Being part of something bigger drives educator
- Wits University
Wits Covid-19 Hero, Professor Lee Rusznyak spearheaded an initiative that assisted teaching students from 24 South African universities.
Her career is an inspiring, wonderful journey of connecting dots in search of understanding how teachers work with knowledge so that quality education can be delivered to every child.
The newly appointed Director of the Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) Hub has had a fascinating academic journey that even saw her taking up karate to extend her fascination with knowledge-building. She began her career as a primary school teacher, teaching music and science. As someone who has always had a fascination for astronomy and physics, she has a particular interest in how ideas fit together and how teachers represent these ideas in understandable ways.
After completing a BSc Honours in Astronomy and Earth Sciences, Rusznyak went back to first year to take up a four-year degree in teaching. She taught for several years before returning to Wits as a lecturer in 2000. She has served 15 years in leadership at the Wits School of Education, running the Teaching Experience office, managing the Bachelor of Education degree, heading up Teaching and Learning, and until recently, serving as a Deputy Head of School.
“I come from a family of teachers and I always knew I wanted to become a teacher. I love seeing the light in someone’s eyes when they have understood something quite complex and it gives them insight into the world around them. I love seeing students acquire the conceptual tools to ask meaningful questions and challenge things that are not right. I love that with teaching, you become part of something way bigger than yourself,” says Rusznyak.
Rusznyak who is a fervent animal and music lover, last year spearheaded the conceptualisation, design and development of an online teaching practice module, known as Teacher Choices in Action (TCiA). The module provided students with an alternative to school-based teaching practicals which were ruled out due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She has been lauded as a Wits Covid-19 Hero, for not only did she save the academic year for all Wits Education students, but she invited other South African universities to participate. In this way, approximately 28 000 students from 24 South African universities attained a credit for their practical teaching during the 2020 academic year.
For this she was nominated as one of the Wits Covid-19 Heroes, nominated by members of the Wits community and are recognised for playing a key role in the university, society through outreach thereby helping the university and others to succeed under difficult times.
Professor Rusznyak says that more than 44 000 student teachers from around the country have now completed the module.
“The TCiA is about learning to see how teachers think, how teachers work with ideas – it looks at the decisions teachers make in their classroom teaching processes – these are the things I am interested in when people talk about teaching – the building blocks of knowledge and how teachers are responsive to their contexts,” she says.
“The TCiA module has enriched how students are prepared for work-based learning. What is really great about the module is that it has developed a shared language of teaching practice and students become equipped with the same concepts to talk about their classroom work. It provided student teachers opportunities to talk to each other in a national discussion platform – during the module, they share what drives them teachers, their challenges, and their hopes. The recorded lessons that students observe show examples of great teaching practices across diverse school contexts. The module has woven together many components about teacher education, from content knowledge, pedagogy, inclusive teaching and language support in such a beautiful way. This would never have been possible without the generous funding from a DHET/EU partnership.”
Rusznyak says she is enjoying the challenges of her new role at the Wits LCT Hub. LCT, developed by Prof. Karl Maton, offers a sociological approach to analyse knowledge-based practices and how people develop expertise across a range of disciplines and professional practices. Since its inception in May 2021, the Wits LCT Hub has attracted over 130 academics and postgraduate students who get together for two hours every week to read, discuss and research with LCT. Members of the Hub are drawn across five Wits Faculties, six South African universities and from 13 countries. Currently, Rusznyak is leading a national research project associated with the Teacher Choices in Action module. She and other researchers are using concepts from LCT to analyse how student teachers understand teachers’ work at different points in their teacher preparation. She is also working with Maton and other international LCT scholars to organise the next international LCT conference to be held in mid-January.
“The next LCT conference will be around the world, around the clock. It is a mix of regional events hosted by LCT groups in 14 countries. A 65-hour non-stop global online broadcast will move from country to country, with some awesome contributions coming from the Wits LCT Hub and the LCT Centre for Knowledge-building based at the University of Sydney, Australia.”
To find out about the Wits LCT Hub email WitsLCThub@gmail.com
About Wits Covid-19 Heroes
The Wits Heroes Series celebrates staff and students who went beyond the call of duty at the onset of Covid-19 in 2020. Wits Heroes were nominated by members of the Wits community. Discover other Heroes.