Talking Teaching

May 28, 2012

what’s the academy *for*?

There’s a trend – a trend that is worthwhile & not before time – to recognise excellence among tertiary teachers. (Where ‘tertiary’ = beyond the compulsory education sector, which is so much wider than ‘just’  universities.) In New Zealand we have the national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards, which recognise & encourage excellence. These awards are funded by the Tertiary Education Commission and managed and administered by Ako Aotearoa, and winners become members of the Ako Aotearoa Academy.

Anyway, I was talking with a group of colleagues on Friday, & one of the topics of conversation was, what’s the Academy for? What does it do?

Well, if you follow that last link, & then peruse the various sections & links on the Academy page, you’ll find it does quite a lot, both for its members & also to foster excellence in learning & teaching across the tertiary education sector: workshops, teaching tools & narratives, the annual symposium for academy members (which is a most excellent event), and a range of member contributions.

All this truly is wonderful stuff – and yet, there’s something that worries me. Because, outside the sector, both Ako Aotearoa & the Academy have, well, quite a low profile. I believe there is a risk – especially in the current economic climate – of the Academy in particular being seen as something of an echo-chamber for the teaching elite, with the associated question: why, in tight financial times, should it continue to be funded? Having a lowish profile is Not Good in these circumstances, because it means that there are few people outside the Academy & Ako Aotearoa who would argue for its continued existence, or mourn its disappearance.

Which would be a pity. Because, having a body of expert teachers actively sharing that expertise means that, over time (& alongside other Ako activities), knowledge that contributes to enhanced teaching practices will spread. Because, when that happens, so too will learning and learners’ experiences be enhanced, so that society can be ever more sure that those learners are prepared for what the 21st century can throw at them. Because, we have so much to contribute (the current debate on what constitutes excellence in secondary school teaching springs to mind).

It’s just that somehow, at the moment, we’re just not very good at getting that across.

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