Case #11: Enacting Educational Leadership Through an Education-Focused Career Pathway


DISCIPLINE:Higher Education, Academic Development
RESEARCH AREAS: Academic identity, evaluation of teaching


Recognition and reward of teaching is becoming increasingly important in higher education. In a process led by the Provost’s Office, the education-focused pathway (the ‘educator track’) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) was recently overhauled in order to clarify expectations for promotion. The Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning supported the process of revising and enhancing the pathway by providing research-informed advice, and by devising academic development opportunities for prospective applicants.


In 2015, the NUS Provost’s Office set up a task force, with representatives from across the university, to examine the challenges associated with the current educator track and propose a way forward. Their proposals for change focused on ensuring that the educator track should provide a clear and well-articulated pathway for career progression, and should offer parity of esteem and harmonization with the university’s tenure track. To attain these ends, it was critical to ensure: (1) robust evidence of student learning that goes beyond perception, as is the case with student evaluations of teaching (SETs); (2) educational leadership through sharing of evidence of student learning, and (3) arm’s length review. Accordingly, the university overhauled criteria to reflect principles (1) and (2) and, to meet (3), constituted an external review panel for appointment and promotion to Associate Professor on the track. The panel consists of experts in higher education learning and teaching who, in lieu of external letters, prepare an evaluation based on the dossier. They interview applicants for appointment to Associate Professor remotely and, in the case of promotions, also visit the campus to observe classes.


Underpinned by a recognition of the complexity of academic practice and academic identity, which in the context of higher education is lodged in the discipline within which an academic has developed expertise and conducts research, the NUS educator track career pathway takes a strength-based approach (Fung, 2017) to career progression. It thereby seeks to integrate the different dimensions and roles of academics, while at the same time recognising and rewarding their particular and diverse strengths in the teaching part of their roles (Fung & Gordon, 2016). In requiring demonstration of student learning through scholarly inquiry into and documentation of evidence of student learning, as well as evidence of educational leadership through sharing such scholarly inquiry, the enhanced educator career track both requires educational leadership and itself enacts it. With reference to the Five-Pillar Model (Fields, Kenny, & Muller, 2019), the track enacts educational leadership by being action-oriented in that it expects demonstration of teaching excellence, while providing clear criteria and standards for such excellence. The track further expects that successful candidates take the lead by providing formal or informal mentorship to colleagues, and it seeks to empower them through provision of development opportunities. Such empowerment requires affective qualities, in particular the building of trust, which crucially means being attuned to and respectful of academics’ identity within/across their disciplines.

One implication of this respect is a redefinition of what is understood by ‘pedagogical research’. What the educator track requires is not that academics change their identity in the service of promotion by expecting them to publish research in pedagogy, but instead to inquire into their teaching and their students’ learning so as to represent changes in learning: to demonstrate that they have made a difference. They need to go public with their inquiries, but there is no requirement that the act of going public meet research standards for the reason that they are experts in their disciplines, not the discipline of education. Instead of a narrow focus on publication and research quality evidence of student learning, candidates are expected to go public by documenting and sharing their inquiries locally within the department and the university, so as to shape teaching and learning culture. It is this act of sharing that constitutes educational leadership in that it influences the practice of other colleagues in the department, faculty, school, or university—an influence that can itself be documented. Educational leadership is thus conceived as influence on other colleagues within the department and the institution more widely (though with seniority, also beyond it), and it is integrated with inquiry into student learning.

“Educational leadership is thus conceived as influence on other colleagues within the department and the institution more widely (though with seniority, also beyond it), and it is integrated with inquiry into student learning.”


The first two promotion rounds under NUS’s new policy for the education-focused track have been completed. With these completed cycles have come valuable feedback from the external review panel, as well as from faculty and school representatives. This work has led to international presentations and publications (for example, Geertsema et al., 2018). While formal evaluation still needs to be executed, in particular with regard to the impact on the culture of the institution, the increase in the number of promotion cases submitted under the revised track scheme suggests that greater clarity in criteria and standards as well as what constitutes evidence of impact, and what is needed for progression, has been achieved. In addition, the reforms have had a cascading effect at the university, with changes being made to the ways in which teaching is evaluated—in particular, the need to move beyond student satisfaction in the form of SETs in order to demonstrate changes in student learning—and revisions to teaching excellence awards.


Fields, J., Kenny, N., & Mueller, R. (2019): Conceptualizing educational leadership in an academic development program. International Journal for Academic Development, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2019.1570211

Fung, D. (2017) Strength-based scholarship and good education: The scholarship circle. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 54(2), 101-110. DOI: 10.1080/14703297.2016.1257951

Fung, D. & Gordon, C. (2016). Rewarding educators and education leadership in research-intensive universities. York: Higher Education Academy.

Geertsema, J., Chng, H., Gan, M, & Soong, A. (2018). Teaching excellence and the rise of education-focused employment tracks.” In C. Broughan, G. Steventon, & L. Clouder (Eds.), Global Perspectives on Teaching Excellence: A New Era for Higher Education (pp. 130-142). London: Routledge.


Headshot of Johan Geertsema

Johan Geertsema (PhD, English) moved into the field of academic/educational development after many years teaching literature and academic writing across various institutions. He is an Associate Professor in the NUS University Scholars Programme, where he previously led the Writing and Critical Thinking domain.


As Director of the NUS Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL), Johan is responsible for leading the Centre. This includes directing various initiatives to support academics in their teaching role, including programmes for supporting academics’ professional development and learning; outreach and engagement by the Centre across and beyond the university; and policy and governance advice on matters relating to learning and teaching. In order to strengthen the research-practice nexus, he is active in the field of academic development. Among others, he is a co-editor of IJAD (International Journal for Academic Development), the journal of International Consortium for Educational Development, and is a member of the Universitas 21 Educational Innovation Steering Group.



Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA)
Universitas 21
Network for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Research-Intensive Universities (NETL)
International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL)