In search of (more) excellent tertiary teachers

October 2015


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Ako Aotearoa’s JILL TANNER-LLOYD looks at what attributes are shared by the recipients of this year’s top national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards (TTEAs) in an effort to define what makes an excellent tertiary teacher.

Tertiary teachersThe August parliamentary dinner, jointly hosted by the Hon Steven Joyce, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, and Dr Jian Yang, Chairperson of the Education and Science Select Committee, set the scene beautifully for the celebration of another 12 world-class tertiary teachers.

Some readers may not be surprised to see the competition largely dominated by universities and institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs). In recent years there have been some fantastic exemplars representing private training establishments (PTE) – Jean Crane (2009), Mana Elizabeth Hunkin (2012) and Frances Denz (2012) come immediately to mind. Dara Davenport blazed the trail for the adult and community education sector with her award in 2012, but sadly few have followed. Wānanga represent another part of the sector we are keen to see play a more active role in identifying nominees for the Kaupapa Māori category of these awards.


What is preventing organisations from nominating their teaching staff? 

While national TTEA recipients undoubtedly deserve to be recognised as world class, we know the attributes that make them successful – as identified in Ako Aotearoa’s Striving for Excellence publications – are found in teachers right across our diverse tertiary sector. But, for a variety of reasons we just aren’t seeing this sector diversity reflected in the nominations we receive. This is disappointing.
So, what are these possible barriers for individuals and their organisations?

  • Our staff don’t have the time to develop a portfolio

Organisations should think of this as an investment both in their staff and their own reputation.

  • We don’t systematically collect the kind of evidence that is needed in a portfolio

This evidence is routinely collected as part of evaluative self-assessment for continuing quality improvement.

  • The TTEA committee likes portfolios to have an academic focus

This is a myth. The committee is looking for evidence of sustained teaching excellence at whatever level of study.

  • Our staff don’t work individually – they work as part of a team

We encourage the nomination of teaching groups, which recently include: a five-strong culinary teaching team from Otago Polytechnic in 2014, and the eight-person Restaurant, Wine and Bar team in 2012, from Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology.

  • 8,000 words is just too daunting a task

Assistance is available via our support networks below.

  • We are not sure what is actually required

The criteria and guidelines document is available on the Ako Aotearoa website, and our regional hub managers provide an ideal first point of contact for any questions.


If you are an organisational leader who hasn’t nominated one of your teachers for the national TTEAs because of one or a number of the above, we strongly encourage you to reconsider. We invite you to take up the offer for support through the nomination process, which includes guidance for completing the required portfolio.

This support comes from two different but related sources – the Ako Aotearoa Regional Hubs and the Ako Aotearoa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence (the Academy).

The Academy consists of all past TTEA recipients joined by a common goal – to foster excellence in tertiary education in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Many of these members are enthusiastic to mentor and guide future awardees, either one-to-one or through the TTEA workshops organised by our regional hubs.

And as our director Dr Peter Coolbear said in a message to PTE delegates at the recent Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand Conference, “Nominating staff for the awards and supporting them to develop their portfolio is very cost-effective marketing”.

Just as importantly, it is one of the key ways in which excellent tertiary teaching is publically valued at a national level. What better reason to get involved.

Nominations for the 2016 round of the TTEAs will open soon. All contact details and awards information at

Attributes shared by national Tertiary Teaching Excellence awardees

  • Personal philosophy and vision about teaching
  • Ability to gather and reflect meaningfully on feedback from students
  • Enthusiastic, innovative
  • Humble – open to improvement and change
  • Highly organised and flexible
  • High expectations (but work from premise that students can achieve)
  • Use assessment as a learning tool
  • Deliberately inclusive
  • Love what they do and want to share it
  • Really enjoy their students’ success.


Kaupapa Māori Category Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching (3)

  • Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama

Prime Minister’s Supreme Awardee
Suzanne Pitama a

Associate Dean Māori, Director of the Māori/Indigenous Health Institute, Division of Health Sciences – University of Otago

An unstinting dedication to the Māori community and equity in hauora Māori (health).

“I began this journey into teaching because I wanted Māori patients to have an opportunity to be validated as both patients and Māori in health settings.”


  • Dr Elana Taipapaki Curtis

Elana Curtis aSenior Lecturer, Te Kupenga Hauora Māori, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences – The University of Auckland

Making a difference to Māori and showing Māori ability to achieve excellence as normal, valid and legitimate.

“As a tertiary educator I believe in aiming for excellence in order to promote the rights of all my learners.”


  • Professor Angus Hikairo Macfarlane

Angus Macfarlane aProfessor of Māori Research – University of Canterbury

A career-long dedication to kaupapa Māori advancement, perspectives, tikanga and reo.

“My approach to leadership has at its goal, the advancement of exemplary tertiary education teaching.”


General Category Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching (9)

  • Professor Dale CarnegieDale July2015 57

School of Engineering and Computer Science – Victoria University of Wellington

Helping transform students to be the best they can.

“Caring is at the core of my teaching philosophy. When you care, you prepare your teaching as best you can.”


  • Dr Herb de Vries

Herb de Vries aSenior Lecturer, College of Business and Law – University of Canterbury

Supporting students through their course of study, business projects and careers.

“My students are at the centre of my universe.”


  • Paul Gummer

Paul GummerSenior Lecturer, School of Photography, Art & Design – Universal College of Learning

Preparing work-ready students that understand the principles of success and are recognised here and internationally through awards.

“When people find their passion, I believe doors open for them to achieve excellence.”


  • Dr Eleanor Hawe

Eleanor Hawe aSenior Lecturer, School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice – The University of Auckland

Developing a learning partnership lies at the core of Eleanor’s teaching philosophy.

“Teaching can be demanding and challenging, but the rewards for those involved are far-reaching.”


  • Clive Humphreys

Clive Humphreys aPrincipal Lecturer, School of Art – Otago Polytechnic

With a passion for art that is magnetic, Clive’s teaching captivates his classes with knowledge and humour.

“Learning from students is one of the greatest privileges that teaching bestows.”


  • Dr Roslyn Kemp

Roslyn Kemp aSenior Lecturer, Department of Microbiology and Immunology – University of Otago

Ros designed a pathway of learning for her students to follow towards an exciting career.

“I aspire to be a teacher who imparts confidence, creativity and wisdom to the next generation of scientists.”


  • Marie McEntee

Marie McEntee aSenior Tutor, School of Environment, Faculty of Science – The University of Auckland

Combining science with communication, business and innovation.

“Effective knowledge communication must not only connect with people’s minds, it must also connect with their hearts.”


  • Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith

Rachel Spronken Smith aDean, Graduate Research School – University of Otago

Leading the way of inquiry-based learning across Aotearoa.

“All my teaching is underpinned by passion, sound pedagogical principles, and a desire to promote innovative and engaging practice.”


  • Lara Tookey

Lara Tookey aLecturer, Department of Construction – Unitec

Lara demonstrates a passionate, unwavering dedication to improving student experience.

“All experiences and sources of knowledge are connected and can assist in our self-improvement if we have the wisdom to use them.”

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