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WATE 2020 Winner: Elena Riva (IATL)

Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?

I have started teaching because of my desire of sharing the wonderful journey of learning with students, as I did as a student with some inspiring teachers and lecturers.

My first experience of teaching at University was during the Chemistry Department's outreach activities with Nick Barker and these precious times in schools and in University labs allowed me to realise that teaching was and is my vocation and what makes me happy.

The main inspiration for my approach to teaching is the pedagogic work of an Italian educator, Fr Lorenzo Milani, who promoted social and political change through a pedagogy of care.

What pearls of wisdom have you been given over the years that have helped you with your teaching?

More than pearls of wisdom, witnessing teachers that really cared for their students is what has really helped me to understand what I wanted from my educational relationship with students. My pedagogy has been inspired by the ways in which these teachers were able to communicate such care, even while explaining a complex and ‘dry’ concept!

Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?

From time to time we feel very inadequate and incapable to reach all our students. We should not be afraid of acknowledging this and we should take this discovery, this feeling, as a new starting point for revising our practices.

If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what advice would you give?

To explore and discover what is the best way in which they can help students to discover their talents, as well as to create a student-centred learning experience in which students can be fully involved as active participants. And…to relax - we are not perfect, we fail and we can re-start!

What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?

To remember to share their own educational experiences, academic ups and downs with students and to allow time for reflecting on the teaching and learning process.

What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?

Due to the pandemic, I have been prompted to further explore new technologies as ways to strengthen our community of learners and our feeling of belonging, even in simple ways. For example, I have supported the creation of community-glossaries on Moodle, to which students enrolled on my modules can contribute, sharing their own knowledge and supporting the learning of others.

What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?

I wrote this when I was awarded the WATE 2018 and I want to reiterate it now, also given the time we are entering as a community. The biggest challenge is finding more time to dedicate to students for supporting their learning (also outside the classroom) and their full development.

My door (virtual and not) is always open for students and colleagues but this sometimes feel overwhelming as we have so many commitments and duties. Finding solutions to this challenge is a 'work in progress' that needs full institutional support.

If you could write a recipe for the perfect inspiring teacher, what ingredients would you need?

1 kg of creativity

1 kg of passion for your subject

1 kg of kindness

1 kg of openness

1 kg of patience

1 kg of enthusiasm

1 kg of empathy

1 kg of curiosity

1 kg of support from colleagues and students

Mix well all the ingredients of your reaction mixture, stir for few hours and add a pinch of desire for adventure and recklessness. Keep stirring for all the time you are teaching.

Remember to check that none of the ingredients gets consumed and, in case it is, look for a new wonderful source.

From time to time, make sure that you take your reaction mixture outside (possibly in the sun!), learning with your students in straight contact with nature.

Enjoyed hearing from Elena? See the full list of 2020 winners and commendees and read other interviews.