Dr. James Barker was a recipient the 2018 Dalhousie Faculty of Management Teaching Excellence Award, which celebrates teachers who, per the award’s guidelines, “display the qualities of superior teaching, excellent understanding of the subject area and interest in the needs of the students.”
Just recently, Dr. Barker was presented with the A. Gordon Archibald Teaching Excellence Award for the 2018 – 2019 academic year. The Archibald Award celebrates the art of teaching, of embracing a deep and profound commitment to knowledge, exploration, research and excellence. In his congratulatory announcement, Dr. Benoit Aubert, Director of the Rowe School of Business, Dalhousie University, stated that the A. Gordon Archibald Award committee was especially impressed by Dr. Barker’s variety of approaches, strategies, and the diversity of knowledge sources used to create an exceptional learning experience for Dalhousie students.
CEGE Connection reached out to Dr. Barker for his thoughts on receiving these two teaching awards.
Dr. James Barker:
First off, I am deeply honoured to have received both awards, The Management Teaching Excellent Award and the A. Gordon Archibald Teaching Excellence Award from the Rowe School of Business. To receive the recognition of both peers and students is truly gratifying and a profound validation of my philosophy of teaching.
Whenever you put together a package to be reviewed for one of these awards, you are asked for your philosophy of teaching. My philosophy is to be the teacher my students need me to be, right now. While this may appear to be quite simple, it is a difficult proposition to implement. My philosophy challenges me to keep moving forward and continually incorporate newness and adaptability into my classes. So, to be the teacher my students need me to be, right now requires me to work, not just in the present moment, but also to think about where, in the future, my students need to go and what they need to do.
At Dalhousie, I have the privilege of teaching four different types of students: our undergraduate Bachelor of Commerce students; our Corporate Residency MBA students, the direct entry from a Bachelor program into the MBA program; our traditional MBA students, those who have been in management for several years; and our Executive Education students.
A key way that I can be relevant to these students is to adapt to what those students need across a timeline. Each program requires that I work within different time horizon. For example, I work with a five-year timeline for the undergraduate Bachelor of Commerce students. My goal is to offer knowledge and training that can be useful to them for the next five years, as well as position them to pursue advanced studies, in the future, such as an MBA. The five-year timeline works well for them. And again, I base this on feedback from students. There is a lot of calibration that goes into this ongoing dialogue.
The Corporate Residency students – those direct entry students – require a longer timeline because they will attain their MBA, but will not have a depth of experience. My goal is to offer appropriate experience opportunities and the training to position them to take the greatest advantage of this experience. For these students, I work on a five to seven-year time horizon.
The traditional MBA students, those who have substantial management experience, are generally preparing themselves for more senior management roles. They require positioning and leveraging skills required for them to thrive within a more complex work environment. I work with a two-year time horizon because these students will move into senior positions that will mandate their continual change and adaptation.
The Executive Education students – their time horizon is the next business day. They need something with immediacy, something that I can give them that they can take and put to work the next time they go to work, whether that be the next business day or the same evening after class.
Consequently, to be the teacher my students need me to be, right now, I must, not only adapt to those needs of where the students are right now, but where they are going out into the future. My mission is to position students for the future so they can leverage and apply the knowledge that they need to succeed within an evolving work environment.
I started out by saying that my philosophy is challenging for me because it calls for me to adapt, both in the present moment, which we all do as teachers, but also to adapt to what those students need in longer term. As I prepare for classes and gather materials and examples, I am cognizant of the two timeframes. It is imperative that I stay current, both knowledge-wise and technology-wise. To be the teacher my students need me to be, pushes me to keep myself on top of where the pedagogy is for the areas in which I teach. Most importantly, I must be fully committed to practice what I teach in my classes.
A focus point for my leadership and management programs, an element that I build my classes around is to encourage my students to be the leader that their organizations need them to be, right now. Be the leader that your organization needs you to be, in this present moment. It is a different way to think about leadership or management than how we are usually taught to think. When you focus on the organization, on the collectivity, you change dramatically the tactics, the strategies and various elements that you use in leadership and management.
Now, I wish that I had coined the term, be the leader that your organization needs you to be. That came from a mentor of mine, Jim Parco, who introduced me to complexity thinking. I think that Jim would be quite honoured to see what I have done with his idea.
These two awards are very important to me. I appreciate the honour for they are a validation of my philosophy of teaching, of being the teacher that my students need me to be. When I embody my philosophy, I will be a better teacher. And if I am a better teacher, then my students will do better in those time horizons for which I prepare them. That is what teaching is all about.
Students that graduate from the Dalhousie Rowe School of Business will take their place on the world’s stage and make a difference at the appropriate time. That is what my colleagues and I, as teachers, are all trying to do. Preparing our students for the work they will undertake in the years ahead – that is our motivation and focus.