The Society of Sewanee Scholars (SOSS) celebrated “Best Teaching Practices” earlier this month during a dinner at Chen Hall hosted by Vice-Chancellor John McCardell and his wife, Bonnie. The event was designed to launch a new initiative that seeks to promote open and relaxed conversation among students, faculty, and administrators.
Rather than name an Outstanding Teacher of the Year as the society has done in past years, the SOSS selected two teachers from disparate fields (this year, Religion and Chemistry) to speak as part of the celebration of "Best Practices" of teaching and learning at Sewanee. Six other teachers, also nominated by SOSS, were present to celebrate with them; all were seated with students and administrators in an effort to launch this new initiative in communication.
Sixty members of the SOSS, led this year by co-chairs Emelie Rodriguez and Will Matson, attended along with the eight teachers selected for their innovative and compassionate approaches to teaching and learning: Sid Brown, Richard O'Connor, Jim Peterman, Ron Pongdee, Matthew Rudd, Elizabeth Skomp, Scott Wilson, and Bill Engel, advisor to SOSS. Also present for the reception and dinner were Dean John Gatta and Provost Linda Lankewicz.
Following the Vice-Chancellor’s warm welcoming remarks were engaging reports from two teachers about some special successes they have had in their courses. Sid Brown, professor of religion and Asian studies, and Rongson Pongdee, assistant professor of chemistry, spoke candidly about their positive experiences with collaborative learning projects. Despite their different disciplines and instructional objectives, both emphasized the amazing things students can accomplish as a result of professors setting things up carefully ahead of time to facilitate learning—and then knowing when to get out of the way!
Rather than give an award for an outstanding “teacher of the year,” the Society of Sewanee Scholars maintains that every teacher at the college is outstanding. Each has his or her own distinctive contribution to make toward the overall education of Sewanee undergraduates, especially as pertains to instilling within them a love of lifelong learning. To recognize this, and in order to better know their teachers outside the classroom, the SOSS decided this year to celebrate “Best Teaching Practices.” Future plans include guest speakers, dormitory-based discussion groups, and the creation of an online resource with examples of innovative approaches to teaching and learning here at Sewanee.