Director of Higher Education at Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand, Heather Fawcett, was earlier this year awarded a prestigious George Robertson Award by the Australian Publishers Association. Heather tells us about her experiences, why she’s motivated to stay in the education publishing sector, and why she welcomes change.
I’m thrilled to be a recipient of a George Robertson Award, and very touched by the generous response of colleagues to this recognition.
I came to publishing after a short teaching career; my first publishing job was a Brisbane based primary sales role, the key product being large reading schemes that were typically a whole school purchase.
I moved into the tertiary sector in a Sydney sales based job and eventually found my way back to Melbourne where I was hired by OUP in 1993. The role, Academic Sales Manager, was my first management job, and I really loved the mix of my own territory and people management. Since then I have had at least a dozen different job titles at OUP across sales, marketing, publishing and management in Higher Ed, Academic, Trade, ELT, Dictionaries and Schools.
I’m somewhat reluctant to offer career advice, so please accept these thoughts in the spirit of reflection. In my experience, career advancement is supported by engagement with commercial imperatives and with the objectives of the organisation, a preparedness to take opportunities as they come along, and a genuine interest in customers. Opportunities abound when an organisation is in a growth phase, so by contributing to the growth of a business the chances of career growth are increased. If you happen to have young children while advancing a career, a supportive partner and awesome parents are a great asset; also know that if you do happen to work the odd long day, travel for work or miss the occasional event at their school, they will probably still turn out okay.
We hear much about the demands of managing and coping with change in the workplace and in our operating environments. Most changes at work are for the better; believe me – email and Yammer are a whole lot better than handwritten memos in triplicate and faxes, sending digital files to print is better than film, and it is good that we are not allowed to smoke at our desks! Anyway, there’s little point wishing that we could go back to the way things were when our customers have changed.
Throughout my career in education publishing I have been sustained and motivated by the knowledge that what we do is worthwhile work. It is a privilege to work with authors who are motivated by a genuine commitment to excellence in teaching and learning; they are experts in their field and could undoubtedly spend their time and effort on more financially lucrative pursuits however they chose to put their energy into developing resources to support teaching and learning at scale.
As publishers we play an important role in the delivery of good quality materials (print or digital); a great textbook is not simply about knowledge transfer, it is about developing proper understanding of a subject at the appropriate levels for all learners. The expertise that my colleagues hold, and continue to develop, in pedagogy, content delivery and design in response to the needs of educators and students makes coming to work meaningful
What else has kept me in educational publishing, and at OUP in particular, is the genuine commitment of colleagues to great outcomes for students of all ages. I can honestly say that I love coming to work because of the people I work with and the worthwhile work that we do.
I hope that many of you reading this find educational publishing such a satisfying career that you will eventually join me in addition to my colleagues, Florence Chin, Debra James, Richard Harms, Heather Robinson and others in the 30 year club.
Many thanks to Heather Fawcett from Oxford University Press for sharing her words.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Daniel Aspinall and I am the Publishing and Editorial Manager for Secondary at Oxford University Press.
What Educational Publishing Award did you win in 2017?
In 2017, we were lucky enough to take home the Secondary Publisher of the Year award. This was a great honour for us – firstly because we had never won it before – but mainly because it is an award that is determined by the outcome of a survey conducted by the Australian Publishers Association of teachers, librarians and booksellers around the country. As these are the people we are here to help, it’s a lovely validation of all the hard work that goes into what we do.
What is it about your products that makes the quality so great?
At Oxford, we take our responsibilities to teachers and students really seriously, and ensuring great quality content is a large part of that. It’s really a team effort from start to finish. Our authors, publishers, editors, designers, production and permissions staff consults closely with partner schools at the start of each project to identify what they need. We then work hard to give it to them in a range of different formats that will suit their needs. In other words, we try to put our customers at the centre of everything we do.
Many of us have been teachers in our former lives, so we understand the importance of having resources that are designed to meet the demands of classrooms today. To do this, we trial content and digital resources with partner schools throughout development and work directly with teachers and students to ensure our books are appropriate for use in a range of different schools and classrooms.
How has winning awards at the EPAAs made a difference to your company?
As a company, I think winning the Secondary Publisher of the Year in 2017 helped us build credibility and trust with our customers. It’s a great award because the people who voted for us – teachers, librarians and booksellers – are the reason why we’re in business.
When it comes right down to it, though, I think the real value of the EPAAs lies in their ability to raise the profile of educational publishing in Australia as an industry. They make a difference for all of us by increasing awareness in the wider community about the importance of the work that we all do. It may not be terribly sexy, but developing high-quality, innovative print and digital resources that help improve learning outcomes for Australian teachers and students can be really rewarding. That’s the real difference we’re interested in making.
How do your resources improve educational outcomes for students?
That’s a really interesting question. On the one hand, it’s very simple and straightforward, but on the other hand it’s actually one of the most complex and pedagogically challenging questions going around at the moment – so, let me answer it in two parts.
At a local level, we do everything we can to ensure that our resources are accurate, appropriately levelled, aligned to curriculum and offer multiple entry points for students of all abilities. Many of the teachers using our products on a daily basis contact us to tell us about the positive impacts our resources are having with their students and also identify aspects of our resources that could be improved and refined. Teachers know their students better than anyone and are generally pretty happy to discuss their thoughts and feelings about what’s working and what’s not. To improve outcomes, you just have to be prepared to listen and act on this feedback.
On a global level, we are currently developing a consistent process for evaluating our educational products and services so that teachers, learners and parents can be sure that our resources make a positive difference. As a department of the University of Oxford, improving educational outcomes is fundamental to our mission as an organisation. By evaluating the impact of our products and services, we will be able to evidence the difference that our products and services make, and feed results into the product development process.