University of Auckland academics recognised for teaching excellence

Dr Te Oti Rakena (School of Music) and Dr Brendon Dunphy (Biological Sciences) from the University of Auckland have had their excellence in tertiary teaching and learning acknowledged in the 2021 national Tertiary Teaching Awards.

The University of Auckland pair join seven other teaching academics from around Aotearoa New Zealand to be recognised in these awards, hosted by the Minister of Education. Since 2001, they have highlighted the excellence of more than 200 of this country’s top tertiary teachers, including 37 from this University.

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education), Associate Professor Bridget Kool said that the University placed immense value on outstanding teachers.

“Our core business is education and research, underpinned by excellence and equity. Teaching is a huge part of this, and we know that many students choose to come to this University for that reason.

“Teachers who can engage their students in a way that is relevant to them can encourage a lifelong love of a subject and of learning in general. It is inspiring for all of us when our teaching academics use their own research passions to create that same spark in their students,” she said.

Teachers who can engage their students in a way that is relevant to them can encourage a lifelong love of a subject and of learning in general.

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education) Bridget KoolUniversity of Auckland

Dr Te Oti Rakena, senior lecturer, School of Music

E te reo waitī, he pūmanawa ōu nō nanahi, he mana atua!

Dr Te Oti Rakena is one of two recipients of the Kaupapa Māori – Sustained Excellence for Tertiary Teaching in a Kaupapa Māori Award. He was additionally the sole recipient of the 2021 ‘Excellence in supporting Pacific learners’ endorsement.

Working in a discipline that has been grounded in European pedagogies, Dr Rakena is decolonising the study of music by making a deliberate ontological shift to a kaupapa Māori framework, which has had transformational benefits for all learners.

His commitment to whanaungatanga extends beyond the institution and recognises the important role whānau plays in the success of his students.

He is recognised in the Awards as being an innovative, a creative thinker who embodies what, how and why he teaches. He is widely regarded as a consummate professional who leads by example.

Pacific and Māori students at the School of Music have a specific cultural background, that not only encourages singing but places a strong value on family and community, he says.

“In the vocal programme we have a kaupapa that acknowledges this, with an approach that connects music, health, and wellbeing, focusing less on the musical object (the voice) and more on social participation, and the wellbeing of the individual learner.”

If is an approach aimed at mobilising a community of learners beyond the studio, that encompasses family, friends, and peers.

“It’s a rewarding and fulfilling way to teach. It has been a challenge to teach voice during our numerous lockdowns, so it’s very encouraging that this approach has been acknowledged and endorsed by these awards,” he says.

Dr Te Oti Rakena
Dr Te Oti Rakena

Dr Brendon Dunphy, School of Biological Sciences

Dr Brendon Dunphy was one of seven tertiary teachers recognised in the General category for Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching.

Growing up by the ocean meant marine biology was a natural progression for Dr Dunphy, but success as a student didn’t come easily for him. He therefore empathises with students who are struggling and helps them succeed by assuring them it’s okay not to be perfect.

He and his wife Catherine (Taranaki tuturu) sent their two daughters to Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Maungarongo for their education, which exposed him to a whole new way of learning and ‘knowing’. Having taken months to feel confident speaking Te Reo to the girls’ teachers, he gained insight into what it is like to be outside one’s comfort zone and how difficult it can be for his University students to risk asking questions when they feel overwhelmed and out of their depth.

He is academic coordinator of the Tuākana programme, a learning community for Māori and Pasifika students across the University of Auckland which has allowed him to partner with learners to create, in their words. “an inclusive Māori/PI learning community purposed to combat inequities experienced by our students” that has a real focus on empowerment and identity.

“While predominantly a service role, my Tuākana work spills over into my teaching. It has made me acutely aware of the barriers Māori and Pasifika students face at University and evermore determined to help break them down. The contribution I can make is to show that Māori and Pasifika success is everyone’s responsibility, not just the role of Māori and Pasifika staff.”

Dr Dunphy says he loves teaching.

“I find it exhilarating, demanding, and deeply rewarding. I see it as my ‘mission’ as an academic to guide students to have the confidence to question, innovate, and ultimately improve the human condition.”

The Prime Minister’s Supreme Award winner will be announced at an online awards ceremony on Tuesday 21 September. More information about the Awards here.

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