When you spend 30 minutes with
Carl Rogers (1994) described three teacher traits that are necessary for learning to begin; I think Liz has all 3 in spades. Let me know if you agree in the comments section below.
- Respect for students and who they are, without conditions.
- Empathetic understanding of the student’s point of view and what it feels like to have a teacher who cares for them.
- Genuineness or congruence: Teaching persona is in congruence with who they are; what and how they teach are in congruence with their principles.
How does it feel to be recognised by your students in this way?
“Absolutely lovely and overwhelming in many ways. When you interact with students, they often reflect themselves as ‘deer in the headlights’. You’re the one expecting much from them; you forget that there is also a critique of your own teaching happening (she laughs). You’re not always aware of how you come across or the quality of that interaction and connection. Our role as teachers is to create a connection, attachment, and a safe cognitive learning environment in a short period of time.”
Liz is humble about her award, insisting that “The award really belongs to the Learning and Teaching team in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Science. So much of the innovation in my course has been created, developed, devised and underpinned by them.”
What made you decide to be a teacher?
With a family history of teaching, Liz had two gap years, where she taught ESL to both adults and young children. She eventually arrived at Public Health and developed a passion for teaching young adults. “It’s incredibly rewarding and fulfilling interacting with students”.
For Liz, “there’s something about that lights on moment when you see that infectious passion and personal transformation; seeing students recognise the powerful role that they can play at a broader level or local community.” Liz believes students often reach that point during the process of learning.
What’s the place for technology in your classroom?
To this question, Liz is unequivocal, “technology is essential, but it’s a servant, not a master.” Integration of technology comes from a personal belief that students should hit the ground running when they leave university, be across technology and how it’s used in the workplace.
In Liz’s Unit, podcasts are used as a creative medium for students to learn how to communicate challenging concepts and complex policy issues to lay audiences. Liz structures the learning activity by creating the right environment and assembling a team of support around her: Inviting a specialist to show students examples of podcasts in public health and provide key tips for creating a podcast; the LnT support team troubleshoot technical difficulties in tutorials. Students upload their podcast to the Moodle Workshop tool for peer review and feedback.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
Liz acknowledges that 15 years ago, she was a completely didactic teacher, with no understanding of how to provide an interactive learning experience for students. After moving from a primarily research-focused role, Liz came to teach at FMHS with few skills but completely “open and moldable”. She maintains “all I did was deliver some face-to-face class exercises while my hands were held. I was guided through a new innovative form of teaching by the Faculty Learning and Teaching team and my Public Health colleagues. Being in such a supportive environment just enabled ‘good practice’ to thrive and shine.”
Liz owns the fact that she brought willingness, content expertise, and empathy to teaching but believes the rest of her success is a result of training and support. Liz now shows students Bloom’s Taxonomy in the first and last lecture. She talks to them about complexity, wicked problems and challenges of critical appraisal both towards innovation and creativity but also towards assessment, review, and evaluation. Reflection is clearly embedded in her teaching practice and philosophy.
The unit assessments are designed to be both formative and summative, with built-in feedback loops. Liz uses a variety of teaching strategies and approaches but prioritises creating real-world (authentic) learning tasks that drive student learning. Learning is scaffolded; starting light and from a basis of knowledge and navigating students to move on from Google to media, textbooks and then to journal articles. Her vision is to create independent life-long learners out of her students. “For me, teaching is not about content, it’s about facilitating a personal transformation.”
What role do you think you play in your students’ success?
Liz states her teaching goal is simply to “ensure that I coach, mentor, guide and teach students iteratively to achieve the graduate capabilities. I have confidence in those graduate capabilities because we mapped and benchmarked them right at the start of this course (program). If students can exit this course with appropriate grades there is a sense and assurance that students will enter their professional life as functional and competent.”
Liz takes the approach that she has two years to get students broadly competent; acknowledging most students come with certain aspects of competence or inherent experience. The idea is that there is a broad range of skill sets and a broad range of subject disciplines that they need to merge, develop and finesse. “Ultimately, it’s about students developing their critical thinking skills.”
For Liz, the responsibility to connect students to the vision of who they will become and what the world needs, emerges through a variety of inspiring teaching practices, which drive her teaching excellence. She gives students the confidence to exit the course, knowing they’re ready for professional life.
Stop and immerse yourself for a moment in the image to the left – this beautiful piece of art was created by Liz’s students, in collaboration with Walanga Muru, to depict the health learning journey. It’s titled: Health through a cultural competency lens.