Wednesday, August 11, 2010

National Tertiary Teaching Award

I had an extra trip to Wellington this month to receive a 2010 Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award at a ceremony held in the Banquet Hall at Parliament Buildings. It was an honour and a privilege to celebrate my love of learning and teaching in the company of the Minister of Education, Ako Aotearoa Academy staff, selection panel members, fellow awardees, colleagues, friends and my daughter Kate. We had this photo taken after the ceremony.

Like all nominees, I had to submit a portfolio. While Ako Aotearoa provides guidelines, headings and criteria, I had to reflect on and write about the influences that have shaped my thirty-year teaching career and reveal aspects of my personality. Here is an extract from the beginning of my portfolio.

I am a principal lecturer with almost three decades of tertiary teaching experience, primarily in New Zealand, but also interspersed with periods in the United Kingdom. My education, however, as a learner and a practitioner, has taken a circuitous route, due to my voracious appetite for reading and imaginative play. Fortunately, my parents valued creativity, allowing their backyard to morph into a circus arena, a theatre, a mobile library, an obstacle course, all of which helped to expand my understanding of self, others and the world in which I lived.

From an early age, I kept a notebook for ‘Ideas’, putting many into practice. For example, as an eight-year-old, I studied the habits of birds, meticulously recording weather patterns for months before attempting to fly off my father’s henhouse roof. Not a successful project in terms of achieving my aim, but worthwhile learning still occurred: I developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of winged creatures, including their feeding and migratory patterns, and a rudimentary appreciation of aerodynamics and meteorology.

Not surprisingly, I viewed primary school as an intrusion, believing teachers were harming my brain by insisting I take subjects, such as mathematics, at set times, on certain days. My view did not change when I went to secondary school, although I did encounter one history teacher who breathed life into his lessons and therefore into me.

It was not until the 70’s when as a young mother interested in human development, I conceded that a formal education might be worth pursuing. I enrolled extramurally in a Bachelor of Arts at Massey University, studying in my own time, at my own pace.

This background informed the way I taught in my early career, which began in the 80’s at Southland Polytechnic (Southern Institute of Technology), where I worked with two specific learner groups referred to then as ‘youth at risk’ and ‘special needs’. These students had diverse and often challenging learning requirements, as well as varying levels of motivation. Most disliked or could not manage traditional reading / writing approaches, so together we devised learning strategies based on their needs, interests and cultural backgrounds.

My development as a learner-centred lecturer, reflective practitioner and narrative-based researcher owes much to these students. They taught me to listen, to value diversity, to attend to process and most of all to turn everyday moments into learning opportunities.

In 1990, I moved to Dunedin to take up a full-time lecturing and staff development role at Otago Polytechnic. I also transferred as a student to the University of Otago and completed my first degree. A Diploma in Teaching (Tertiary) followed, then a Master of Arts (awarded with distinction in Education).

Now in my twentieth year at Otago Polytechnic, I teach a range of students – from those enrolled at certificate level through to those engage in postgraduate work. In addition, I facilitate small groups and deliver guest lectures. My subjects include reflective practice, narrative methodologies, self and peer review processes, scholarly writing and digital storytelling. I also mentor staff in curriculum development, support those undertaking special projects and conduct teaching observations for new and experienced lecturers. My commitment to learning and teaching continues to flourish as demonstrated in my portfolio.