Teaching Awards – worth the paperwork?

Posted by: Meredith Seaman, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Students listening to lecture, Working Men's College c.1920-1930

Students listening to a lecture in the Francis Ormond Building, Working Men’s College (now RMIT) c.1920-1930

The RMIT Teaching Awards have just been launched for this year so it’s that time when we think about evidencing good teaching practice. There’s discussion of why – and why not – someone might go forward for an award, the benefits of the process and what’s involved. Having worked with nominees and recipients over the past few years, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

I also spoke to Kerry Mullan (who recently received a Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning from the ALTC (now OLT)) to get the perspective of a recent award recipient.

From my experience, the main reason people apply is that they’ve been encouraged by their colleagues. It’s a generalisation, but we (both here at RMIT and more broadly speaking in Australia) probably don’t have a culture where individuals seek awards or recognition for doing their job well.*

After nomination, the next step, where applicants write about themselves and their teaching – and back that up with clear evidence – does not usually come naturally. It’s hard work and a new style of writing and evidence gathering is needed.

While it’s great to receive recognition for your hard work (by receiving an award or even just being nominated) what are the other benefits of developing a Teaching Award application? Talking to Kerry confirmed my suspicion that it can be a highly rewarding process. Writing and developing an application with associated evidence can help you:

  • find that point of difference/innovation/excellence in your teaching: It may help you to realise what you do is ‘special’ after all
  • refine your practice and try new ideas, while re-affirming what you do well (as well as highlighting any gaps)
  • reflect on what you do in learning and teaching and how you support student learning as a whole, beyond just activities in classroom
  • develop a base of material that can later be reworked into a publication on your scholarship and/or practice of learning and teaching, seek promotion, or develop new ideas to apply in your teaching
  • find and create opportunities to discuss your teaching practice/philosophy with colleagues and share effective tips and techniques.

An award application involves writing a clear statement against criteria such as “Approaches to the support of learning and teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn” and “Approaches to assessment, feedback and learning support that foster independent learning”. As well as addressing the criteria, you need to create a narrative that reflects on your philosophy of learning and teaching.  How have you enacted this in practice to support your students’ learning? Finally, you need to support your statements with evidence.

Even if you’re not quite ready to develop an application, you might still want to start to develop a portfolio of evidence in relation to your teaching, or join a peer partnership/teaching network. The benefits of reflecting on your practice and developing a portfolio go beyond the awards themselves and can also prepare you for next year’s round.  (Most categories will be asking you to reflect on three years of teaching, so it’s definitely a marathon not a sprint.)

If you’re ready to get started, familiarise yourself with the categories and criteria. There are 17 categories ranging across staff (HE and TAFE, including sessional staff), support staff and awards for research and programs (The First Year Experience, Flexible Learning and Teaching, Indigenous Education etc.) Team awards are also encouraged.

Develop a portfolio of evidence of your teaching practice, beginning with your survey scores from the CES.

A portfolio of evidence can be a great reflective tool. Along with your survey data, you could start simply by saving unsolicited student feedback and examples of teaching approaches that you’ve tried successfully (or unsuccessfully). There is more online about portfolios of evidence at the La Trobe and ACU websites to point to just two. These sites will give you an idea about what kinds of evidence you might use in your application.

When it’s time to start writing your application, Kerry found it useful to imagine that she was writing and observing someone else’s teaching practice. In other words, be supportive but factual. Get friends and family unfamiliar with your discipline to review for clarity as well as colleagues. The members of selection panels may need to be steered through the jargon of your discipline.

Students in plumbing workshop, Working Mens College

Students in a plumbing workshop, Working Men’s College (now RMIT) c.1920-1930

For more information, another mind to bounce ideas off, or someone to help you draft a nomination, contact your School’s L&T Chair or your Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching. RMIT has material (login required) such as video presentations and past nomination exemplars here.

Thanks to Kerry Mullan for her time and assistance with this post.

*Now is the time to nudge a colleague to make an expression of interest about nomination to their L&T Chair or Head of School! 

The source of the images for this post is the James Alexander Smith Collection held by the State Library of Victoria. They are out of copyright. James Alexander Smith was a Melbourne consulting engineer and President of the Working Men’s College Council.

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