June 12, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 18

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    2003 Graduate Teaching Awards in the Professional Schools: Thomas Keller, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Service Administration

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Thomas Keller
    Thomas Keller, this year's School of Social Service Administration teaching award winner, wants his students to realize their potential by first discovering they come into their courses equipped with a solid foundation.

    "I want to help students realize they have more insights and capacity to learn than they may have thought," said Keller, Assistant Professor in SSA. Keller received the SSA teaching award, renamed this year in honor of William Pollak, Associate Professor Emeritus in SSA.

    Keller begins his classes with discussions that establish the level of knowledge students have in the courses he teaches, a two-sequence course in statistics for doctoral students, and a course on culture and childhood development for master's-level students.

    "Even in statistics, students bring quite a bit of knowledge. I usually ask them how they would approach a problem and draw on those observations in teaching," he said.

    The statistics course is based on material he "inherited" from its previous instructor, Melissa Roderick, Associate Professor at SSA. "I am grateful for what she prepared and provided to me," Keller said.

    In his course on children, Culture and Context in Early Child Development, Keller introduces students to their first challenge: developing a parenting manual. The students quickly learn that the topic is more complicated than they had thought, said Keller, as they think through nutritional, social and physical needs of young children.

    The process, like the rest of the course, helps students find out that not all children are reared in the same way.

    "I encourage students to enter new situations with a curiosity about why parents do the things they do and make the choices they make," he explained. "The course provides a framework for considering how parenting is influenced by the physical and social setting, common and familiar parenting customs and practices, and cultural values, beliefs and goals for child development.

    "I believe that when students consider these interrelated factors they can see how parents' decisions make sense in their particular context," he said. "It also helps students realize how difficulties may arise when there is a mismatch between the norms and expectations of different contexts, such as those between home and school, or between old and new cultures of immigrants."