2023 Distinguished Teaching Award recipient links inner peace to outer peace
Hello, Karen Brounéus, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research. A belated but nonetheless big congratulations on the Uppsala University Distinguished Teaching Award, of which you were announced the recipient in May 2023 and that you received at a ceremony in the Grand Auditorium in October.
This year's theme for the Free Award was “creative education”. You received this award for the way you connect inner peace with outer peace and for your outstanding ability to create an atmosphere in the classroom where everyone feels included and listened to.
Were you surprised and do you know who nominated you?
“I was so surprised! I thought we were going to have a meeting with a delegation from Rwanda,” says Brounéus. “Then came Deputy Vice-Chancellor Coco Norén came in with a delegation, my colleagues, students – and my family... it was truly lovely. They told me that my Master's students had nominated me, along with some colleagues. I can't think of a more honourable award – I feel so happy and grateful!”
Do you have any special tricks?
“Hm, tricks,” she thinks aloud. “My main trick is probably to be there in the room, to consider that presence important and to enjoy being there. I have to be very clear about the goal, the intention, why we are there.”
It is there that Brounéus meets her students. She considers it an honour to guide their learning.
“For my subject, peace and conflict research, this means weaving the knowledge and experience that the students bring with them into what I or we in a course need to convey," she says. “It’s about rooting their learning in the wealth of knowledge available in the classroom so that it has real meaning.”
What do you consider the most important aspect of teaching students?
“Being well prepared, present, clear – and kind,” replies Brounéus. “Being kind through a respectful thoughtfulness with integrity both for myself and each student. I think we need more kindness in academia, more thoughtfulness and friendliness.”
Research shows that the well-being of our students is deteriorating. Many things happening across the world are difficult and even academia can be challenging.
“There’s a lot of fear and fierce competition,” explains Brounéus. “As a teacher, I have the opportunity to try to help spread circles of goodness. Peace is created in the small things – like in the classroom. The things that happen and are communicated there are spread throughout the students' own circles into the wider world in their own way.”
When asked if she has any concrete teaching tips, Brounéus mainly highlights two aspects of the classroom itself: establishing a focused, safe and open environment and creating room for reflection.
“The classroom should be a sanctuary for learning,” she says. “Our students are bombarded with information around the clock. You can try shutting down computers and mobiles and distributing paper and pens. This often brings a sense of calm and focus in the room. We also need to give the brain room to reflect. Keeping some time free whenever possible to open up for creativity, innovation and the joy of thinking bigger.”
What will you do with the award money?
“We’ve just moved back to Uppsala, so this great prize money will likely create both a physical and metaphorical doorway. It feels symbolically pleasant somehow – opening a door to this next chapter that is this moment.”
Each year, Uppsala University presents distinguished teaching awards for outstanding contributions in undergraduate education according to specific nomination categories.
Students and staff can nominate teachers who have made outstanding contributions to student learning in one or more categories. These include teaching activities, research basis in teaching and educational leadership and collaboration. A total of five awards worth SEK 20,000 each are presented.
A total of five awards are presented. Four awards are given to teachers in:
- theology, humanities and educational sciences
- law and social sciences,
- medicine and pharmacy,
- mathematics, natural sciences and technology.
The fifth Free Distinguished Teaching Award is presented for educational contributions in a particular priority area for the year. In 2023, the theme was 'Creative education'.