process we conducted their interview elec-tronically, either over the phone or via email. Others were interviewed face to face.This target group consisted of those students within the Institute who had declareda disability. Within the IoE, in the academic year 20102011, 177 out of 2902students declared a disability. These disabilities ranged from specific learning diffi-culties such as dyslexia, deaf/partial hearing, wheelchair/mobility, blind/partialsighted, mental health, autistic spectrum disorder e.g. Aspergers syndrome, learningdifficulties, multiple disabilities, unseen disability and others that were notdisclosed. From interviews with disabled students, we sought to collect more quali-

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  • tative data which we would use at a later date to construct propositional statements.Our aim was to engage the student into a dialogue which explored their knowledgeof inclusivity and informed us of their personal experiences, so that this could beused at the staff development day. We explained to the interviewees why the use ofthe appreciative method would encourage constructive optimism within the univer-sity (IoE) staff, when they heard the phrases to describe an experience which theyhad helped to create. Furthermore, we anticipated that if staff felt under confidentor unsure of how their practice had been viewed by students, the phrases wouldpositively reassure them and offer a message of inspiration for future practices.Before undertaking these interviews, however, we devised questions which wouldelicit meaningful and positive information. We devised the following questionsabout the positive and life-giving nature of being in the IoE and asked them of ninedisabled students from three different courses:

    What do you enjoy most about university life and study? Describe an occasion when you were made to feel included and valued byyour tutor[s]?

    Describe how you have been energised and engaged in learning by specificteaching activities?

    What has the Institute done to help you feel included throughout your learn-ing journey?

    In what ways have the facilities at Worcester supported your learning? What positive impact has being part of the IoE or your course had on yourpersonal and professional development?

    How has the university made you feel safe and confident to share your indi-vidual needs?

    How have your individual learning needs been supported throughout yourcourse?

    How have other students supported your development?

    The transcripts of responses from the targeted and structured individualinterviews were analysed and formulated into aspiring phrases which we

    Figure 2. The top 12 adjectives in rank order identified by IoE students during the AIpost-it activity (University of Worcester, 2011).

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  • constructed as a whole team and these formed the basis for our propositionalstatements. We felt that they summarised the students positive experience at theIoE and that they could be viewed by the Institute staff at a later day. Indeed, thesestatements were created to aid staff to recognise the positives and their strengths asa team. They also sought to motivate and inspire staff to strive to make improve-ments both individually and as a whole in relation to inclusive teaching andlearning. The propositional statements constructed were that the IoE was inclusivewhen:

    staff welcome student contributions to the learning experience, cultural diversity is embraced, it sets high expectations and supports students in achieving them, mutual peer support is facilitated within and beyond taught sessions, opportunities are provided to attend extra events/ conferences organised bythe institute,

    we are actively engaged in creative learning experiences, and finally, students appreciate the genuine and caring nature of tutors and feel they areaccessible.

    Each statement was followed up with extracts from the transcripts to show thecontext from which they had been constructed and give meaningful illustrations tostaff.

    We gathered all of the data and information we had obtained through ourresearch, and constructed a presentation and video to deliver to the staff of the IoE.This worked very successfully during the staff development day to highlight to staffwhat in their practice was successful and also offered them the chance to envisioninclusive practice.

    A reflection by the youngest student in the team encapsulates the benefits of thiswork beyond the requirement of the project:

    As a student researcher I feel this whole process has supported my growth as apractitioner. The skills I have learnt both from an academic and communicativeperspective have proved incredibly valuable as I have progressed through into mysecond year of university. The AI Approach itself has influenced my thinking and itwill most defiantly shape my practice as a future teacher.

    Academic staffs perspective: inspired change for enhanced practice and futuredevelopment

    A significant stage within the AI process consisted of a presentation and activitiesat an IoE staff development day on 10 June 2011, which was attended by some 70academic and support staff working in Early Childhood, Educational Inclusion, Pri-mary, Secondary and Post-Compulsory Education. This work was set within thecontext of a day focused on inclusion issues and coincided with a University Dis-ability Awareness Day. The project team introduced the concept of AI to the staff.For many present this was a new methodology, and the essential positivity of theresearch questions generated conversation during the event, with the realisation thatpositivity and rigour are not mutually exclusive.

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  • The student researchers presented the outcomes of their post-it and interviewresearch. In a modelling of a post-it research activity, staff were invited to recordthree positive adjectives which they imagined students would use to describe theirfeelings about the IoE. These adjectives were then compared to the students ownfindings. There was a good deal of commonality, and staff were fascinated by thestudents positivity. This matching of two perspectives was rewarding and construc-tive. Concluding propositional statements (as listed in the student researchers sec-tion of this article) were offered as stimuli to further activity. This interestingmixture of principles and specifics stimulated further discussion.

    Following the student presentation, staff participated in a Dream phase activity.They were encouraged to respond to the student research by creating, in groups,pictures representing their ideals for an inclusive Institute. The discussion was richand creative, and the notion of research based on strengths rather than deficitsbegan to generate enthusiastic outcomes. For example, one group envisaged the IoEas a vegetable soup in which individual diversity was welcome and essential tooverall well-being.

    The Design phase then began with groups of staff envisaging structural under-pinnings for an inclusive operation. Staff debated the principles and values of inclu-sion and drew up wish-lists in groups which defined and framed their sharedvisions for good inclusive practice, using the following questions:

    What would be our guiding principles if we were this perfect inclusiveorganisation?

    What is our working definition of inclusivity? What makes inclusivity work for colleagues and students? What matters to us about being inclusive? What are the possibilities that enhance the potential for inclusivity here?

    Attitudes which may have been initially suspicious of the compulsory generosityof spirit of AI were modified through these activities into genuine involvement. Theabandonment of the deficit-repair planning model encouraged energetic forwardthinking and engagement with principles rather than pragmatism. For the Destinyphase, staff generated inclusion priorities at personal, team and institutional levels.Overall, these suggest a growing determination to share inclusive practice, to beexplicit about inclusion, to take note of student voice and to exploit individualitywithin our structures and pedagogies, reconciling the notion of standards and bench-marks with differentiation and nonconformity. Diversity is to be seen increasinglyas a resource to be used rather than a problem to be solved.

    There was also a strong response to the AI approach in general terms and sug-gestions that further staff development could be based on the celebration of positiv-ity and the importance of student voice within that. Feedback on the day wasindeed overwhelmingly positive. Staff valued the (appropriately) diverse, creativeand collaborative nature of the activities. The students AI presentation wasregarded as excellent by many respondents, and most staff (54 out of 57 respon-dents) spoke of its value for preparing them to work better at inclusivity. The invi-tation to creativity was welcome as a liberating gateway to planning. The sharing ofperceptions of our work with students perceptions, in both the structure and thecontent of the Discovery phase, were welcomed as invigorating and reassuring.There was however some comment to the effect that avoiding practicalities meant

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  • that some problems (for example, problems of language) were not addressed andremain therefore as inhibitors to progress.

    Some respondents considered this an unusually successful day of staff develop-ment. Two participants described it as the best day Ive ever attended. Oneresponded commented that It was delightful to discover that what we value andhope to achieve is supported and recognised by students. This alignment of sharedvalues is empowering. The inclusion of student researchers within a staff develop-ment day was powerfully emblematic of inclusion as an issue not just of problem-solving or of internationalism but of the constant value of the student voice withinour planning.

    In order to establish a personal will or commitment to change in line with theiridentified concerns, all staff anonymously wrote pledges to themselves at the staffdevelopment day which were then sent back to them at the start of the academicyear to rekindle the flame, after the summer break, of the positive, life-giving nat-ure of the AI student research. Although these pledges are still personal to staff,evidence seems to suggest that they have had a positive and stimulating impact onindividual academic staff and their students. These have ranged from small andpractical changes, such as colleagues changing slide colour in PowerPoint presenta-tions or lectures, to large and long-term changes, such as policy and principle state-ments, such as embedding a requirement on courses, for student participation invalidations and reviews of courses. What has also been gleaned from meetings withcolleagues is how the student presentation to staff, using AI methodology, hasinspired some staff to use the methodology itself in their own Learning and Teach-ing. For instance, a Professional Studies colleague has successfully replicated thepost-it activity with his students, to elicit what works well on the course, havingpledged to use AI as an evaluation tool for this key mandatory module on teacherEducation programmes. His practice is being shared across the Institute.

    A number of priorities were subsequently taken on by teams for the develop-ment of enhanced inclusive practice in the various teaching departments thatconstitute the IoE, for the academic year of 20112012 and beyond. Indeed, theacademic year started with away days where these priorities were explored,discussed and translated into feasible and concrete actions to suit the variedprogrammes that are taught across the IoE. Examples of areas that staff wanted torevisit at the start of the academic year and which they had started formulating as aconsequence of the inspiring staff development event sparked by the studentpresentation include the following staff-generated areas for consideration forSecondary and Post-compulsory Education:

    Involving students in more of the planning/review of courses/changes (not justCourse Committees)

    Ensuring that culture and teaching international students is in the curriculum Monitoring/developing recognition and exploitation of cultures and perspec-tives represented in our student population

    EAL exposure and considering how to prepare students to work with pupilswith EAL

    These were then translated into concrete positive actions, now taking place forthe year, such as a successful bid written by a group of staff (across the IoE) whichhas secured national funding for a sustainable project of EAL enhancements, due to

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  • start in January 2012 for six months. Another team at the IoE has decided to embedinclusion by making it the focus of all of their Peer Learning Through Observations(a requirement for all university academic departments). This way inclusion is neverpushed to the backburner and is mainstreamed within L&T practice. Other teams,such as a group of Early Childhood staff, have embedded inclusion within the re-approval process of their courses for 20112012. The re-approval process also gavethe team an opportunity to reflect further on what inclusion really meant for theirarea of work. They are developing, for example, a shared understanding of whatthey mean by celebrating diversity and whether they and their students share thisunderstanding. As a team they also organised training to help with a deeper under-standing of diversity, in order to enhance professional roles.

    All of these activities for the year ahead and beyond (in some cases, planned forthe next five years) have made academic staff work together more and cross-fertilisation across teams has been in evidence, including with developments ine-learning and e-tivities; Internationalisation (including EAL), Peer LearningThrough Observation on inclusive practice and the deeper issues around staffmotivation, including for a better understanding of what inclusion and diversityreally mean in practice.

    It is clear that there is an increased amount of evidence of how the AI, with thestudent presentation at its core, has had a tremendous impact on Learning, Teach-ing, Research, Assessment and the Review and Planning of courses by academicstaff at the Institute. The implications for future work are beginning to emerge, suchas more projects involving students as researchers and as staff developers. TheHead of IoE has proposed, after discussions with staff and students, that two suchstaff-student research projects would be encouraged, per year, and this has furthernurtured a positive attitude towards educational development, a higher profile ofinclusivity and a deep appreciation of the possibilities of co-construction with stu-dents. This in itself is proof that the project presented in this paper has struck achord with staff and students at all levels of the Institute and has translated themomentous positivity that it inspired in staff in the first place into a programme offeasible and enhancing educational development activities.

    Notes on contributorsKarima Kadi-Hanifi is learning and teaching Coordinator for the IoE at the University ofWorcester.

    Ozlem Dagman is a student, currently completing a Masters of Science in Leadership andManagement at the IoE, University of Worcester.

    John Peters is deputy head of Academic Development and Practice at the University ofWorcester.

    Ellen Snell is a student, currently on the second-year Bachelor of Arts (with QualifiedTeacher Status) for Primary Education at the IoE, University of Worcester.

    Caroline Tutton is a student, currently completing a Masters of Arts in Education at the IoE,University of Worcester.

    Trevor Wright is senior teaching fellow at the IoE, University of Worcester.

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