Elizabeth Wells recalls that a moment of truth for her as a professor came not when a student gave a brilliant answer in her class, but when a young woman raised her hand in the middle of lecture and said, “I’m sorry but you’re totally wrong.”
Dr. Wells, a music professor at Mount Allison University and a 2010 3M National Teaching Fellow, remembers the experience well. “I talked to her afterwards and think I was actually wrong,” she says, adding that the student later became a good friend and colleague.
Like others who have been awarded one of Canada’s prestigious 3M teaching fellowships, Dr. Wells takes her responsibilities as an educator seriously. During her tenure as chair of the Council of 3M National Teaching Fellows, from 2012 to 2014, she was introduced to Kirsten Hardie, currently associate professor at the Arts University Bournemouth and a 2004 recipient of the U.K.’s National Teaching Fellowship. The two quickly hit it off and are now spearheading an international initiative that would connect teaching fellows from around the globe.
The International Federation of National Teaching Fellows, set to launch this September at the British House of Lords, will bring together professors who have been recognized for excellence in teaching to share best practices and to develop evidence-based pedagogy. The federation is volunteer-run and will be supported by postsecondary institutions and sponsors.
In the short term, the organization seeks to unite teaching fellows in countries where a national program similar to Canada’s exists; to date that includes Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and U.S. Drs. Hardie and Wells also hope the federation will become a hub of advocacy for top-quality teaching and learning in higher education.
“Our aim is to unite the established fellows, but we are mindful that we don’t want to be exclusive – we don’t want to be a closed club,” Dr. Hardie says. “We want to make sure we draw upon our experiences to benefit others. We’re mindful that there are a number of organizations internationally looking to develop [national teaching fellowship] schemes.”
Drs. Hardie and Wells say they are excited by the enthusiastic response they’ve received from colleagues about the new initiative. Once the federation is established, the duo look forward to setting in motion a yearly summit on teaching and learning, with the first to be held on Feb. 17, 2017, in Birmingham, U.K. They also hope to bring together international student fellows, establish a journal devoted to the subject, and create a new “Teacher of the World” award that would recognize an outstanding educator in any corner of the globe.