“Heroes in our society”: singing the praises of excellent tertiary teachers

September 2013

 

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The recipients of the 2013 Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards prove that teaching excellence can benefit learners and strengthen communities.

The 2013 Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards were announced in July at a prestigious parliamentary dinner hosted by Hon Steven Joyce (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment) and Dr Cam Calder (chairperson, Education and Science Select Committee). Prime Minister John Key was also in attendance to present his Supreme Award at the end of the night.

Each of this year’s ten awardees demonstrates extremely high levels of commitment to their learners’ success and their profession or discipline, with a thirst for finding new ways of teaching and learning to enhance learner engagement and their practice. These qualities are stamped throughout each portfolio, with endorsements from learners, colleagues and leaders alike.

During his speech, the Prime Minister described the awardees as “heroes in our society”, adding that teachers such as these are highly valued in New Zealand and it is important to publicly tell them they are doing well. The Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards certainly aims to do that.

Mr Key also referred to the change in modern New Zealand that is a driving factor for further education in this country. Stronger links are being forged between education and employment so that New Zealand can build the skills it needs to be successful in the future. Looking at how tertiary education contributes to this, it is important to draw attention to how these excellent teachers, and many more like them, not only contribute enormously to their immediate communities – their learners and the institutions they work in – but also to a wide range of communities beyond.

It is therefore not surprising that two of this year’s awardees, Associate Professor Gordon Sanderson and Francis Denz, have also been made Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit – such is the extent of their community work.

Associate Professor Gordon Sanderson is an exemplary choice to receive the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award. Gordon has taught tertiary students at all levels over the past 40 years and is recognised by his students as “humble, passionate, and caring”. His work has also included designing and delivering tutorial days, co-ordinating the year-six trainee intern programme, and initiating both the Postgraduate Diploma in Ophthalmic Basic Sciences (subsequently taken up by the University of Sydney) and the Masters in Ophthalmology. One ex-student described him as “... one of those exceptional people who has made an indelible mark on a generation of doctors, colleagues, and the University of Otago.”

Beyond the university, Gordon has committed much time to the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind in a governance role and as trustee of Glaucoma New Zealand. He provides advice and education to practitioners for both organisations. On a local community level, he has written a number of Otago Daily Times articles for school children, called Ask a scientist and presented to many community groups. Internationally, he has contributed two chapters to the Oxford textbook of Ophthalmology and been appointed as advisor to the University of Brunei Darrasalam and adjunct Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He is also responsible for Allergan’s An eye on your health poster, which has proved extremely popular in Australia and New Zealand and now distributed in many countries.

Frances Denz from Stellaris Limited flies the flag for the private training establishment sector this year. Approaching tertiary education from an entirely different angle, Frances has worked very successfully for 40 years with people that others consider would never gain the skills they need to enter the workforce – because of trauma, sickness, disability, or mental illness.

Frances has tirelessly sought to improve teaching and learning; designing, developing and delivering training programmes; creating new teaching resources when there weren’t any, and setting up business courses for groups of disadvantaged people who have no other way of building themselves successful futures. She was national manager and lecturer of disability organisation Ready, Willing, and Able, working successfully with people classified as being more than 75 per cent disabled towards running their own businesses. While at Wellington City Council’s Capital Development Agency (CDA) from 1989 to 1996, Frances taught business skills to beneficiaries. Her “Be your own boss” course was amazingly successful. Only four per cent of her students over that seven year period remained on their WINZ benefits. She has 13 publications under her belt, including: Women at the Top (2009) – for aspiring women directors, and Able to do Business (2009) – a business guide for people with disabilities.

Another awardee, Kamuka Pati – building lecturer at Unitec - also provides an inspiring and practical example of teching excellence extending to communities beyond New Zealand. He has used his skills to help rebuild villages in Samoa after the 2009 tsunami; teaching local men the key building skills required to continue the work (learning by building). Kamuka returned to the island in 2012 as a member of the working party that advises Habitat for Humanity on current building design and proposed improvement changes to build further homes. In his teaching community, he has gained a strong reputation amongst colleagues and teachers at other institutions for his Smart Shed - an innovative working environment where technology resources, including Web 2.0 tools, are available to learners working on the construction site. He has contributed to Unitec’s broader e-learning strategy and acts as a community co-ordinator within his department and faculty to assist his peers in building capability and confidence with e-Learning. Kamuka is the first Pacific Island academic to receive a national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award.

The publication Excellence 2013 – featuring the teaching profiles of this year’s awardees - will be released later this year.

Nominations for the 2014 round open shortly, and there are two categories for nominations – General and Kaupapa Māori. See the Criteria and Guidelines document for more information at: www.akoaotearoa.ac.nz/awards


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