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Congratulations To Our 2020 Teaching Award Winners

From top left, clockwise: Dr Valerie Sotardi, Dr Kelly Dombrowski, Kay-Lee Jones, Associate Professor Ximena Nelson and Professor Eileen Britt

Since 2001, the annual University of Canterbury (UC) Teaching Awards recognise excellence in both undergraduate and postgraduate tertiary teaching.

This year, the University celebrates five winners across two colleges; the College of Science and the College of Education, Health and Human Development.

“The winners of UC’s teaching awards are educators who’ve been recognised as engaging and unique, with the ability to promote effective learning to their students,” says Deputy Vice- Chancellor (Academic) Professor Catherine Moran.

“I’m thrilled with the positive influence they’ve made on the teaching culture at UC, and the professional development of their colleagues.”

Kay-Lee Jones of the School of Teacher Education has helped nurture a love for te reo Māori in over 2,000 student teachers at UC. These graduates now share their skills in schools across Aotearoa New Zealand, normalising Māori language and culture in education every day.

In addition to her UC Teaching award, Kay-Lee was recognised at the national level this year with a prestigious Ako Aotearoa Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching award in the Kaupapa Māori category – only the second UC educator to achieve this success.

Describing her gentle, effective style of advocacy, UC Professor Angus Macfarlane says: “Kay-Lee has the potential to shift people’s ideas and philosophies nationally and locally, while maintaining calm and acceptable relationships at the learning and teaching level.”

Working across UC’s Schools of Psychology, Speech and Hearing, and Health Sciences, Professor Eileen Britt’s students have described her as an encouraging and supportive teacher of interactive, fun and informative classes. Professor Britt strives to make a difference through her teaching by developing students’ knowledge and skills so they too can made a difference and contribute positively to the world around them.

“I believe each student comes with their own knowledge and experiences, and my role is to create the environment in which [they] can draw on and build upon this.”

From UC’s School of Earth and Environment, Senior Lecturer Dr Kelly Dombroski has been described by colleagues as the exemplification of what a tertiary educator should be, as she crafts her courses around her world-leading research, and her sound knowledge of the practice and theory of learning.

UC Professor Peyman Zawar-Reza believes Dr Dombroski has a natural aptitude for teaching, and had no hesitation in endorsing her for this award.

“I have never ceased to be impressed with her laid back, accessible teaching style, her clear commitment to students and her ability to explain difficult concepts in a way that students understand. Kelly has a clear mastery over the subject matter,” he says.

A recipient of multiple University of Canterbury Students’ Association [UCSA] Staff of the Year awards, Dr Valerie Sotardi of UC’s School of Educational Studies and Leadership is considered a highly regarded, dedicated educator whose passion for teaching is clearly evident to both students and colleagues.

Dr Sotardi’s research on assessment anxiety in first-year students has reached a global audience and she has made a significant impact on student learning through her innovative and caring approach to both physical and virtual classrooms.

“My over-arching philosophy of teaching is: Before a plant can thrive, you have to prepare the soil. Just as we cannot stimulate plant growth by tugging on its stem, roots or leaves, teachers cannot force students to learn. Such a metaphor echoes my philosophy of teaching,” she says.

From UC’s School of Biological Sciences, Associate Professor Ximena Nelson’s key to becoming an effective teacher is remembering how it is to be a student. She has worked hard to ensure her students have the active engagement they need to become critically aware self-learners.

“[Ximena] brings admirable levels of empathy and commitment to the learning environment, which truly empowers her students at each level of their intellectual development,” says UC Professor Matthew Turnbull, who nominated her for the award. “She is, by any measure, one of our most gifted teachers – an inspiration to students.”

In addition to a physical award, each winner receives $1,500 towards teaching-related activities. The UC Teaching Awards will be formally presented at a ceremony later this year.

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