Monday, February 26, 2018

Susan Koch: Good teachers are always working to be better teachers

The following is an excerpt from a column by University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on February 24, 2018.

A few weeks ago, a headline in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a widely respected weekly publication for college and university personnel, caught my eye. “What Makes a Good Teacher?” the headline read.

The writer, himself a well-known author and professor of English, went on to describe key characteristics of teachers who (though not necessarily liked best) had the greatest impact on their students’ learning.

The list included several familiar observations about effective teachers: “They are professional without being aloof. They have a good sense of humor. They are demanding without being unkind. They seem to enjoy what they do. They are tremendously creative.”

The author closes the piece by acknowledging that some professors seem to be “born teachers” because they possess the above traits in abundance; but every professor can work to develop and enhance their own teaching expertise. 

That’s exactly what the Teaching Fellows Program at UIS is all about! 

The program is the brainchild of Dr. Layne Morsch, a professor in the UIS Chemistry Department. Himself a distinguished teacher, Morsch was selected a few years ago by Apple (the world’s largest information technology company) as an Apple Distinguished Educator. 

With the support and encouragement of UIS Vice Chancellor and Provost Dennis Papini, Morsch has developed a professional development program that brings faculty together from across campus throughout the year to discuss educational psychology and research-based teaching practices, to experiment in their own courses and to share and learn with colleagues. 

“When you do your doctorate, it’s not focused on teaching. It’s about the research,” says Morsch. 

“The Teaching Fellows Program creates opportunities for faculty to engage together with high impact practices that can transform their teaching and improve student learning.” 

One of this year’s Teaching Fellows is Dr. Tiffany Nielson, an Assistant Professor in the Human Development Counseling program. 

Nielson, an Idaho native, completed her Ph.D. at Idaho State University and joined the UIS faculty three years ago. “I chose UIS because it is a teaching-focused university,” she says. “The Teaching Fellows Program has been a unique opportunity and perfect way to jump start my career.” 

Nielson recently taught her students about fixed vs. growth mindset, a concept the Teaching Fellows had studied and discussed in a recent session. “A fixed mindset means you believe your intelligence is set and cannot be changed while a growth mindset means you believe that, with effort and action, you have the capacity to grow,” says Nielson. She was delighted when a struggling student told her she had been thinking about how adopting a growth mindset could help her to be more successful. 

The Teaching Fellows Program’s impact on student success at UIS might best be illustrated by Morsch, who reflects: “Two of my students in the last week have told me the medical schools they’ve gotten admission into. That’s what I’m most excited to hear about – where my students are going and what they’ll be doing. Our graduates do amazing things!”

Read the entire column online.