An increasing number of academic and professional staff are now applying for HEA fellowships. If you have not heard of this scheme before, Advance HE Academy (formerly the Higher Education Academy) provides formal recognition of professional practice in higher education teaching and learning support.

From what I’ve heard, HEA recognition is so embedded in the UK that you can’t have an academic teaching role there without a HEA Fellowship. It looks like Australian universities are quickly getting on board too (including Macquarie).

The process currently is (but it may change): you attend a one-hour information session and a one-day workshop on the UK Professional Standards Framework (the rubric you’ll be assessed against), you then write a reflective piece showing how what you do, what you know and what you value in your professional practice aligns with this Framework.

Before I started my own HEA application, I kept hearing that getting the ‘reflective writing style’ right is probably the biggest challenge for some applicants. Many of us are so used to an impersonal writing style wherein we objectively state facts and avoid emotion, that we feel lost when we are asked to ‘write reflectively’.

What does it mean??


If you are one of these people, I hope that this post might be helpful.

But first of all, you are not alone. Research has shown that reflective writing is indeed quite different from academic and report writing (Moon, 2004). Unlike academic writing, reflective pieces are based on your subjective experience and require considerable self-awareness.

You need to show that you know yourself and understand why you have certain preferences. This self-awareness, in its turn, allows you to manage your strengths and weaknesses in the name of the greater good – student learning.

So your experience and your interpretation of this experience are king (for once!). At the same time, your other skills like critical writing and using literature will certainly help, but they will play a supporting role to your personal story.

Before I confuse you even further, let me illustrate with these (silly) examples. Rather than simply stating the facts “I came, I saw, I conquered”, write a story of WHY you came, WHAT you saw and HOW you conquered.

For example, if you teach, your story might sound something along these lines…

I came,

I saw

I conquered.

When I started teaching, I consulted literature, and found that…. This was not an easy approach for me, as it was considerably different from my own experience as a learner. When I was a university student, I was used to….. I also had strong role models who…, so I was probably copying their style… So even though the idea of…made me feel outside of my comfort zone, I …..

I also realised one of my personal weaknesses is… and I decided that in order to manage it, I would…. At the same time, my personal strengths…. allowed me to…

My students did not react to… the same way that I anticipated. Some…, while others…. In retrospect, I think that they were….as pointed out by… Next time I taught… I ……

I feel that I have made significant improvements in ….as …. (evidence), although I do recognise that I could improve in…, and I ….. (steps that you take to improve).

If you are supporting teaching staff or students, you might writing something like…

I came,

I saw

I conquered.

I don’t have formal training as a teacher so I was initially hesitant to give advice to teaching staff beyond…However, this changed after…

This made me realise I could suggest…. or share best practice that I have seen through my work as…. For example, I was particularly impressed with….

My challenge was to find a way to bring up these topics without feeling…. In order to do it, I …..and …..

I feel… gave me confidence to… I am now able to…., and I have seen the positive impact of it…(evidence)

In other words, imagine that you are writing a diary, and tell the story.

If you are stuck for ideas, these questions and prompts that might help:

Prompt 1: A change

Think of a time when you questioned, adjusted or changed your approach to teaching or changed the way you support others in learning and teaching.

Trigger What prompted you to make the change? (e.g. something that happened in your classroom? A conversation with a peer? A workshop that you attended?…)

(optional) Reflection about trigger:
How did you feel about making a change? Was there anything about your previous experience or personality that made this change challenging?

Planning and introducing the change How did you go about planning/making the change?

(optional) Reflection about planning and introducing the change:
How did you feel about planning/ introducing this change? Was there anything about your previous experience or personality that made this process challenging?

Analysing the change What worked? What didn’t? Why? What did you learn from that experience? What does it mean for your practice?
Where to from here? What is your current practice like? Have you discussed your insights with your colleagues? What next goal do you have for this aspect of teaching/support role?

Prompt 2: Your teaching ‘Self’

Where do your teaching beliefs and preferences come from? What do you consciously and (importantly: subconsciously) gravitate towards and why?

If you need a bit of ‘soul-searching’ and formulating your teaching ‘self’, these questions might come in handy:

  • What are you like as a person, e.g. are you an extravert or an introvert? How might it impact the way you teach/support learning and teaching? What types of activities might you prefer because they work well for your personality type?
  • How do you learn best – what settings, what kind of activities? How might this impact the way you teach/support learning and teaching or the choices you make in your work?
  • What did learning and teaching look like when you were a student? How did this impact you as a teacher/support person?
  • What practices were useful? What practices were potentially less useful, but felt familiar and ‘normal’ and you therefore reproduced them? Did you question any of these practices?

For those supporting learning and teaching –

  • What advice do you give to the academics and students you work with, about ways to use new learning systems and tools? What do you base this advice on – experience? Best practice? Research (including your own)?
  • What methods do you use to explain how something might work in an online unit or in a classroom setting – one on one meetings, workshops, writing FAQs or similar? Why do you choose one method over another?
  • How does your personal experience as a learner or your personal preferences impact the decisions you make in your work?
  • Do you use your conversations with students/staff as an opportunity to inform them about services/tools, etc. that they may not have been aware of? How do you decide what information to give?

I hope that these questions will get your ‘reflective’ juices going.

Happy writing and DO share other ideas in the comments below!

Thank you, Karina Luzia, for your help with this post!

Moon, J. (2004). Using reflective learning to improve the impact of short courses and workshops. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 24(1), 4-11.

Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught on different courses, ranging from 1st year to PhD students. I now work in Learning and Teaching, which I love. I have 2 young kids and a dog, and I love meeting other Mq people, so give me a shout if you'd like to talk 'learning and teaching' or would like to brainstorm together.


  1. Thanks for sharing Olga, this is really helpful!


    1. Glad you found it useful, Marco!


  2. I’m about to start my application…terrifying! So glad I found this post…thank you for sharing.


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