Lisa Adkins Runner

Appalachian State University

2016 Excellence in Teaching Award Winner: Lisa A. Runner, Appalachian State University
Lisa Adkins Runner serves as an associate professor of music education in the Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University. She joined the Hayes School of Music as an adjunct faculty member in August of 2000 and began work as assistant professor of music education in August 2006.
 
Visitors to Runner’s classes observe students listening, singing, moving, playing musical instruments and creating their own compositions. Students collaborate with partners, work in small groups, and participate in hands-on activities requiring analysis and reflection. Presentation of information and skill development in every class proceeds from the simple to complex, each activity providing a strong foundation for subsequent, more complicated assignments. Students are involved in relevant discussions and sample activities before completing individual or small group projects without instructor assistance. A former student, now a high school teacher, reflected, “I still hold tightly to a quote she included in her course syllabus: ‘Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I may remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.’ Dr. Runner does this incredibly well; she goes beyond telling her students information or even showing them how to teach. She involves students every single day in activities, in discussions, in every process of learning, and the things she teaches stay with them.”
 
Communicating effectively with individuals from all walks of life undergirds Runner’s teaching and work as a club sponsor; knowing her students is first priority as conversations both inside and outside of the classroom help to create a learning community where it’s safe to take risks. One former student observed, “Her classroom truly felt like a comfortable place where we could develop creative compositions and try novel instrumental arrangements, all without the fear of “failure” or rejection.” Another reflected, “She showed me my strengths, but more importantly, she helped me to see the areas where I needed to grow, and she always did it in a way that was positive and nurturing. I think that is one of Dr. Runner’s most unique traits; she helps you to see the positive in everything.”
 
A colleague summarized Runner’s work at Appalachian State University saying, “Dr. Runner's instruction is marked by empathy and compassion for students, a deeply held commitment to teaching, and a dedication to excellence. When commenting on her work, Dr. Runner frequently remarks, ‘I can't imagine doing anything else.’ This belief is affirmed in her classroom daily as her demeanor and excellence provide evidence she has indeed found her life calling in teaching. This passion for and contentment with life work is evident to students and they freely reflect back to her and others they respect and love she offers them. I have heard many students unabashedly remark that Dr. Runner is the best teacher they have ever had. "
 
Runner received her Bachelor of Arts in music from Milligan College, the Master of Arts in media services from East Tennessee State University, and the Doctorate of Education in educational leadership from Appalachian State University.

Q. The Teaching Awards were established in 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to encourage, identify, recognize, reward, and support good teaching within the University. What does this award mean to you?

A. In recent years I have had the pleasure of celebrating with some amazing colleagues who received this significant recognition, never imaging that I might one day also be nominated. Receiving this award is humbling. I count it a great honor to be considered for an award dedicated to excellence in teaching. I hope it represents the lives I have touched in a positive way and will provide me an opportunity to highlight the Hayes School of Music and its faculty.

Q. What was your path into the teaching profession?

A. As the child, niece and younger cousin of seven public school teachers, I grew up certain that teaching was a career path I’d never follow. In reality, however, it is all I’ve ever done and all I ever wanted to do. As an undergraduate student, a professor took an interest in me and encouraged me to attend professional conferences and opened the door to a lot of opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. I began to see that teaching would really be rewarding.

Q. Besides this award, is there one particular achievement in your career that makes you especially proud?

A. While teaching provides great rewards on so many levels, I am especially proud of the times I’ve been able to restore a student’s belief in his or her abilities or awaken in them a new love of music.   

For instance, I have seen a student’s desire to engage in music hampered as a result of criticism he or she received when a child. Oftentimes years into adulthood, the student thinks “I can’t” because of that criticism. When these students see that they can sing, or play drums or xylophones, it becomes a great celebration. I want my classes to be life lifting and reaffirming, and I want the experiences my students have and their time together to be positive.

Q. What teaching methods do you use to engage students?

A. I presently teach music methods classes for students preparing to be elementary school teachers and a general education music course that any student may enroll in. All of these classes are activity based. Elementary education majors might sit on the floor and learn a Native American stone passing game that can be used to integrate music into a social studies class. I also want these students to have hands-on experience with as many instruments as possible. For instance, the dulcimer is relatively easy to learn, space efficient and lightweight, and can fit easily into the elementary classroom if a teacher would like to have an instrument to accompany singing. Appalachian lap dulcimers also provide a nice connection with social studies and geography.

Students in my general education course regularly collaborate with partners, work in small groups and participate in hands-on activities requiring analysis and reflection. They play a wide variety of instruments as they compose and share a series of short pieces based on topics such as common occupations or statues installed on the Appalachian campus. I value the learning that occurs during this creative process and work to maintain a supportive classroom environment where students are willing to step out of their comfort zone in order to try new things.

 

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