Award-winning excellence: Corey Sell
Teaching Excellence Award recipient discusses unexpected journeys and how one student’s assignment changed his way of thinking.
August 8, 2018
Today, we’re showcasing Corey Sell, associate professor of elementary education and TEA winner for tenure-track faculty members who’ll also be presenting at the Center for Faculty Excellence’s upcoming Teaching Effectiveness Institute on Aug. 16.
What does it mean to you to win the Teaching Excellence Award?
I’m humbled – you don’t do this work for the recognition; it’s more of the intrinsic reward of making a difference. I’d seen the award but didn’t want to self-nominate, as there are so many other great teachers here. I put the intent out there about it mentally, to let the universe decide, and three days later the chair of our department walked up to me and asked if she could nominate me for the award.
To have that internally driven inspiration align with the external acknowledgement, with the people you work with wanting to nominate you – it’s really an honor.
Could you tell me about your background and what drew you into teaching?
I’m a teacher at heart. I taught elementary school for 12 years before I started getting restless and went back to take some doctoral classes at George Mason University. That got me really invigorated to finish my graduate work and move into higher education.
I didn’t necessarily plan to end up here, but am grateful I now get to help teach other teachers and learn from the knowledge they bring. That’s my identity; you don’t always figure it all out as life takes you in surprising, rewarding directions.
What inspires you?
The stories – of my students, colleagues and everyone else along the journey.
What’s one day you’ll never forget?
It was actually when I was teaching fifth grade: We were doing a project where students had to create a book about their fifth-grade year, noting an experience for each letter of the alphabet. I had one student who’d struggled throughout it and ended up losing his book right before it was due.
I told him he needed to start over and that he knew exactly what he needed to do to fulfill the assignment. After that, he said to me, “You know, I’ve been thinking – I’m really looking forward to turning my ideas into a book; I think I’m a writer.”
It really gave me pause to see that passion and his burgeoning identity. I realized then that the point wasn’t about the book – it was about getting the students to see themselves as active authors of their own lives. That shifted my way of thinking, and it’s something I’ve carried with me into higher education; it was a real “aha!” moment.
It’s nighttime, and you’re reflecting on a successful day. What happened?
Those are the days I hear students say, “Boy, that was hard, but I really learned something.” They light up, maybe because I’ve helped them shift their view.
I also take time either after my class or the following day to reflect with colleagues, sharing what went well and asking for advice on ways to improve my instruction. That sets the intention for tweaking and improving; it’s also a great chance to connect with others and learn from them about what does and doesn’t work.
That’s the fun part of this job. I like to think of putting question marks where we think there are periods – that helps make everything more powerful and meaningful.
What does it mean to you to be a Roadrunner?
Resiliency. I see that in my students, how so many work full- or part-time to go to school to make a better life for themselves and their families. They’ve taken many paths and aren’t given handouts; they push through things without handouts. And even when they don’t know where they’ll land, they have an openness – they’re putting themselves in a position to really make a difference in people’s lives.
Sell will be one of the presenters at the Center for Faculty Excellence’s Teaching Effectiveness Institute taking place Aug. 16, where faculty members have regular opportunities to reinvigorate their practices and learn about support resources available at MSU Denver.
His session, “Beyond pingpong: Strategies for actively engaging students in their learning,” will explore various ways of promoting student engagement that include paper-and-pencil favorites such as Quick Writes, Pre- and Post-assessments, Save the Last Word for Me, Affinity Mapping and List-Group-Label as well as technology tools such as Twitter, Poll Everywhere and Google Docs.