Teacher of Teachers Driven by Student Success Receives Honor
May 24, 2023
University of Northern Colorado Department of History Lecturer Kelly Langley Cook has been selected as the recipient of the 2023 Sears Helgoth Distinguished Teaching Award.
This award is administered by UNC's College of Education and Behavioral Sciences and recognizes UNC's commitment to high-quality and innovative teaching along with the historical importance of the teaching mission at UNC by rewarding faculty members (tenured, tenure-track, contract renewable) who have made outstanding contributions to teaching and learning that result in the enhancement of the intellectual development and lives of students.
Langley Cook received her bachelor's in History Education and master's in Modern American History from UNC. She taught in Colorado public high schools for 18 years before returning to the university in 2018 as a full-time lecturer in Social Studies Education and History.
Get to Know the 2023 Sears Helgoth Recipient:
What made you decide to teach at the post-secondary level and what has influenced your style of teaching?
Being a high school teacher for so long has definitely shaped the way I teach. I like to be very hands on and get a lot of student energy and feedback with every lesson. So, even in lectures that means that I try to hear student voices as often as possible.
I felt that after many years of teaching, and seven years as an instructional coach, I could serve the most folks by helping teachers to enter the profession. Although my graduate degree is one of my favorite personal accomplishments, my time spent in schools is what has allowed me to really know what the classroom is like. I wanted to share that with folks who were new to the profession in a very practical and experience-based way.
I love the students at UNC. I have found them to be so genuine, hardworking and kind. They really want to learn. They know what a big deal it is to have an education and most of them are paying for it themselves. They truly put their whole hearts into everything, even a 100-level class that is not for their major. I am so impressed with the level of thinking, processing and scholarship that comes out of our students.
What brought you to UNC?
Two words — Fritz Fischer. I had the honor to work with Dr. Fischer in the Secondary Professional Teacher Education Program (STEP) as a once-a-semester volunteer for several years. He was kind enough to bring me in to chat with future teachers and honestly, I was hooked.
There is something so amazing about the hearts of those who want to teach — even more so in the year 2023 where the climate of education is very fraught. Each time I was a guest speaker in his class I was on cloud nine. Fritz encouraged me to apply for graduate school and after I completed my master's in history, he encouraged me to apply for an adjunct job so I could keep working with future teachers. It was his kindness and support that helped me find my next big career move. Once I got here, the whole History faculty was as warm and welcoming as they could possibly be. I have felt nothing but support and camaraderie from my colleagues since day one. It's an incredible crew to work with.
What accomplishments are you most proud of that highlight your contributions to teaching and learning?
The first person who truly invited me to serve students in powerful ways at UNC (outside of the classroom) was Stephen Loveless. Their ability to make inclusive spaces is unparalleled. When I started working with the STEP program, I asked Stephen to be a guest speaker to help us do a safe-spaces type training. I was blown away by not only their knowledge but their kindness. I found myself taking notes not just on the content but on the WAY in which Stephen presented. I've worked hard these past few years to incorporate Stephen's open and big-hearted style. I believe I am doing a much better job at creating a warm and inviting classroom thanks to Stephen's style.
I am really proud of my work with the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) and with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fellowship cohort. With CETL I got to collaborate with the outstanding Lyda McCartin to create sessions for undergraduates, faculty and folks at other institutions around UDL (Universal Design for Learning). The UDL concepts are brilliant, centered around inclusion and easy to apply. I've also gotten to work with Aaron Haberman on the use of Pear Deck and together we wrote a blog to help train other professors on this very valuable technology. Especially during and post-pandemic, interactive technologies like this have been a game changer and it is so fun to work with my colleague and friend to get the word out about it.
Bottom line, getting to work with folks on campus to learn a new methodology is a joy!
*janine weaver douglas has been the best mentor for our DEI fellows group. Through her guidance I am creating a self-paced DEI workbook that will be tested in some of my courses next semester and hopefully roll out to the whole UNC community next year. Thanks to janine, future teachers will be getting a powerful primer on inclusivity in ways they can take into any job.
How does your research influence what and how you teach?
Even though I am housed in the History department I am primarily a teacher of teachers, so I find myself doing deep dives into pedagogy and educational praxis. This has allowed me to work on the DEI fellowship and I take all of this learning directly into my classroom. One example might be the 40 Stories curriculum that I use in US 101. The idea behind this is that each day in history has a theme connected to the era, and the story of that era can be told through a person. On day one students learn about Robert Brown Eliott who was one of the first Black congressmen. He wrote and helped to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1875.... but if you Google this you will likely only see Charles Sumner's name on it. I want to not only open up the truth of this story, but also help students to discover that the story of America is the story of all of us. Everyone should be able to see in the history of the United States themselves and not just through hardship and tragedy.
What are you most passionate about as an educator?
I am most passionate about seeing folks succeed. Professors and teachers — we are living our dreams. We are doing the thing we were so passionate about that we spent dozens of years working towards this goal. And (this is no secret) we do it for a fraction of the pay of other professionals with our training and credentials. Why? Because we love to see students succeed. I live vicariously through the amazing achievement of my students, and one of my greatest joys is when alumni email or text me to say "I got a job" or "read this note that a student wrote to me to say thank you" or "I want to go to graduate school, can we talk about it?" Every time a student does something great (and that is often) I feel like I get to be a part of that. It's humbling and beautiful and my life is never boring.
Is there anything else you'd like to share about receiving this recognition?
I am a 'once a Bear, always a Bear’!! Both of my degrees are from UNC. I have been here since we had two sets of school colors and my old-school pendant is in purple and yellow.
I feel so thankful to be a part of the UNC community and I hope that this comes out in my language. The History department took a chance on me, and they have all been so gracious and welcoming. I love being in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and we have a super supportive community in that college.
I also think that in the current era we need more humanities, not fewer. The emphasis on critical thinking and research could not be more important right now in 2023.
*janine weaver-douglas has requested that her name be recognized through the use of lowercase letters.
About UNC's Sears Helgoth Distinguished Teaching Award
The award, supported by the generosity of Kathleen Sears and Jim Helgoth and administered by the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, is given annually to a faculty member who has demonstrated a record of excellence in instruction at UNC. Applications were reviewed and the awardee selected by a committee of assistant/associate deans, one from each academic college and previous award recipients.