How to Write a Strong Teaching Award Nomination
Every year, hundreds of students, faculty, and staff nominate an instructor for one of Trent’s internal teaching awards. Members of the various award adjudication committees are always amazed by and grateful for the time, effort, and dedication put into these nominations. Our online nomination forms are filled with wonderful testimonials, ranging from lengthy formal letters to short notes, that illustrate the benefits nominators have gained from their instructors and bring to life the many forms of teaching excellence at Trent.
While the award committee reads and appreciates every nomination sent in, there are some testimonials that are particularly effective in explaining why a candidate is worthy of a given teaching award. Based on past award deliberations, here are a few suggestions for writing a strong nomination testimonial. You may also find helpful our annotated sample nomination testimonials written on behalf of faculty who went on to win internal teaching awards.
Begin with a Brainstorm
Before you write your nomination you may find it helpful to jot down the reasons you are inspired to nominate an instructor for a given award. Why do you think they are such an excellent teacher? Next, brainstorm specific examples or memories that you have that illustrate each of these reasons. These can become supporting details that you can draw in your nomination testimonial to highlight the instructor’s excellence.
It is helpful to provide committee members with some context on your relationship with the nominee, preferably at the beginning of your testimonial. For current and former students, this can include information about the class(es) you have taken with the instructor, how this class(es) fit into your academic program, or other experiences you may have had with the nominee outside of these classes. Meanwhile, faculty and staff might begin with information about how they have learned about the nominee’s teaching excellence and how that teaching excellence has influenced them.
Refer Directly to Award Criteria
Each teaching award has specific criteria that the committee uses to rate nominees. These criteria are listed on the website that describes the award as well as on the online nomination form. The strongest testimonials refer directly to these criteria and explain, with detail and example, how the nominee not only meets, but also exceeds the criteria. Many strong nomination testimonials use the criteria as headers to divide the sections of their testimonial.
For example, one of the criteria for the Symons Award for Teaching Excellence is “demonstrates exemplary concern for students.” A nominator might use this phrase as a heading for a section or begin a paragraph of their testimonial with the sentence, “I have directly experienced and benefited from _____’s exemplary concern for their students.”
Be Specific and Give Detail
Perhaps the most important factor that distinguishes a strong nomination testimonial is the use of specific examples and detail. It is essential to go beyond telling the committee that an instructor meets or exceed the award criteria to show, through examples, how they do so. You could include details about an instructor’s teaching techniques, assessment practices, or ability to give helpful feedback to support your claims about their teaching excellence.
For instance, if you wish to show that a nominee inspired your love of learning, you could discuss particular moments from class that deepened your knowledge of a subject and made you want to learn more about it. One way to ensure that you have used examples, is to begin sentences with the words “For example” or “For instance.”
Highlight the Significance of the Instructor to You
Details and examples are important to a strong nomination testimonial. But so too is the larger story of how an instructor has affected you as a student, alumni, or colleague. Perhaps the nominee helped you gain confidence in yourself as a learner; perhaps they led you change your academic or personal goals; or maybe they are an important reason that you have been able to overcome certain challenges. Make sure to reflect on the larger significance of having the nominee as an instructor.
Know the Value of Your Nomination
It is important that you know how much we value the time and effort you put into your nomination. Award decisions are made solely on the basis of nominator’s testimonials, so you are essential to helping us recognize teaching excellence at Trent. We also want you to know that every instructor who is nominated receives a letter of commendation that not only congratulates them on their nomination but includes several anonymized passages from testimonials written on their behalf. Whether or not they win a formal teaching award, reading these words of support means so much to nominees.
Annotated Sample Nominations
The nominations below were all written by students on behalf of a nominee for one of Trent’s internal teaching awards. We hope they will provide you with inspiration as you craft your own nomination letter.
Do you have questions about how to write a strong nomination? Contact Dana Capell at the Centre for Teaching and Learning.