Teaching award and recognition program in U.S. schools and colleges of pharmacy

Teaching award and recognition program in U.S. schools and colleges of pharmacyThe purpose of this study was to gather data from U.S. schools and colleges of pharmacy (SCOPs) in order to describe policies and procedures used in the operation of teaching award and recognition programs. Specific objectives were: to identify changes over the past ten years, to provide suggested "best practices," and to encourage individual program review. A mail questionnaire was sent to a designated contact at every SCOP in April 2001. Multiple reminders were used in the month of May resulting in a 96 percent response rate with 79/82 institutions providing data. Seventy (89 percent) of the institutions bestow at least one teaching award per academic year. Selection policies and procedures, award types and numbers bestowed, and criteria used are highly variable across SCOPs. Institutions should review their policies and procedures based on the criteria and "best practices" presented.


It has been nearly ten years since Smith gathered the data resulting in the article, "Selecting and Rewarding Best Teachers in U.S. Schools of Pharmacy"(1). However, much has transpired in the recent years regarding the scholarship of teaching and learning. Teaching awards have previously been labeled popularity contests(l), an exercise in public relations, rather than a means to encourage better teaching(2), or in the worst case scenario, the kiss of death to an academic career(3). The latter a potential result of competing priorities, resource considerations, and the relative value of teaching versus research productivity. If these are indeed the case, what can we do to address these concerns? Yet, others have pronounced that good programs do exist to recognize teaching excellence. Characteristics of these programs include: a match with institutional mission and values, grounding in research-based competencies and practices, consideration for a wide-range of instructional settings and approaches, reward for both collaborative and individual achievements, self-reflection aspects, a pay-back from award recipients in contributing to others' development - such as serving on future selection committees or providing mentoring to colleagues, and being open to scrutiny and change(4). Menges contends that an effective teaching awards program will pass three tests(5). The tests and associated dimensions include: (i) selection validity test - accurate selection and representativeness; (ii) faculty motivation test ensuring incentive value and evidence of increasing motivation; and (iii) test of public perceptions.

In passing these three tests, programs should be able to avoid five frequently encountered problems. The first problem speaks to selection procedures - which can be addressed by having stipulated criteria and formalized selection procedures established and making them explicit and public. The second concern is the popularity contest phenomenon. Tradeoffs must be made regarding how student input is used. That is, teaching is more than classroom performance and number of students taught. Procedures should consider the totality of the teaching enterprise including preparation, risk-taking, and the variety of settings in which teaching and learning take place. Thirdly, competition versus collaboration is a natural outgrowth of individual awards as is a win/lose requirement. Ways must be sought in which collaboration as well as competition can be rewarded. A fourth problem considers the questionable incentives surrounding most teaching award programs; that is, in order for teaching awards to actually encourage faculty to value and improve teaching, they must be future oriented, be perceived as highly valuable, be somewhat difficult to attain, yet realistically available. Finally, consideration must be given to special awards replacing continuing awards; for example, approaches such as adjustments to base salary rather than a one-time cash award.

Having a teaching awards program may allow some institutions to possess a false sense of security regarding how it values and rewards teaching. Or as Menges(5) says, "an awards program does not excuse institutions from weighing teaching appropriately in the faculty reward system." In a national survey of U.S. and Canadian medical schools, it was found that teaching skills were the most important aspect of clinician-educators' performance when making promotion and tenure decisions; with teaching awards, peer evaluation, learner evaluation, and teaching portfolio the four most important methods for evaluating teaching(6). Wynn stated that it was important to recognize good teaching in order to provide a basis for the motivation to improve both teaching performance and the associated curricular materials to result in positive student outcomes(7). Guidance exists for how to improve teaching award programs and for how to create additional incentives in support and recognition of exemplary teaching(8). Suggestions for improvement center on the selection process, sources of data in the selection process, and the need to provide more and varied recognition. Categories for creating additional incentives include increasing the number of awards, creating teaching communities, developing an academy of distinguished educators, publicizing accomplishments of exemplary teachers, and providing additional resources in support of innovative teaching.

The membership, organizational affiliation and structure, and goals and activities were profiled for a convenience sample of teaching academies(9). A teaching academy was defined as "a group of faculty who are considered excellent or highly interested in teaching and who have been tapped by their institutions to engage in advocacy, service, or advising on teaching matters." A common goal across the institutions was the desire to foster excellence. It was concluded that teaching academies provide an effective as well as powerful means to improve teaching.

In a study conducted in 2000, Chism and Bender analyzed criteria used in teaching awards and the evidence required of candidates primarily at the campus level for programs that had teaching development programs detailed on the World Wide Web (WWW)(10). They were shocked to find that for half of the awards in their sample, there were no associated criteria or only a global statement regarding the association of the award with teaching excellence. As well, eligibility requirements may have been listed as "criteria" and yet, these factors do not denote teaching excellence. Chism and Bender found that some programs implied that it was obvious what constituted excellent teaching and thus it was unnecessary to provide criteria while some named criteria in almost an apologetic fashion. However, there were programs that did specify criteria and some directed candidates to links on a web page or references to institution-specific documents. The most commonly listed criteria were: content expertise, communication skills, high standards, clear goals, enthusiasm, organization, strategies for student engagement, and focus on higher order thinking skills. For those programs that did seek specific forms of evidence to bestow awards, a variety of forms were sought (see Table I). Based on their findings, Chism and Bender recommended the following: be explicit about criteria, tie evidence to criteria, use an overall system of documentation of teaching performance at the institution, use a scholarly approach to teaching awards, and use both the criteria and evidence to direct efforts toward institutional goals, such as the documentation of teaching(10).

The purpose of this study was to assess and summarize teaching award and recognition programs in the nation's schools and colleges of pharmacy (SCOPs). Specific objectives were to: (i) identify changes over the past ten years; (ii) provide suggested "best practices" based on the literature and the collective wisdom of respondents; and (iii) encourage institutions to review their own programs.


A 12-item questionnaire was mailed to a designated contact at every SCOP. The institutions, names and addresses were obtained from the 2000-2001 Roster of Faculty and Professional Staff published by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). Pre-contact occurred with some institutions to identify the best potential recipient of the instrument. The Human Subjects Committee Chairman deemed the project exempt from review.