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Creating a Teaching Academy – the Devil in the Details?

Last month I was in Copenhagen for a working seminar about Teaching Academies. And though I tried to dress for the occasion, I still felt a bit frumpy. Scandinavian esthetic tends to make me feel that way, like I’m upsetting a delicate balance. At the same time I find the clean design and eye for detail enviable and soothing. Our hosts’ modest, soft-spoken and well-organized approach to the task at hand had a similar re-assuring effect: let’s get to work, ask the right questions, put our thoughts to paper, eat some really truly very excellent fish, and wrap things up neatly.

The reason for my visit was that a group of individuals from across the University of Copenhagen has been charged with setting up a Teaching Academy. To help them, they invited some experts who were recently involved in similar efforts, from Finland, Sweden, the States, and the Netherlands. Compared to Copenhagen, Utrecht has a rather extensive system of teacher education and support in place, which provided the backdrop against which we were able to create our TAUU ‘docentcommunity’ platform last year. Jan van Tartwijk (COLUU) and I presented these two branches of the Utrecht model.

Our Copenhagen colleagues, it seems, are charged with creating both the formal structure (comparable, perhaps, to our BKO/SKO model) and the more informal community at the same time. As a result they are a bit bogged down by having to ask formal, structural, and even political questions (for example, ‘what are the criteria for TA membership?’). And throughout, as they found their more formal answers, they would sigh: ‘the devil really is in the details!’ They are Danes, after all!

But is that true? Is there a devil, and is it in the details? As I was walking back to the hotel, I came across a lovely example of elegant Danish eye-for-detail design: two faces sculpting a little fence (see photo). It suddenly struck me as a most meaningful metaphor. It’s not the structural details that make a Teaching Academy, but the faces of the individuals that shape its impact. And that is how it should be designed!

In the end, our collaborative efforts in Copenhagen also sparked a conversation about what a Teaching Academy ought to be and what it ought to do. Very inspiring! Of course it is not about the details, and there are no devils either. To quote (some of) what our Danish colleagues concluded: ‘A teaching academy is a meeting place for enthusiastic teachers. It is a place for support. It is a pro-active community, initiating and supporting innovation. It is a driving force for change and a natural authority. A teaching academy is a light and open space, full of laughter, excitement, and creativity.’
How cool is that?!

Christel Lutz, October 2013 (c.i.lutz@uu.nl)

faces copenhagen
24 oktober 2013

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