A few months ago I was pondering what it is that I really love doing. I spent a Saturday morning freewriting and mind mapping, and by the end it had become clear – teaching! I’d been talking about the fog I’d had around this with my friend Caroline McKenna earlier that week, so I excitedly messaged her as I was getting the bus into town that morning to tell her about my breakthrough.
Her response? “We all knew that Ali – it’s obvious!”
Sometimes others can see the things that we can’t, no matter how hard we look.
For most of my life, my teaching has been done in the world of business. I’m always excited to learn new things, and as a regular speaker, I spend a lot of my time helping others to learn. It makes me happy, and I get a huge sense of achievement when people who come to my workshops and talks tell me how much they’ve learned.
In 2014 I started working at the University of Dundee as Head of Enterprise & Entrepreneurial Strategy. Once we’d designed the strategy for the University, I quickly found myself in a position where I had to design the content for an academic module, and then deliver it. For someone who never went to University, this was kind of a big deal and I threw myself into it with gusto.
Resources were tight, so I didn’t have a great deal of support. Not having an academic background turned out to be an advantage – I tried things that someone with more experience wouldn’t have. I was rapid-prototyping, iterating on the move. We got the module designed and delivered, with high energy and interactivity. It wasn’t what they were used to. But I always had a sense that we were getting through by force of personality, and that the academic rigour wasn’t as strong as it could be.
Fast forward to the winter of 2016. By now I’d moved on from my role at the University (although I’m still the Entrepreneur in Residence), to focus on growing my business. Dr. Louise Valentine from DJCAD got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in helping her deliver a module called 21st Century Designer to 80 second year design students. I jumped at the chance.
We’re two days into a seven day module, the first two days being on consecutive Tuesdays, with a five day Design Sprint taking place next week. I’m having a great time, and as well as helping to teach, I’m learning so much! I’m learning how to plan, organise, communicate, teach, and provide support.
Teaching in an art & design school is more dynamic than in the more ‘traditional’ subjects that I’ve taught on before. I’m learning that you need to be resilient, authentic, open, adaptable, and prepared to expect the unexpected. I’ve also realised how far out of my depth I was before, and still am at times. But this time I have the support of not just an amazing, inspiring, professional colleague in Louise, but also by a wonderful group of students who are teaching me as much as I them.
Next week we enter the sprint. 5 full-on days, working together on a social innovation challenge. I’ve never done a Sprint before. I’m excited, it’s going to be intense, emotional, fun, challenging, and I’m going to learn a lot about myself. I’m ready to lean-in to my discomfort.
I also couldn’t have a better group of people to be working with, all 80 of us. Bring it on!