There for the students

13 September 2018

Donella Cobb
Winner: Dr Donella Cobb, centre,

University of Waikato lecturer Dr Donella Cobb was a winner at the 2018 Ako Aotearoa National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards, presented to the country’s top tertiary teachers by the Minister for Education Chris Hipkins.

Dr Cobb was four years old when she decided she wanted to be a teacher, and she never changed her mind. Before joining the university, she taught in primary schools in New Zealand, England and Australia and also spent time in Rwanda working to develop national teacher education training programmes there. “I had always understood that education could be a tool for both liberation and oppression," she says. "Yet this experience brought me face-to-face with the complexities of educational inequalities. It was this experience that opened my eyes to the power of tertiary education as a platform for transformative change.”

Dr Cobb came to Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education in 2011. She says her teaching philosophy centres on her belief that teaching can enhance learning outcomes for all students, particularly those who have traditionally been under-served by our education system.

She says she makes a point of establishing good relationships with the pre-service student she works with, not always easy in the university environment. “I look for creative ways to build relationships with them. I set a personal challenge to learn each of their names by the end of the first lecture or tutorial. So far my record is learning 109 names in one lecture! I believe it makes a significant difference when pre-service teachers return the following week and are greeted by their name and are welcomed into the learning environment.”

Dr Cobb has also been a key driver of the University of Waikato’s Collaborative University-School Partnership (CUSP) programme since its conception in 2012. She says this influences her learning design and ensures the content she teaches remains relevant. “My own experience as an early career teacher showed me that theory doesn’t always encapsulate the dynamic, ever-changing messy nature of classroom life.”

She works with her pre-service teachers to identify a vision of their future ‘teaching self’ early on in their studies and says she strives to design educational experiences that are motivating, engaging and inspirational to teaching practice.

Video supplied by Ako Aotearoa.

Recently Dr Cobb and her colleague at Waikato, Dr Dianne Forbes started a Māori language group. “Our weekly ‘te wero akoranga reo parakuihi’ gathering provides an opportunity for staff to meet for breakfast and work collaboratively through a self-directed language programme to develop our reo. While neither of us are fluent speakers, our goal is to see te reo Māori spoken regularly by all academic and professional staff in the Faculty of Education.”

Looking to the future, Dr Cobb says she intends to extend her current research on enhancing the quality of teaching and teacher education, particularly in developing countries. “This award will enable me to build on existing research partnerships with universities within and beyond the Pacific region to further enhance teacher quality,” she says.

Associate Dean Teacher Education at Waikato Bev Cooper has nothing but praise for Dr Cobb’s work, whether it be online or face-to-face, and says she’s thoroughly deserving of the national award. “In short, Donella is a ‘shining star’ who is a dedicated teacher and teacher educator. She demonstrates all the skills and attributes to support teaching and learning in an institution that aspires to high quality practice.”

To find out more about Dr Cobb and her teaching practice go to Video supplied by Ako Aotearoa.

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