Lara Tookey wins National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award

  • Construction

Construction lecturer Lara Tookey won a prestigious National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award last night, following in the footsteps of five other Unitec staff winners in the past six years – including building technology lecturer Kamuka Pati.

The innovation and commitment shown by Lara to help students into significant roles in the construction industry, and to create safe and competent professionals has been repeatedly endorsed by her students and fellow teachers.

We are celebrating Lara’s achievement as there is a relentless drive for teaching that genuinely adds value to student outcomes. We are shifting all of our programmes to contemporary models that integrate more inquiry-focused, online and work-integrated learning, aligned to the huge opportunities presented by new technology. Teachers are introducing more interactive approaches to face-to-face teaching so that students are able to maximise the time they are with their teachers and peers. Dean Teaching and Learning, Linda Keesing-Styles says Lara is indicative of the many excellent teachers at Unitec striving to use contemporary approaches to learning and she is an inspiration to many colleagues.

Lara had 15 years in the construction industry before moving into teaching but says in both careers the key was always engaging people. She says this applies whether you are seeking $30 million for a new build or whether you are in a classroom trying to achieve that ‘lightbulb’ moment with your students.

In Lara’s portfolio which she submitted for the awards, she explains the “watershed” moment when she first started university, full of excitement and intellectual curiosity – only to have her hopes dashed by an uninspiring classroom experience. The lecturer started with: ‘”I will be taking you through construction technology for the next two years. Open your textbook to page… Let us begin.” No eye contact, no enthusiasm. Intellectual growth crushed. Aspiration dissolved. At this stage I had never considered I would become a professional educator. However, I vowed then and there never to engage any group of people, in any context, the same way.’

“As an experienced lecturer - having now lived, worked and taught around the world - I think back to that watershed moment and reflect on that experience. It still guides my classroom thinking and behaviour.”

Lara says her learners need to demonstrate their understanding of non-negotiable construction industry requirements, i.e. that they are ‘work ready’. Balancing the encouragement of students’ curiosity and independent inquiry with industry standards is all part of the job.

Lara and Kamuka represent two sides of the construction industry, which Unitec plays a significant part of in Auckland. Lara’s focus is the project management, including tendering and procurement while Kamuka’s focus is the hands-on skills needed on building sites.

Kamuka is now one of hundreds of New Zealand teachers studying the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) at The Mind Lab by Unitec. This is an innovative programme to help teachers use new technologies in the classroom. Though Kamuka was celebrated for his digital innovation when he won his 2013 award, he is determined to remain current and extend his capabilities in this area.

Keesing-Styles says we are very proud of Lara and of all the teachers acknowledged in the national awards in recent years. As new approaches to teaching and learning spread right across the institution, she says there is the potential for many more teachers to be similarly celebrated.