New publications showcase excellence in tertiary teaching

May 2014


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JILL TANNER-LLOYD and DR PETER COOLBEAR introduce the new teaching excellence publications developed by Ako Aotearoa’s Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence. They explain how the two-volume set captures the essence of New Zealand’s top tertiary teachers and their practice, and how these publications can support reflective practice for others wanting to add further value for their learners.

National awards recognising excellence in tertiary teaching in New Zealand were first awarded in 2002. Since then, 161 teachers across the tertiary sector have received national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards (TTEAs) for their sustained commitment to teaching excellence and demonstrated quality of service to their learners, organisations, and broader communities.

There is much that teachers across the tertiary sector can gain from the reflective insights and teaching and learning tips woven throughout the portfolios of these awardees. Ako Aotearoa’s annual publication Excellence profiles the year’s TTEA recipients ─ their teaching practices, philosophies, and approaches to working with learners – highlighting the key attributes that have led to their awards.

However, to make it easier for educators to access this growing volume of good practice material and apply it to their own teaching contexts, the Ako Aotearoa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence (our body of past award recipients, established in 2008) has developed a two volume reflective guide: Striving for excellence: A guide for tertiary teachers. The guide offers valuable insights to what excellence in tertiary teaching and learning means to 30 past recipients of national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards. This brings together the key elements of what it takes to be an excellent tertiary teacher.

So who is this publication intended for? All individuals seeking to enhance their teaching practice – either as part of ongoing professional development or in preparation of a portfolio – will benefit from the information laid out in this publication. Leaders, managers and staff developers may find both volumes helpful when addressing staff development, good practice in teaching and student engagement.

The publication was aptly launched at the Excellence Festival of Education event in Auckland recently by the lead author and past co-president of the Academy, Associate Professor Dawn Garbett, from the Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland. The initial “mining project” of the awardee portfolios was undertaken by Academy member Associate Professor Marc Wilson, head of the School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington. Dawn, and her colleague Rachel Williams, collated Marc’s “mined” gems into a format that is very accessible. Questions are included at the end of each section to encourage readers to reflect on their own practice. The following excerpts give an indication of how the two volumes address the topics; with questions, awardee quotes and concluding thoughts/questions contributing to the format:

Volume 1: Striving for excellence in tertiary teaching explores the personal philosophies, attributes, goals and professional development of these teachers, as well as reflecting on what they consider the goals and rewards in their teaching careers.

The themes of inspiration, caring and respect for students came through strongly in the portfolios with quotes from contributors, such as:

“What are the qualities of a caring teacher? Enjoy your students; be honest with them; don’t be afraid to show them that you care; show them respect; listen to them; and laugh with them!”

Flexibility and adaptability in response to student needs are also identified as key facets of excellence in the contributing portfolios. The following quote in this section is used to illustrate those qualities:

“I reflect and refine, critically evaluating my teaching. Identifying elements that could be improved. I try to design improvements, whether it is new content to be taught, a new way to teaching existing content, or a way to make assessment fairer.”

Volume 2: Tertiary teaching excellence in practice focuses on what excellent teachers do in practice, including: the tools these teachers use, the sites/locations of learning, and how they address diversity. The last section in particular pinpoints how these tertiary teachers define, understand and respond to the diverse needs of their learners. This includes the key aspects of: celebrating difference, the importance of mutual respect, understanding differences in culture and ability, and the use of technology to bring alternative perspectives into the classroom.

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