Celebrating our best tertiary teachers

October 2012

 

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PETER COOLBEAR reflects on this year’s national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards – exploring how these exemplars of great teaching and learning can enhance the tertiary teaching profession in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards is one of the key highlights of Ako Aotearoa’s calendar. The awards process, from the selection panel’s deliberations to the acknowledgement and celebration of awardees’ achievements, is an intense and immensely rewarding one. It is a huge privilege to be involved.

The twelve 2012 awardees are indeed the pick of a very strong bunch, and there is no doubt that they would be able to foot it with the best anywhere in the world. Luckily, for us and for their learners, they choose to work in New Zealand.

Possibly, the 2012 group are the most diverse bunch of awardees we have had yet, but I would like to reflect a little on what these twelve award winners have in common. Not least is their commitment and drive to do the very best for their learners and the care – the manaakitanga – they show for learners as individuals. Then there is their ability to share and encourage excitement and sheer joy in learning. In these attributes, they mirror awardees in previous years.

Building confidence and being as effective as possible

Can these attributes themselves be taught? It’s doubtful whether the disposition to be a good or excellent teacher can be. Fortunately, the vast majority of people in our profession have that disposition anyway – and it’s difficult to survive in this sector if you don’t. I would suggest, however, that we should pay more attention in our professional development programmes to ways of promoting and sharing the excitement and joy of learning. For instance, learners experience the excitement and joy of learning as they gain confidence in what they are doing. The question we need to ask ourselves is: are we always as good as we could be at developing that confidence? Are we always as effective as we could be, or do our actions sometimes have unintended consequences. For example, do we create too much learner dependency through the use of our so-called “tried and true” approaches to teaching?

The 2012 awardees are not only highly successful at what they do, but they have learned (sometimes via challenging processes) how to do it as effectively as possible. They understand what the best return for effort is and – most importantly – have the evidence in their portfolios to show that what they do works brilliantly for their learners.

A vision beyond study

Another thing that strikes me about this group of awardees in particular is a sense that they have a vision for their learners that extends well beyond the successful completion of their present course of study or programme. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Dr Rhiannon Braund, from the School of Pharmacy, University of Otago, who was this year’s Prime Minister’s Supreme Award winner. It is the synergy she achieves between her obvious commitment to her profession and her inspirational commitment to her students that marks her as a great teacher. Working to give learners every support to succeed in their class is not enough for Rhiannon. She strives for her pharmacy graduates to advance the profession and reach new standards of care for their patients. There is a strong commitment here to helping people become what they aspire to – and very often helping them to elevate their aspirations, too.

Whether it is helping learners to be better professionals, to gain a truer sense of self by connecting them with their reo and Tikanga, or to open up future opportunities by gaining new literacy and numeracy skills, the 2012 awardees demonstrate a huge concern for their learners’ futures. Great teaching has inestimable impacts on peoples’ lives.

Exemplars for the future

These exemplars are the future focus for professional development of tertiary teachers in the 21st century. It is therefore important for us to consider how best to support practitioners to achieve these synergies between advancing both their discipline (and/or profession) and their teaching in their own context. For some, it will be about considering ways to strengthen the teaching-research nexus. For others, it will be about focusing on the interface between learning and work, while for other practitioners it will be about levering off the impact of individual educational success for community well being and development. For many practitioners, it might be all three.

Congratulations to all the 2012 awardees: thank you for what you contribute to your learners, to their families and communities, to your own discipline, and to Aotearoa New Zealand as a whole.

###The 2012 awardee teaching profiles are featured in the Excellence Booklet, published by Ako Aotearoa and available soon online and in print via: www.akoaotearoa.ac.nz/awards

Peter Coolbear is director of Ako Aotearoa, The National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.###