SRU’s Kelley receives 2019-20 President’s Award for Teaching Excellence
April 24, 2020
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — There's a certain level of "meta-awareness" when it comes to teaching teachers how to teach, according to Laura Kelley, Slippery Rock University assistant professor of elementary education and early childhood. Kelley just happens to teach quite well; so well, in fact, that she received the SRU President's Award for Excellence in Teaching for the 2019-20 academic year.
"One of the most important parts of excellence in teaching is having high standards and high levels of support for students to meet those standards," Kelley said. "It's making sure that we're really helping our students develop the knowledge and skills to become excellent professionals, and for my discipline, excellent educators."
Each year, SRU recognizes a faculty member based on their commitment to teaching beyond contractual obligations, a participatory and engaging pedagogy, developing and using innovative classroom practices and their commitment to scholarly growth. Students, peers, staff and alumni are invited to submit nominations, which are then reviewed by a committee organized through the Provost's Office that selects a winner from among finalists of each of SRU's four colleges.
"It's such an honor because I view teaching as a community effort," Kelley said. "I am surrounded by such great educators in the Early Childhood Department. I couldn't do what I do without them, and while it feels wonderful for my hard work and dedication to be acknowledged, I view (the award) as an acknowledgment of the work that we do collectively."
That collective involvement is also how she views the vocation of teaching.
"Teaching and learning are relationship based," Kelley said. "It's not just what the teacher does and what the student does, it's what they do in collaboration with one another. Building relationships with the students is the foundation for doing this work well. My students talk with me about course content but also about what's going on in their lives. It extends beyond office hours or asking them to complete an assignment; it's about caring about people as humans first."
An example of how she builds rapport with students is teaching the practice of feedback. In Kelley's Developmental Formal and Informal Assessment class, she converted an assignment that would normally be a term paper to a presentation among small groups where students practiced giving and receiving feedback.
"Each of the students got four times the amount of feedback (they normally would) on their final project and they got to practice giving specific suggestions for their peers' work," Kelley said. "Through that conversation of 'How do we make this better?' helped to elevate their work. I was so proud when I watched that."
According to Kelley, learning how to provide quality feedback is a critical skill for educators. Her research interest involves effective feedback and praise with young children.
"It feels good to say, 'Good job,' but it doesn't help students know what's good about (what they did) and how to carry that forward in the future," Kelley said. "It also doesn't help anyone to say, 'Eh, this isn't very good.' That doesn't feel good and it doesn't help them do better next time."
Conversations, like the constructive feedback Kelley taught her students to give to each other, leads to learning and growth.
"Teaching is not just replicating the same things that happened to us (when we were students)," Kelley said. "We must be willing to be creative, innovative and critical and look at the world through the eyes of others and the people who we are helping. (We must ask) 'How can we make this more equitable and better for everyone?'"
Kelley's approach not only benefits the students that she teaches, but the students that they will influence when they become teachers.
"Dr. Kelley is the definition of passion and one of the hardest working people I have had the honor of meeting," said Amber Wilson, a junior early childhood/special education major from Pittsburgh. "With professors like her, we are guaranteed to have motivated and inspired young educators. I know will gladly look back 40 years from now with admiration for her."
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, campus activities that include the annual Celebration of Achievement ceremony are either canceled or postponed. Kelley and other President's Award winners will be formally recognized at a later date when on-campus activities resume.
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