Posted Wednesday 12 May 2021
Two nursing academics from Kingston University won prestigious awards for teaching excellence late last year and, to celebrate this year's International Nurses Day on Wednesday 12 May, they recently came together to discuss their passion for teaching, the methods they use and why they got into academia.
Senior lecturer in clinical skills and management Judith Francois picked up the Most Innovative Teacher of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards for her innovative approach to using pictorial resources created by artists and storytelling mechanisms to explore cultural understanding and wellbeing with students – particularly helping them build resilience and stay connected while studying online.
Children's nursing expert Zoe Clark, meanwhile, scooped Educator of the Year at the Student Nursing Times Awards for inspiring, enthusing and motivating the next generation of nurses and helping them to achieve their potential through knowledge and understanding.
Discussing their careers to date, Judith and Zoe said the skills they picked up while working as health visitors earlier on their careers were transferrable to teaching. "We understand that every time we go through someone's door the situation is different and each individual is different, and this is the same in education – it's not just teaching the whole classroom but also about each individual and meeting their needs," Judith said.
Zoe echoed her colleague's thoughts and said a huge part of being an academic is lifting the barriers for students to allow them to flourish. "It's not just about being innovative around your teaching but really understanding what your students need to be successful – that's why we're academics.
"Looking at your students and asking them what they wanted really resonated with me and allowed me to find out they found learning about safeguarding challenging – that's when the Matilda project was born, students are taken to the West End to watch Matilda. After the show, we got back to the classroom, broke down Matilda's story from a safeguarding perspective and worked to put together a robust care plan for her – the students were so passionate and really appreciated being given a safe space where it didn't matter if they got things wrong in this scenario because Matilda wasn't real," she said.
The nursing experts also stressed the importance of making the curriculum accessible to students. "The language and jargon used in higher education and also in nursing can be a lot for students to take in and understand so it's about making it easy for them to digest and learn because if they don't understand, it's not going to help them," Judith said.
Zoe is a Kingston graduate having done her nursing train at the University and recalled a conversation with her classmate the day she graduated. "I said to my friend I'd be back, and she thought I meant to do a Masters but I told her I wanted to come back to be an educator. She replied saying she couldn't think of anything worse, but I couldn't think of anything better. It was always my aim to come back into education with the goal of making the biggest difference I could to as many students as possible and I've kept that at the core of everything I've done as an academic," she said.
Reflecting on her own path into academia, Judith said it started when creating a ‘space club' for her son and his classmates after he couldn't join the school's football team. "I created a programme for eight children and it ran for six or seven weeks. One of the mums came up to me one day and said her son doesn't do his school homework but every single week he did his space club homework, so I found myself teaching without realising it, but I really do love it. As a teacher you feel like you must know everything but we're constantly learning different techniques and material so it's about gathering your skills and appreciating how powerful they are," she said.
Zoe said the feedback she received from a third year adult nursing student at Kingston who nominated her for the award was one of her biggest teaching achievements to date. "She said I made her feel it was possible for her to do anything and she felt she understood what was wanted from her academically and what she needed to do professionally. This enabled her to feel like the world was her oyster and there's nothing better than knowing the nurses we've taught are going out there qualified feeling like they can achieve and do anything," she said.
"It's important we're role models to our students. We often hear ‘I can't do this and that' but it's all about finding out what they can do, the skills they have and how we develop it so they have the attitude they can do anything when they put their mind to it – seeing the penny drop for my students is one of my favourite things about teaching," Zoe added.