Distinguished Teacher Awards

When is the deadline for nominations?

The first Friday in February. Recipients are announced at the March meeting of the University Senate. 

What are the criteria?

The main criterion is a record of excellent teaching at Waterloo over an extended period, usually at least five years. It is open to all those who teach students at the University of Waterloo and is not limited just to those holding faculty appointments. The Selection Committee looks for evidence of intellectual vigour and communication skills in the interpretation and presentation of subject matter, along with evidence of educational impact beyond the classroom. The instructor’s human quality and concern for and sensitivity to the needs of students are obvious criteria. The Selection Committee will look for a clear indication that the nominee has a favourable and lasting influence on students, and, where relevant, on colleagues. Evidence of successful innovation in teaching or publications/ presentations on teaching and learning may support a nomination, but it is also clear that excellence in teaching does not necessarily require either. Winners are announced annually at the March meeting of Senate. 

Is there a nomination form?

Yes. A nomination can be made by submitting a completed nomination form by email to cte-dta@uwaterloo.ca no later than 4:30 pm on the first Friday in February.

What information should be included in the nomination letter?

In order for a teacher to be considered for the Distinguished Teacher Award, her/his file must include ten or more nomination letters, of these, at least five should be from present or former students. The following is a list of other items that are often included in successful nominations. They are presented here as suggestions if these types of resources are available to you. You should also feel free to submit other materials that are not included on this list.

  • the nominee’s teaching approaches, special strengths, and impact on student learning and development
  • A listing of the courses taught by the candidate over the past five years (including correspondence, graduate, and undergraduate courses), information on course enrolments, and the length of time the nominee has been at Waterloo. This information is most easily obtained from the chair of the candidate's department. A detailed curriculum vitae with a complete list of publications, research grants, etc. is not normally of interest to the committee.
  • Samples of excellent or innovative teaching materials, such as course handouts, project descriptions, assignments.
  • Evidence of major contribution to curriculum development.
  • Summaries of course evaluations for the past several years (original course evaluation forms are usually inappropriate because of the volume of material).
  • Evidence of success of former students that can be traced back to the influence of the candidate (e.g. student projects or theses submitted for publication, prizes and honours awarded to students, examples of excellent student work).
  • Letters from colleagues providing they have direct knowledge of the candidate's teaching abilities and achievements.
  • Honours and awards for teaching, for example from student societies or professional organizations.
  • Descriptions of teaching innovations, if possible with evidence of their success in promoting better student learning.
  • Evidence of work with colleagues to promote better teaching (e.g. presenting seminars on teaching, acting as a mentor to new faculty, organizing workshops for teaching assistants). 

Who is on the selection committee?

The Committee, appointed by Senate, consists of three undergraduate students (nominated by the Federation of Students), two graduate students (nominated by the Graduate Student Association), one representative from the Alumni Association, four members of Faculty, and the Provost as chair. Membership is normally for two years, with half the membership changing annually.

Do the instructors with the most "votes" win?

No. Quality of nominations is more important than quantity. Supportive letters from a number of persons are more indicative of the nominee's favourable and lasting influence than a single letter with hundreds of signatures appended.

Is the DTA restricted to faculty members?

No. The Senate guidelines state that the award is open to all those who teach students at the University of Waterloo and its federated and affiliated colleges. This includes lab instructors and clinical associates, as well as professors and lecturers at all ranks, both part-time and full-time. 

Who can submit nominations?

Undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, faculty or colleagues may submit Distinguished Teacher Award nominations. A number of signatures can be appended to a single letter with comments, or letters from individual nominators may be submitted. However, it is extremely important that evidence be collected from as many different sources as possible (students, colleagues, alumni, administrative officers, etc.), and a first nomination must include at least ten separate nomination letters (NOT one letter with ten signatures) to be considered by the selection committee.

Can instructors nominate themselves?

No. In addition, instructors should not be informed when a nomination is made on their behalf, since the nomination process is confidential and impartial. It is important that candidates not be perceived as having had any involvement in their own nominations. Once the Selection Committee makes its choices, award recipients are contacted personally by the Vice-President Academic and Provost.

Is renomination permitted?

Yes. Renominations are encouraged. Each year, the Selection Committee reviews many nominations and a number of excellent candidates must be passed over simply because the awards are limited to four per year. Accordingly, members of the University community are urged to renominate candidates who have not won an award in previous years and who continue to show excellence in teaching performance. It takes only one nomination letter in the current year to make a whole file of accumulated past support admissible, and new and additional evidence is always desirable. However, renominations submitted by the same person, for the same instructor, are not recommended.

Are nomination files made public?

No. These records are maintained in the strictest confidence by the Centre for Teaching Excellence. Members of the Selection Committee are permitted to read the files after the Deans from their respective faculties have reviewed the files.

Can an instructor receive a DTA more than once?

No. An individual can receive only one Distinguished Teacher Award from the University of Waterloo; however, there are other awards available if you would like to nominate a past award winner. These awards include: the 3M Teaching Fellowships and the OCUFA Teaching Awards. Information about each of these award programs is available at the Centre for Teaching Excellence, and we would gladly provide assistance with a nomination.

Who are the past recipients of the DTA?

The DTA recipients for 2016 are as follows:

  • Jee-Hae Lim, School of Accounting and Finance, Arts
  • Bob McKillop, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Engineering
  • Kathryn Plaisance, Knowledge Integration, Environment
  • Mark Pritzker, Chemical Engineering, Engineering

Citations describing the teaching practice of each recipient is also available.

What is the history of the DTA? 

The DTA awards were approved by Senate on December 15, 1975, with the following explanatory statement:

The Distinguished Teacher Award has been set up by the Senate of the University of Waterloo in recognition of the great importance of excellence in teaching at all levels in the University. The award is open to all those who teach students in the University of Waterloo and its federated and affiliated colleges. Recipients are to be chosen from among nominees by a Selection Committee of faculty and students. The University plans to honour three Distinguished Teachers each year.

Until 1988 three awards were made each year (except for 1983 when four DTAs were awarded because the committee felt unable to differentiate between the top candidates). However, in March 1988 Senate approved a fourth award for: Non-regular faculty members (i.e. part-time faculty, full and part-time staff, and faculty members holding adjunct appointments). From 1989 to 2005, one of the four annual awards was set aside for "non-regular" instructors, but in 2005 Senate passed a motion stating "that the categories of Distinguished Teacher Award - DTA, DTA [Non regular] - be removed, and that up to 4 awards be made each year to Distinguished Teachers."