A Day in the Life - Kelle McQuade

Mon 03 Feb 2014

Kelle McQuade can justly claim that her job at Milton Keynes College has an impact on every student in every class.  As the Head of Improvement & Innovation – Teaching & Learning, it is up to her to make sure that all the teaching staff are as good as they can be.  The way she does it is to get the staff to help each other.

“Everybody has different strengths,” she says, “and what I do is to find the staff who are especially good at one particular area or style of teaching and put them together with others who could benefit from coaching and mentoring in those areas.  It’s about everyone sharing their experience and expertise and helping them to do their jobs as well as they can.” 

The systems cuts across departments and disciplines so that a good catering lecturer with particular skills can be helping colleagues who teach anything from Sport to Computing to Hairdressing or Maths.  It is quite a departure from more traditional approaches where one lecturer in each department would have responsibility for bringing on others who also taught the same subject.  “Teaching methods aren’t necessarily specific to subject areas,” she says.  “Many of the skills and techniques can be applied across the board and it’s a great way to open everyone’s eyes to different or better ways of doing things.  Knowing the best way to get a lesson off to a good start or to promote student participation are common to different disciplines.  This way we share best practice and everyone benefits.”

Staff are regularly observed at work so Kelle’s team can see who needs what help.  She admits that sometimes there can be resistance or unease when this kind of support is offered but says that once they have seen the benefits most staff members are just glad of the chance to learn and improve.  “We offer Continuing Professional Development sessions individually and for whole departments.  We have drop-in sessions at both Chaffron Way and Bletchley campuses and we send out email hints and tips.  It’s important to be seen as supportive rather than Big Brother and at the end of the day it’s all about making the experience better for students.  It’s what we’re here for.”

Kelle says it is incredibly satisfying to see the effect of her team’s work across the organisation.  “When it works well it sends a ripple right through the College.  You see someone who is giving the mentoring grow and develop their coaching skills.  You see the lecturers they’re helping improve and you see the students reap the overall benefits.”

Kelle started at the College in 2003 as an unqualified teacher working on the Prince’s Trust Team Programme helping young unemployed people learn essential skills and build self-confidence.  At thirty she is head of a vital department.  She says she never ceases to be inspired by the way staff members run with the ideas her team provides.  “College is all about personal development but not just for the students.  It is wonderful to see a lecturer learn new approaches or refine existing ones.  It makes them better at what they do but it also makes them happier and more fulfilled in their work.  Everyone wants to do a good job so obviously they feel better about life when they have the chance to improve.”

In her spare time Kelle is a runner but after a marathon and seven half marathons she admits to having a love-hate relationship with it.  “Sometimes when I’m pounding along and it’s cold and wet I wonder, “What on earth am I doing this for?” but it is a great way to clear the head and I really do like to keep fit.”  She has spent most of her life in Milton Keynes and says she has no desire to be away from the College or the city.  “As a place it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.  I’m very happy in Milton Keynes.”  When she runs, Kelle says, she just keeps on going; keeps on trying to get better.  Just like at work, making small improvements, giving little bits of help and support, one person at a time.

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