What makes a great teaching award nomination dossier?

By Natasha Kenny (Director, Educational Development Unit, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning)

The University of Calgary Teaching Awards program is a prestigious institutional award that recognizes the outstanding contributions that members of our community make to student learning, across 13 different award categories. Building upon past research related to teaching award programs, nominations for these awards are based upon providing clear evidence of teaching excellence, across specific criteria defined in each call for nominations (Chism, 2006; Hammer et al., 2010; Hugget et al., 2012).

To recognize the inherent diversity in evidence that demonstrates the scope, impact and quality of one’s teaching and contributions to student learning, nominees submit a dossier ranging from 10-20 pages in length.  Each nomination dossier uniquely presents evidence of the nominee’s contributions as they related to the award criteria.  Although the structure of a nomination dossier varies across each award category, and from nominee to nominee,  a typical structure for an instructor-based teaching award is provided here.

Many nominees find they reach the maximum page limit quickly.  In the words of a 2015 University of Calgary Teaching Award recipient, Susanne Cote, “You have to make every page count!” Pulling together a nomination package takes a combination of listing, describing, and reflecting upon your beliefs, experiences, strategies, accomplishments and impact.  Heather Addy, 2014 University of Calgary Teaching Award recipient, shares this piece of advice, “For each claim you make about your strengths as an instructor and the strategies you use, think about the most important piece of evidence that helps to put that in context and demonstrate its impact.”

After reading hundreds of nomination dossiers, learning from conversations with our former Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) Lynn Taylor, contributing to a research-informed guide on assessing dossiers (McDonald et al., 2016), and acting as neutral chair on dozens of adjudication committees, the following 3 characteristics are distinguishing factors in the strongest nomination dossiers.

1. Philosophy

The strongest nomination dossiers are grounded in a philosophy statement that provides an overview of the nominee’s key beliefs related to teaching and learning, describes why they hold these key beliefs based on personal experience and/or literature related to teaching and learning, and briefly highlights how they put these beliefs into practice. Resources related to preparing a teaching philosophy statement, including example philosophy statements from past University of Calgary Teaching Award recipients can be found here.

2. Alignment

Two types of alignment are apparent in the strongest nominations.  First, the nominees carefully select and curate the most important evidence to demonstrate the teaching and learning strategies they use to put their beliefs into practice, as well as the impact that these strategies have had on others. The dossier will make explicit how this evidence aligns back to their philosophy and the award criteria. This is referred to as horizontal alignment – how do your beliefs about teaching and learning, relate to the strategies you use in practice, evidence of their impact, and the award criteria? A framework for exploring horizontal alignment is provided in our nomination dossier workshop worksheets here. The second type of alignment, which may be referred to as vertical alignment is the alignment of evidence from multiple data sources and perspectives (e.g. the nominee, colleagues and students). Vertical alignment helps to strengthen the quality and scope of evidence as it relates to each of the award criteria (see example award rubric).  For each claim you make about your accomplishments, do you provide evidence from multiple data sources, as well as your own perspective, students’ perspective and your colleagues’ perspective?

3. Authentic Expression and Critical Reflection

Most importantly, the dossier should capture the authentic voice of the nominee, and be grounded in a strong reflective narrative that provides the reader with the clear understanding of the nominee’s beliefs, approaches, contributions, expertise, and strengths. All awards include a criterion related to critical reflection. This reflective narrative is often woven throughout each section and should situate the information presented, and provide meaning and context to guide the reader towards an understanding of: 1) why the nominee does what they do to support teaching and learning, 2) the scope, context, and impact of their contributions, 3) what they have learned through these experiences, and 3) how they hope to continue to grow and improve into the future.  As my wonderful colleague, Carol Berenson so often states, “This narrative should help paint a picture so the readers can see who you are in the classroom.”

Being nominated for an institutional-level teaching award is a significant accomplishment.  The University of Calgary’s Teaching Award Program is one of the most comprehensive and rigorous institutional teaching awards program across the Canadian post-secondary landscape. Although each nomination dossier distinctly represents the outstanding contributions of each nominee, by carefully grounding your dossier in a philosophy that clearly describes your beliefs, thinking carefully about aligning your beliefs, strategies, evidence of impact with the award criteria, aligning the evidence provided across multiple data sources and perspectives, and capturing your authentic voice in a reflective narrative, the adjudication committee members will clearly see what most makes your accomplishments stand out.

References:

Chism, N.V.N. (2006). Teaching awards: What do they award? The Journal of Higher Education, 77(4), 589-617.

Hammer, D., Piascik, P., Medina, M., Pittenger, A., Rose, R., Creekmore, F., … & Scott, S. (2010). Recognition of teaching excellence. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 74(9), Article 164.

Huggett, K. N., Greenberg, R. B., Rao, D., Richards, B., Chauvin, S. W., Fulton, T. B., … & Simpson, D. (2012). The design and utility of institutional teaching awards: A literature review. Medical Teacher, 34(11), 907-909.

McDonald, J., Kenny, N., Kustra, E., Dawson, D., Iqbal, I., Borin, P., & Chan, J. (2016). Educational Development Guide Series: No. 1. The Educational Developer’s Portfolio. Ottawa, Canada: Educational Developers Caucus.

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