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Just being

Just being: the leadership journey of a Deputy Vice-Chancellor

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What can we learn from others about the intricacies and opportunities of leadership?

Dr Jane Rand, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at York St John University, tells the story of her leadership journey; from completing a diploma at night school to her most recent appointment working alongside colleagues to shape the future direction of her institution.

Education is transformational: for individuals, communities and wider societies. Education has been, and continues to be, transformational for me; but I was, by many measures, a “late-starter”.

I found my way into education from working in the NHS, first as a medical secretary in a general hospital and, over time, moving into management of large GP practices. Along the way, I completed a Diploma in Management Studies (DMS), at night School, in a Further Education College.

Some years later, that DMS opened the door to University entry as a mature student.

As a mature student on an undergraduate business programme I was focussed. I was focussed because I’d given up a salary to do my degree.

Doing something, and being someone, different

I trusted myself to do that. But of course, that’s not what happened.

I’d given up a salary to do my degree, to get a better job in the NHS. I trusted myself to do that. But of course, that’s not what happened. What happened was that I began to see myself doing something, and being someone, different. In fact, after a tortuous lecture on critical path analysis, where the lecturer succeeded neither in explaining the process, nor enabling any of the students to successfully design a critical path, I found myself learning and leading a small group of similarly confused students through the principles of critical path analysis from a book in the library.

..there was always a critical path question in the end of year exam, so this was critical to our path(s)..

And it was critical to my path too; I began to see myself doing something, and being someone different. I began to see myself as having a role in other people’s learning.

And so, I trained to teach, and taught in a Business School of a large general Further Education College; combining work with study, I also completed a Master’s in Education.

Whilst completing that degree, I remember quite clearly being in a busy University lift one Saturday morning and overhearing a short conversation, having stopped for someone to get out. As the doors closed, I heard:

“Who’s that?”
“Oh, she’s new; she’s great. She’s just finished her doctorate”.

…and the seed was sown… I knew I wanted to progress to a doctorate.

Over time, and combining work with part-time doctoral study, my career became one of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Further Education; of leading the learning typically of professionals who, like me, had changed career and moved into education. And over time, I began to see myself not only as capable of doing something different but, significantly, of being no different to that person in the lift.

Being no different

It means thinking about yourself in ways that recognise what connects rather than what divides.

Seeing yourself as being no different to others means seeing yourself doing something, occupying a role, or having a view, in a way that is appropriate, credible, or reasonable. There is a legitimacy. It means thinking about yourself in ways that recognise what connects rather than what divides. Most recently for me, that means seeing myself credibly as a Deputy Vice Chancellor.

As I pause now, twelve years after seeing myself as no different to that person in the lift, I can reflect on the value, benefit and impact of my learning and leadership journey in higher education – the place that became my professional home as my work developed into leading University ITE partnerships, moved into teaching Education Studies, and became firmly rooted in the leadership of learning and teaching.

The value, benefit and impact of my leadership centres on enhancing students’ experience(s), typically through enabling others to develop their pedagogic and leadership practices. I believe strongly that this results from my choice of a professional doctorate route (an EdD), where the challenge to candidates is to make an original contribution to knowledge and to practice. For me, this was the creation, and application in a real context, of a conceptual model based on my strong belief that ‘knowledge’ and ‘skill’ are mutually sustaining and developmental.

It is my strong belief that learning and leadership are founded on the same principles: the ability to inspire, support and empower.

Mutuality continues to inform my leadership, teaching, and research practice, and the work that I began through doing a professional doctorate has added value to learning and leadership in my University roles at the level of modules, programmes, teams, Department, School and University-wide. It is my strong belief that learning and leadership are founded on the same principles: the ability to inspire, support and empower. The opportunity now, as a senior leader within higher education, to be able to craft that for others is a privilege.

Being yourself as a leader…a strong sense of purpose.

Of course, I am different from the person in the lift.

I am different from the person who studied for a DMS, and from the mature student who studied business, and who chose a professional doctorate route.

Being yourself is not fixed.

Being yourself as a leader is not fixed either; but fixing who you are as a leader, that is fastening or securing what being a leader means for you, is important.

For me, fixing who I am as a leader meant reflecting on where I was from:

I am from…a passion for raising ambition
I am from…fostering inclusivity and harnessing diversity
I am from…empowering others
I am from…trusting myself
I am from…a drive to be more
I am from…finding value, and
I am from…a strong sense of purpose.


Dr Jane Rand

Dr Jane Rand is Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) at York St John University. Jane is a champion of Education and of lifelong learning, having characterised her own career development by combining part-time study with work. Her publications advance ideas and thinking, and are known for being critical, reflective, and evaluative of higher education leadership and teaching practices. Jane is a Chartered Manager and, in November 2018, was awarded Principal Fellowship of the HEA (PFHEA).

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