June 12, 1997
Vol. 16, No. 19

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    SSA Teaching Award: Dolores Norton

    Samuel Deutsch Professor in the School of Social Service Administration For Dolores Norton, winner of the School of Social Service Administration's 1997 Award for Excellence in Teaching, teaching is enjoyable because of her students.

    "Our students are bright, exciting and questing," said Norton, the Samuel Deutsch Professor in SSA. "They bring enthusiasm and multiple insights, which challenge you to think like a Talmudic scholar. You hardly trace through one line of thought when you are faced with a question that forces you to go back to basic assumptions, theoretical knowledge and research and rethink.

    "In a professional school, the synergy of intellectual exchange with the students increases as you attempt to foster the understanding and translation of knowledge to skill."

    She said she thrives, too, on the stimulus and challenge that comes from "very bright interdisciplinary faculty colleagues who are able to gleefully deconstruct any argument."

    Norton, a University faculty member since 1977, is an expert in early childhood development and ecological environment, family life patterns and social cognitive development of children in high-risk environments.

    Like many top researchers, Norton believes that teaching and research go hand in hand.

    "The two are melded," she said. "My research enriches my teaching, and my teaching grounds my research. The students ponder the relevance of the research and sometimes dissect what I thought were very insightful findings. Such interchanges force you to re-evaluate, change, discard or strengthen your premises."

    Good teachers share some common traits, she said, such as enthusiasm about the subject and in-depth knowledge.

    "Respect for those you teach is also necessary," she said. "And you should also be able to move easily between abstract knowledge and the more concrete examples that foster understanding."

    Norton works closely with students to help them get more out of class.

    "I try to involve them on an individual level, even though they are part of the class group," she said. "It's exhausting because I observe faces as I teach, looking for a flash of insight, a question, or discouragement. Then I invite them to share their thoughts. I see it as a partnership in learning.

    "Paulo Freire once wrote that teachers should strive to foster students to a 'critical comprehension of reality.' I hope that I accomplish that occasionally."

    -- Catherine Behan