Dr Christine Rubie-Davies - Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dr Christine Rubie-Davies (Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Auckland) - a Sustained Excellence Award winner 2007
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Auckland
Christine has sustained excellence in teaching over the nine years of her university career. One of Christine's most notable philosophies is the importance and value of feedback. She strongly believes that feedback and self-reflection on teaching practice enables students to improve their teaching effectiveness. She has a focus on deep rather than surface learning and delivers her lectures in a way that carefully integrates theory and research about teaching practice. Christine has always been particular to ensure that Pasifika and Maori students are well supported and encouraged while also being appropriately challenged in their learning. Student ratings are consistently high across the wide range of courses she teaches. Another major quality is her willingness to fully participate in various teaching committees, putting in extraordinary background study and follow-up work.
Teaching is an opportunity to inspire and empower. As I look back on my teaching life I realise that I have always understood teaching is my passion; it was always my destiny. The privilege of teaching young people is the most wonderful opportunity that life has afforded me. I loved teaching when I lined my dolls up at three and taught them to read; I loved it when my younger brother and sister (twins) sat ‘enraptured' as I taught them their basic facts; I loved it when all the neighbours' children were ordered to line up in straight lines outside my bedroom and to sit quietly on my mat in front of my blackboard. I loved every day I spent in a primary classroom; it was never a job, it was something I had always wanted; and now I have the honour and pleasure of being able to endow other young people with my passion, enthusiasm, delight in making a difference in children's and young people's lives. Even more special at this point in my teaching career is that in educating the next generation of teachers I have the opportunity to influence the quality of education and learning for future generations; indeed a privilege.
However, moving from primary teaching to tertiary in 1998 was not an easy emotional transition. My initial euphoria at being able to exponentially influence multitudes of children, making classrooms safe, happy learning environments for all was soon overshadowed by the realities of the position I had so eagerly entered. Moving into the university meant teaching very big people! Very big people might not overlook my weaknesses as children do and might think I was awful at lecturing. I related well to children but older beings might not be so accepting. Besides, lecturing wasn't teaching, or certainly not as I knew it. I began my first lectures with extreme trepidation. I wrote out almost every word I would say and every question I would ask.
I timed myself giving a lecture because I had no idea how much talk filled up two hours. I practised my new craft in front of the mirror and hoped that my face would not give away my nervousness. I hid behind my notes as I took my first faltering steps at lecturing.
As I relaxed, I realised that I could enjoy teaching just as much as I had in my schools. The students were responsive; many told me they enjoyed my lectures; some came to me with significant personal problems, showing they trusted me. My confidence grew and my teaching improved. I could present ‘Christine', be honest with them and enjoy being myself with these delightful student teachers. I rediscovered the caring, respectful, supportive teacher that I thought so important in the primary classroom.
Pedagogical beliefs and practices
I consider that teaching at the tertiary level can be divided into two broad areas: teaching the student and teaching the subject. Teachers must be passionate about their students as well as their subject if they are to be successful. So what does this mean?
Teaching the student
Caring for students I believe that successful teachers establish a caring relationship with their students. Creating a supportive classroom environment generates a climate in which students are motivated to learn. Caring is also about sharing students' successes and their failures, being there when they need support and showing excitement at their successes. Students respond genuinely to genuine responses. To be successful, teachers should be honest with their students and share a little of themselves. A classroom needs to be a place where students are respected and encouraged to take risks but it should also be a place where there is laughter and fun. Laughter goes a long way in fostering positive relationships with students.
The significance of success in enhancing students' self-esteem cannot be underestimated. Success is a great motivator and all students should be succeeding in their courses. Ideally all students would show personal growth from participating in one of my courses, and leave more confident and self-assured than when they arrived. Where students are less successful, a good teacher will look to their own practice and reflect on ways to alter their teaching practices so that students have every opportunity to learn. Hence it is important to listen closely to students and respond to their feedback.
Accounting for individual needs
Our society has become increasingly diverse. Therefore teacher education students should come from an increasing range of social and cultural backgrounds in order to cater for a varied student population. To teach effectively in a changing university environment, teaching style must change from the traditional transmission approach. Students need a wider range of opportunities to learn. Cooperative approaches in lectures, tutorials and assignments can sit alongside the more conventional individualised approaches. Some students may need additional assistance to be successful and so it is important for the teacher to provide encouragement and to create a classroom environment where peer support and friendships are fostered and promoted.
Making learning exciting and enjoyable
Being a motivator is another important teaching role. I believe effective teachers are inspirational. Showing enthusiasm for teaching is infectious. I let students know that I am excited about teaching them and passionate about my subject. I want to promote curiosity, enhance excitement for teaching and inspire them to expand their intellectual horizons. I want them to love teaching as much as I do. Often I share amusing anecdotes from my primary teaching years to show students how much fun teaching can be.
Teaching the subject
Understanding of content
The pastoral care of students contributes enormously to their academic success but achievement also requires content. The central goal of any teacher is to enhance student learning, to increase their knowledge. This may sound simplistic but content is my core business. There is a body of information that student teachers need in order to become successful. It is my job to ensure that all student teachers leave my courses understanding the content they require.
Linking theory and practice
Much of the content that students should understand comprises knowledge of theory and of practice. Teacher educators have struggled to make the links clear and comprehensible to students. I believe the best way to enhance student understanding of these links is to have a core evidence-based educational theory that underpins the course. In this way, theory facilitates student reflection on teaching practice as students have data to analyse and reflect upon their practice. Practical application of theory can provide students with means to access and interpret beliefs about teaching, critique the practice of others and analyse their own practice.
Being well-organised and well-prepared
Careful planning of lectures is the first step towards a successful learning experience for students. Planning learning intentions and key questions for students provides a necessary framework for a successful lecture. It is important to consider how the lecture will be presented. How much will be my talk? I include a range of activities within each lecture to keep the lecture moving and because variety keeps students interested and offers them a range of learning opportunities. I run the lecture through my head several times before giving it, searching for ways to improve and then I feel positive about giving it. Many people think I am confident and self-assured. The opposite is actually the case but I'm a good actor! Rehearsal puts me at ease and ensures that the students are stress free and ready to learn. I believe students learn best in a relaxed, comfortable environment.
Encouraging independence and curiosity
While it is central to present students with core knowledge and concepts, arguably a more significant role is continually to challenge student beliefs, perceptions and understandings. I believe that all students should be able to think critically and analyse their implicit beliefs. By challenging their understandings I encourage them to formulate questions, to think differently about issues and to critically analyse new concepts. My students become active learners engaging in lively debate and feeling confident in expressing their ideas.
While it can be said that teachers at tertiary level now their subject, what appears to set apart the excellent teachers is the care they show for their students. What is my concept of an excellent teacher?
Excellent teachers listen to students, take heed of what they are saying and make changes, because they seek to grow their pedagogy.
Excellent teachers pour energy into preparation, organisation and clarity of presentation because they want every student to learn and be successful.
Excellent teachers provide students with clear guidelines and feedback on assignments because they want them to understand and grow academically.
Excellent teachers show enthusiasm and humour because they want students to enjoy learning.
Excellent teachers are creative and inspiring because they love learning too.
What are the qualities of a caring teacher? Enjoy your students; be honest with them; don't be afraid to show them you care; show them respect; listen to them; and laugh with them!
Peer and Student Comments
I have been involved in teaching at University level for 30+ years and it is rare to have the pleasure to support an academic of such high qualities in her teaching... The student ratings typically exceed 9 (out of 10), and this is powerful, given the number and range of courses Christine teaches. The qualitative comments are also very positive... What a powerful message - so many, so high, so consistent.
John Hattie, Professor of Education, The University of Auckland
Christine has always been particular in ensuring that Pasifika and Māori students are supported and that her practice is consistent with ensuring a good level of understanding and is contextually relevant for these groups of students. She is supportive and encouraging but also challenging...She has a focus on deep rather surface learning and delivers her lectures in a way that carefully integrates theory and research for student learning about teaching practice.
Nane Rio, Lecturer, Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland
One of Christine's most notable philosophies is the importance and value of feedback. She strongly believes that feedback and self-reflection on teaching practice enable trainees to improve their teaching effectiveness.
Jenny White, Senior Mentor, Mangere Bridge School
Christine is an excellent teacher and mentor. She took a great interest in all her students and I am proud to say I can call her a friend now also. She is never too busy to offer advice and help and is very approachable. Even whilst Christine was overseas she provided me with her email address and I was able to contact her for any help I needed. This just served to highlight how passionate and serious she is about her students and career. This I feel marks the spirit of a true professional and loyal mentor.
Melanie Paterson, former student and then senior mentor
Throughout my three years at The University of Auckland I always knew that if I had a problem I could approach Christine. She was an excellent mentor and took an active part in the pastoral care of students. Her compassion and understanding were instrumental in many students staying and completing their degree rather than quitting when things got tough.
Deborah Howell, former student