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Empowering students through teaching

One of the many things that drew me here was the University’s deep commitment to the concept of an R1 university, where excellence in scholarship and creative activity and in teaching are valued and integrated to strengthen both. Our vision is to create a challenging learning environment for our students that is informed by cutting-edge scholarship. Key to that vision is engaging our students as active participants in their own learning. 

In fact, this idea is clearly stated in the Regents’ policies that govern us, the first of which states: “. . . the University fosters an environment in which its students can develop mature and independent judgment and an appreciation of the range and diversity of human achievement. The University cultivates in its students both critical thinking and the effective articulation of that thinking.”  

Whether we are early in our careers or have years of experience, instructors of all roles, ranks and disciplines play a vital role in creating that environment in our classrooms, labs, studios, discussions and learning spaces – wherever and whenever we teach.   

I believe that we have all chosen to work here because we recognize the transformative power of this noble work. Teaching gives us the opportunity to pay it back – to acknowledge the instructors who taught, mentored, and inspired us. And, teaching gives us the opportunity to pay it forward, to spark in our students their own interests and passions for science, or literature, or social justice, and their intersections.  

Although the nature of my own contributions has evolved over time, a focus on the success of students has been a significant part of my work at every stage of my career as a scientist and a leader. Just as my research has developed over time, so has my teaching. Teaching is not a static endeavor, and we have much to learn from one another.  We have many ways to keep current on the scholarship of teaching and learning, such as discussions with colleagues and resources through Teaching@UW. 

Another excellent resource for instructors at all stages is the yearly UW Teaching & Learning Symposium that brings together faculty, staff educators, and graduate instructors from across the UW’s three campuses to share and explore teaching practices. With the theme “Empowering Students,” this year’s symposium is set for 1-2:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 16 in Kane Hall and streaming online. The keynote presenter will be Cate Denial, American history professor and director of the Bright Institute at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. A panel discussion about power dynamics in the classroom will follow with Professor Denial and UW educators Kevin Lin, assistant teaching professor of computer science; Maya Smith, associate dean in Arts & Sciences and associate professor of French; and Rachel Song, doctoral student in social psychology. Learn more and register to attend. 

The symposium also includes a showcase of teaching-related projects developed by your UW colleagues. Visit the showcase to see their wonderful work.  

Good teaching is a practice that we constantly develop, and I encourage all instructors to be intentional in advancing their pedagogy. Teaching offers another avenue for creativity and analysis that benefits from reviewing the literature, connecting with others to talk and learn about teaching, innovating in the classroom, assessing those new approaches, and refining our courses based on these new insights.

I have long believed that we are all elevated by working and learning together, and that through this strength, we – and our students – will make a transformational impact in the world. As we look to the future, we are deeply involved in conversations to define teaching excellence at the UW through a shared understanding of quality instruction and the supports that will sustain it. 

The Future of Teaching and Learning working group, composed of faculty and instructional staff from all three campuses, including representatives from the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning (FCTL), is developing the shared language based on feedback from over 600 UW instructors of all ranks. Later this spring, the group will send recommendations to FCTL on how to implement the shared language to improve the criteria, processes and support for instructional quality. 

This important work will help us establish a foundation on which to ensure inclusive and equitable learning environments that will empower all students. Look for future blog posts on this topic and how you can engage in this work.