Talking Teaching

March 31, 2014

paying it forward

Over the last few weeks I’ve been mentoring a colleague from another institution, helping put together their portfolio for the 2014 Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards nominations. It’s been a huge amount of work for them, given the need to encapsulate how they meet the award criteria in a total of 8000 words.

At first this looks an unreachable target, but then once you start writing notes and accumulating statements in support, then the problem becomes how to cut the thing down to size. And many people also find it really hard to write about themselves: it sounds like blowing your own trumpet & that can be a difficult thing to do. (Having said that, I know I looked my own finished portfolio & thought, wow! do I really do all that? It was quite affirming, plus the constant reflection was great for my teaching practice.)

So, it was a lot of work for my colleague, who wrote and edited many drafts, solicited supporting comments from students and colleagues, decided on a ‘theme’ to tie it all together, found suitable images – and all the while also carried their usual demanding teaching & admin roles. (I suspect the research may have taken a back seat for a while.) The end result: fascinating reading on a number of levels and a record of excellent teaching in practice (regardless of what happens in the TTEA stakes).

And on the other end of email & phone, I read those drafts, offered other possibilities for investigation/inclusion, proposed many edits (both large & small), found the occasional image, and suggested cuts – you reach a point where you’ve so much personal investment in what you’ve written that you just can’t bear the prospect of removing anything, no matter how the word limit looms over you**.

Yes, that took quite a bit of time at my end too, & I’ve had other colleagues at my institution asking why on earth I would want to take on such a task. But you see, I believe in paying forward: having won one of these awards myself, I feel that I should share what I’ve learned from the process and to help others with tasks like this.

And I’ve made a new friend as well!


**(I gather I also provided a calming influence :)  It’s been a great learning experience for me too, as I’ve learned about the cool things someone else is doing to enhance their teaching & their students’ learning experiences.)

August 8, 2012

more on accreditation

I spent some time recently in an interesting discussion around the question of whether tertiary teachers should be required to complete some form of national accreditation. Now, many – but by no means all! – institutions do already have something like this available for their staff, albeit that take-up is essentially voluntary. What would happen to these in-house programs, we wondered, in the event of such a national qualification becoming the norm? Would the individual organisations stop running their own systems? – a pity, in many ways, as these are likely tailored to the needs of their own staff and students. There’s also the issue of portability: whether the putative national qualification would be portable, between institutions and between countries. If this could be guaranteed, then why would teachers bother with the in-house model? This would be a negative result overall, as it would then remove any need for an individual institution to develop and maintain its own programs for its own staff.

We also wondered what form accreditation – accreditation, not a qualification – should take. Teaching excellence is not a static thing: the best teachers are always reviewing, reflecting on, revising and enhancing their practice. A qualification based on examinations are not going to adequately measure these attributes. Far better, we thought, to go with portfoliosmeasured by portfolio of work. This would be a living document as the individual’s practice should be constantly self-reviewed & enhanced, a process reflected in the portfolio.

Part of the discussion hinged on just how you define ‘excellence’. We were all Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award winners, so you’d think we’d know, wouldn’t you? But we’re all excellent at different things, so a definition proved hard to pin down. Can we define ‘excellence’ a la John Hattie’s work on secondary teaching? Possibly. Well, maybe not ‘define’, but we could certainly give examples of excellence from the portfolios of previous TTEA awardees.  could then act as basis of any form of professional development. In fact, you could argue that those awardees show something called ‘positive deviance‘ – and in this instance ‘deviance’ is something to aspire to!

So maybe accreditation would be based on a portfolio – a ‘living’ document – demonstrating someone’s ongoing professional & personal development, & built around a clearly explained concept of ‘excellence’ as it applies to facilitating students’ learning (& helping others to do the same)? Something to be think about, anyway.

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.

August 15, 2010

Congratulations Alison!

Ako Aotearoa last week announced the winners of the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards.

Among the recipients is our co-blogger Alison Campbell.

The readers of this space will not be surprised: her love for teaching, for her studensts and her insights on education she shares with us on every post. As a teacher myself I admire her commitment and insight and this blog has for me become a place where I come to find inspiration from the posts and the comments.

It is wonderful to see Alison’s  teaching excellence recognized, so here is to you Alison! Well deserved!

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