A (very) positive sum game

This is Maxine:

Maxine David has just won the Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award here at Surrey. She’s also my colleague here in the School of Politics.

Why am I telling you this?  Because I also put in for the Award and (obviously) didn’t win, although I did get short-listed. All of which prompted someone to whom I’d mentioned this to enquire (and this is the key point of this post) whether I was annoyed not to have won.

The short answer is that no, I’m not annoyed at all.  In fact, it’s an excellent decision.

For too long, learning & teaching has been seen as a hobby in the UK, something of secondary importance to the main work of an academic (i.e. research). While that attitude remains (as it still does in many places), then L&T is all too often seen as zero-sum; that one person’s gain comes at a cost, either to their other work or to someone’s teaching.  As my enquiring colleague was putting it, why else would I be interested in L&T if not for the possibility of recognition?

Clearly, this is a very limited view and one that our School does not share.  Because L&T has been a fundamental strand of our work since our foundation nearly a decade ago, me and my colleagues have long understood that personal investment in L&T brings collective benefits, i.e. it’s positive-sum.  The simple fact that each of us is willing to try out new pedagogic techniques and to discuss and share them with each other creates two virtuous circles.  The first is between staff, who are constantly exposed to new opportunities and ideas.  The second is among students, who are similarly exposed and who can develop their own, more rounded learning strategies than in a situation where innovation isn’t the norm.

Thus, Maxine’s winning isn’t a loss to me at all, but a gain to the School: the project she will be working on in the coming year (funded by the Award) will involve several of our colleagues and will make a material benefit to our students, as well as educators elsewhere (through research publications). Moreover, to have half the University’s short-listed candidates come from a School that is at the smaller end of the spectrum still reflects the extent to which we all value L&T.  On a more personal note, I can’t think of anyone else who I’d rather have won.  Well done again, Maxine!

In Politics we tend not to go long on altruism as an element of political action, but in L&T it’s at the heart of what we do: helping someone learn is precisely about to help others get something for themselves.  If we forget that, then we need to take a good look at ourselves.