September 1, 2022

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

Meet Barbara Radcliffe, 2022 VSU Presidential Excellence Award for Teaching Honoree

Pictured are Dr. Barbara Radcliffe, an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education in the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education and Human Services, and Dr. Richard A. Carvajal, president of Valdosta State University. She is the recipient of the 2022 Presidential Excellence Award for Teaching.

VALDOSTA — Dr. Richard A. Carvajal, president of Valdosta State University, recently honored Dr. Barbara Radcliffe with the 2022 Presidential Excellence Award for Teaching.

The Presidential Excellence Award for Teaching recognizes a faculty member who employs innovative teaching strategies and demonstrates a strong commitment to student success.

Radcliffe joined the VSU faculty in 2010 and currently serves as an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education in the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education and Human Services.

When asked what courses she most looks forward to every year, Radcliffe replied, “This is a challenging question because I enjoy all of my classes. Every class I teach is situated in literacy, and the students I work with are pre-service or in-service teachers. Both dovetail beautifully with my research interests, which focus on literacy development, literacy instruction, and teacher preparation.”

Radcliffe said she looks for opportunities to connect and interact with her students, both inside and outside the classroom. She has the pleasure and responsibility of teaching VSU’s teacher candidates just as they are beginning to develop their teacher identity.

VSU: What strategies / tools / techniques have proven most effective in increasing student learning in your classroom?

Radcliffe: Safe Learning Environment/Learning Community: First, I set the stage as learning cannot occur if students do not feel safe. I begin the semester by communicating clear expectations regarding our critical role in creating a safe learning environment and learning community. I remain consistent in these expectations and continually construct tasks that will strengthen our learning community.

Encouraging Risk Taking/Support: Learning occurs when students take risks, so I focus on the developmental process of becoming a teacher and encourage students to take risks and to embrace and learn from mistakes. Then I make sure that I am there as a safety net. Learning occurs when students are engaged in meaningful and authentic learning tasks, take ownership of their learning, and receive constructive feedback.

Authentic Learning/Applied Learning (hands-on): I construct learning activities highlighting the connections between theory/research and classroom practice. Most of my courses include experiential learning that requires students to transfer the knowledge and skills they are learning in class and apply these in a public school classroom, prekindergarten through 12th grade. Following the field experience, they engage in reflective practice.

Student Ownership/Voice: I include an element of choice in many assignments so students can take ownership. While their mastery of the content/skill is assessed using the same rubric, they can decide how they want to approach the task and what form the work will take.

Constructive Feedback: Since I have developed a rapport with my students, most are open to receiving feedback. I make sure to explain or provide an example of how to improve. While I address where students miss the mark or fall short of expectations, I also take the time to identify positive aspects of students' work or performances. A balanced approach to providing constructive feedback allows students to grow while also feeling encouraged. In my online courses, providing feedback is my most effective tool for learning.

Modeling and Scaffolded Learning: I model and provide my students multiple opportunities to practice what they are learning before they are assessed or required to implement in the classroom.

Text Interaction Tasks: I introduce my students to different text interaction strategies and have them apply them when reading class materials. The strategies help them engage with the text — rather than passively reading — and help them prepare for class discussions.

Technology: I use a variety of technology tools for learning and teaching.

VSU: Helping students achieve success often involves countless hours of work outside the classroom. In what ways do you actively engage with your students to continue the learning process outside of scheduled class times?

Radcliffe: My commitment to student success extends beyond the classroom walls and involves more than just the students I teach. I am the executive director of the Sullivan Scholars Program, a scholarship program for students from rural districts in Georgia who demonstrate the need for financial support and exhibit promise as a future teacher. In this role, I work closely with 44 students at varying points in their programs, from first-year students to seniors completing their final semester. I am the "official" mentor for 16 scholars; however, several other scholars have adopted me as their "unofficial" mentor. I schedule three one-on-one meetings with my 16 mentees throughout the semester and hold monthly meetings with all 44 scholars. I coach the scholars on how to facilitate meetings, make presentations, and plan events, such as the Sullivan Summit, which is held each spring to welcome the incoming scholars. I make sure the scholars have additional supports in place, such as assigning a success coach for those struggling academically. I have an open-door policy as a faculty member, so many scholars stop by to chat or get advice. I have one scholar who stops by every week to look at his goal that he taped to a cabinet in my office; that weekly touchpoint is important to him. I meet some scholars in more convenient or neutral areas, such as the Student Union or Palms Dining Hall. All scholars have direct access to me through the GroupMe app, which seems to serve more often as their "panic button." The most time-consuming and challenging task is teaching them how to navigate the various university departments and resources (housing, financial aid, textbooks, counseling, etc.). Through my experiences supporting and mentoring the Sullivan Scholars, I must admit that the scholars have taught this teacher numerous invaluable lessons.

While leading the scholarship program consumes much of my time, I support and interact with more than just the Sullivan Scholars. I have and continue to serve on several dissertation committees. I have worked with undergraduate students on their Honors College projects.

Although supporting student learning is a top priority, I also delight in celebrating our students and show my support as I attend events such as freshman convocation, summer orientations, student awards night, and department- or program-sponsored celebrations. In my 12 years at VSU, I have only missed two undergraduate commencements and one graduate commencement. I also attend athletic, official and intramural, and student events, including American Sign Language silent lunches, The Happening, and Deaf, Deaf World, to cheer students on or show my support. I have served as a judge for the Jennett Scholarship competition for multiple years. Finally, I take an active role in recruiting for VSU. I have participated in V-State Experience events, Future Georgia Educators and Professional Association of Georgia Educators college fairs, and VSU open houses.

VSU: What advice do you have for other faculty who wish to identify more effective ways to stimulate engagement and comprehension in their own classroom?

Radcliffe: To engage students in a meaningful learning experience, we must know who we are teaching. Take time to get to know your students and help them to get to know one another and build a learning community. You can then leverage the personal, cultural, and developmental assets your students bring to the classroom to intentionally create a safe learning environment that positions them as problem solvers, fosters collaboration, and supports critical thinking.

Expect students to be active learners and share ownership in shaping their learning experiences. The texts and the instructor are not the absolute authority. Instead, encourage students to use both resources to construct their knowledge and develop their skills. In this shared approach, students must move outside their comfort of being passive learners. Create a safe space for them to take risks, share their voice, grapple with real issues, and try new ways of thinking. Help students see learning as an experience rather than just a grade on an assignment.

Use feedback as a teaching tool. Consistently provide students specific feedback in a timely manner. Note specific examples of where their learning shines and offer guidance in next steps for addressing areas for development. In providing feedback, we can tailor instruction to each individual's needs and use it as an opportunity to reteach, enrich, and challenge.

The Presidential Excellence Award for faculty is an annual tradition at VSU, one that recognizes the diverse talents and contributions of the university’s innovative and active faculty. Awards are given for excellence in teaching, research, service, online teaching, and scholarship of teaching and learning.

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