Reflections on the PAL Leader Conference – November 2015

Having had a very stressful, tiring and trying summer/semester 1, this was the perfect antidote. For me, spending time with other staff members who understand the struggles of PAL regardless of size of the scheme or institution was so refreshing and made me feel optimistic about returning to work on Monday!

Whilst overly a Leader conference, this year there were 30 members of staff alongside the 90 Leaders; more than ever before, which made it have a more staff community feel as well as a Leader one. Thirty three institutions were represented from the UK, Ireland and Europe and Bath as a University were excellent hosts. This year I attended the conference along with Michael Knight and three PAL Leaders: Max Gifford (Media Production), Grace Clark (Archaeology & Anthropology) and Georgie Merrett (Social Work.) Such a lot happened over the weekend so I’ve put the highlights below:

  • Plenty of icebreakers: These included ‘hook a duck’, play-do to represent PAL and creating PAL related board games. These were great as they really got the students engaging and getting to know each other but also to explore more about PAL and what other institutions do with regards to the scheme. The team challenges are always an excellent addition to the conference as tables compete to win a prize at the end. It was great to see our three Leaders getting involved and presenting different parts of the team challenge along the way (such as creating and presenting a PAL shield). Whilst the staff team sadly didn’t place in the top 3 (frankly, we were robbed!), Grace and Max’s teams finished 3rd and 2nd respectively so something to celebrate!
  • Key note speakers: The key note speaker was Nigel Linacre who is the co-founder and inspirational speaker for the company LeadNow. As his title suggested, Nigel was very inspiring whilst being incredibly softly spoken. I was unsure what to think of him at first but he really grew on me, he talked a lot about self-reflection and exploring our values when it comes to self-awareness. This culminated in an exercise where in pairs one person had to put one arm up whilst shouting ‘strong, confident, firm’ and when the other member of the pair put their arm on the outstretched arm to push it down, you couldn’t- or at least you met a lot of resistance! Then if we swapped and said ‘weak, miserable, poor’ when the other member put their hand on the arm to push it down it went straight down with little resistance. We as staff spent some time with Nigel after the session as a Q&A with him. We discussed coaching and feedback, a lot of valuable ideas that I have brought back and put into the training for our Peer Support Leaders next year.
  • Parallel sessions: I only was able to complete one of the parallel sessions and workshops. The one I did attend was around academic writing, interesting for someone who shares an office with librarians and I also gained a number of study skills session ideas for PAL Central particularly around essay planning and writing academically. The other sessions included ‘Blame it on the brain’ around unconscious bias and a ‘Let’s Talk Tech’ session around using different technologies in PAL.
  • Staff sessions: With so many staff attending the conference, a number of sessions were put on especially for staff. This included a staff icebreaker using Hula Hoops (basically musical chairs with hoops!), I came third- an admiral effort considering I was in high heels! On the Sunday, 6 staff members did a series of ‘ignite’ presentations (present for 5 minutes where the PowerPoint slides move every 15 seconds with 10 minutes worth of questions) around areas of our schemes we wanted to ‘show-off’, so for me, and area we are ahead on is our VLE and use of it for PAL. I was chosen to go first but managed to make it through the 5 minutes with many questions afterwards and since I’ve had a number of institutions wanting access to PAL Central which is encouraging!
  • Evening activities: The first night was a tiring one and after dinner we completed a pub style quiz (my team were robbed by the fact everyone else was clearly cheating!), with a particular highlight being a Disney themed round! The Saturday night however started walking through the streets of the beautiful city of Bath to the Victoria Art Gallery for a civic reception with the chairman of Bath Council. The building was beautiful and after shaking hands with Mr Chairman at the door we had a 45 minute reception officially welcoming us to the city. We then went onto the restaurant where we had a delicious meal (even if it took 4 hours to get through 3 courses!) and many of us sampled crayfish for the first time…still in its fishy form!!

So overall a thoroughly engaging and inspiring weekend, not just for me, but for the Leaders as well who in truth didn’t want to come home again! You could tell they were enthusiastic because they had LOADS of ideas and recommendations for me! These included: more resources and technologies to enable further facilitation such as string and board games; potentially adding PAL to graduation certificates to reflect its importance in the student journey; and creating a ‘social team’ to encourage more Leader co-operation and sharing of practise (I also got the idea of an internal Leader conference from another institution.) Overall, a great weekend…even if I did have to work!

The event has been storified.

Charlotte Thackeray

Peer Learning Officer | | 01202965322

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