Educating tomorrow’s legal educators: our lives as sine curves

by Paul Maharg on 21/09/2014

First, my grateful thanks to the Planning Committee of the ETL Conference, and especially to Rebecca Kourlis and Alli Gerkman for the invitation.  I enjoyed it.  I’ve been to too many conferences where panels of deans or assorted professors droned on about their institutions, or spouted some mangled reading of the Carnegie Report in support of their pet ideas.  This conference was the very opposite.  It was energising, well-organised, well-paced, allowed presenters time enough to present, and yet to discuss one-on-one with the conference delegates; it allowed delegates to debate amongst themselves and begin to make their own plans based on what they heard and saw.  It was absorbing to be with faculty discussing their visions for legal education, describing the solutions they’re designing to improve their educational practice and their students’ learning, and to listen to their experiences with innovation.  And for that debate to be applied not just to local institutions but to the US as a whole, in considering regulation and standards, Bar Exams and much else.  Best of all, we were acknowledging that if we are to educate tomorrow’s lawyers, we need to engage in educating today’s and tomorrow’s legal educators.  This was reflected in the wrap-up suggestions, which included the following further action:

  • this is a social movement — document early successes because of the risk: it adds validation
  • make the effort to bring in people who think differently
  • be collaborative with other groups, and with other groups internationally
  • have a workshop day for faculty to work with pioneers and leading teams

Universities are odd places: they can be frustrating, where the first act of many faculty thinking of change is to form a committee, which is often the death of any change.  And yet universities also have flexible spaces for thinking, feeling, working in collaboration.  In those spaces new and exhilarating things are possible, and in many conference presentations we saw that happening.

My life is a sine curve, said David Thomson at the wrap-up — there are highs (seeing the innovation work) and there are lows (so much still to be done, how to do it, how to do it well).  It was an image for the conference and I would guess spoke for most of us there.  For it described the situation of the innovator: to keep ourselves balanced, open, clear-minded, adventurous, living with risk and hope, student-centred, democratic educators.

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