“It’s very humbling,” said Adam Mills, one of the two 2014 TD Canada Trust Distinguished Teaching Award recipients. Mills is in good company with the list of previous winners, and is so thrilled to be joining them. “Am I even allowed to be on here with these people?” he laughed.
Mills is currently a fourth-year doctoral candidate, and he has been teaching marketing and strategy courses in the Beedie School of Business since 2011. Mills also has experience teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the University of Northern British Columbia, and Oklahoma State University.
This award is not the first time Mills has been honoured for his teaching. He received the Marketing Management Association’s Outstanding Teacher-Scholar Doctoral Student Award in 2013. Last year he was also a nominee for the TD Canada Trust Distinguished Teaching Award, and he has been on Beedie’s Teaching Honour Roll for the past two years. His passion for teaching is clearly having an effect on students as they regularly comment on his enthusiasm and engaging delivery.
Winning teaching awards is not something Mills set out to do when he began his teaching career. Mills is passionate about what he does and always wanted to excel at teaching, but he said that the goal is not to win awards. “The award is positive reinforcement and validation,” he said. “Teaching is a service and I come from a service and hospitality background. To be a good teacher is to be a good service provider. We have to provide a memorable, rewarding experience,” said Mills.
For Mills, it’s important to have fun in the classroom. “I just like what I do,” he said, “it’s fun to get out of bed in the morning.” Being in love with what you do, and having the time of your life doing it, rubs off on the students. “I love marketing because marketing is about value creation and story telling,” said Mills, “and I love teaching because it’s about the same things.” He believes in the power of experiential learning to engage students and explained that “Learning happens when emotion and cognition cross paths.”
Mills also sees his role as one of mentorship and service. “My job is to be their coach,” he said. “The role of a coach is to challenge thinking; a coach is never on the field to play.” When students graduate he wants them to be confident and ready to enter their field of work smoothly. He learned from the hospitality industry that one should never practice on the customer. The classroom is the place for students to practice, said Mills. “I don’t want their first experience to be when careers are on the line.”
Other great educators at Beedie have been mentors to Mills over the years. “I would be nowhere without my mentor Leyland Pitt,” he said. “I’m very lucky to have one of the world’s premier teachers as my mentor and senior supervisor.” Mills also credited other Beedie faculty as being great teaching role models: Michael Parent, Daniel Shapiro, David Hannah, Ian McCarthy, and Anthony Chan – all of whom are previous recipients of the TD Canada Trust Distinguished Teaching Award. “It’s hard not to be inspired by these people,” he said.
After a few years of teaching, Mills has learned some things about himself and his teaching style. “Trust is what I’ve learned,” he said. “I’ve learned to trust myself. I’ve learned to trust my instincts. More importantly, I trust my students.”
Mutual trust in the classroom is very important for Mills. “It’s a co-created experience,” he explained. “There is no teacher without students and no teaching without learning.” Trust is also allowing him to eschew rules and push the boundaries of experiential learning in the classroom. Mills has also learned that teaching and learning are not discrete roles played by different people. “It’s a reciprocal, continuous process,” he said, “I learn every time I step into a classroom.”
In September, Mills will be stepping into a classroom at Babson College in Boston. He has just accepted a one-year visiting lecturer position to teach while completing his doctoral dissertation. This may sound like a daunting task, but Mills assures that he is used to being busy. “I tend to do better when I’m up to my eyeballs,” he laughed.
His time at Beedie will surely serve him well at Babson, where excellence in teaching is also highly valued. “I think that the Beedie School of Business is amazingly lucky to have both wonderful instructors and faculty and enthusiastic, passionate, engaged students,” said Mills. “It’s a magical combination.”