Teaching Awards & Philosophy

Dr. Grace Kao has been recognized for her teaching at each of the three institutions at which she has worked.

  • She won two Fall 2000 Certificates of Distinction in Teaching from Harvard University for her work as a graduate teaching fellow for Michael Sandel’s legendary “Justice” course.

  • She was the inaugural recipient of the Faculty Teaching Award (which is now called the Fisher Award) at Claremont School of Theology in 2010-2011 and a top three finalist for the Faculty Mentoring Award that same year.


2016-2017 Winner Drs. Monica A. Coleman (Faculty Mentor Award), and Grace Yia-Hei Kao (Faculty Teaching Award)



Successful teaching of religion, theology, and ethics requires facility with interdisciplinary tools and methods as well as sensitivity to students who often enroll in such courses with firmly entrenched—even if not entirely thematized—presuppositions and commitments. When I teach these emotionally-loaded subjects, I aim to generate sustained reflection in my students on why they already hold the views that they do and what they themselves bring to the learning process. Other important goals include helping them to cultivate (1) a deeper understanding of these fields and traditions of study, (2) an enhanced ability to think critically about conventional wisdom and the status quo, even if their questioning ultimately leads to an embrace of either, and (3) a broader understanding of the world around them and their role as global citizens (with particularized identities and commitments).

I do my part in creating respectful, stimulating, and collaborative learning environments. In all of my courses, I present the syllabus as a quasi-contract of mutual expectations and responsibilities, discuss with my students the parameters of classroom etiquette, and model in my own words and actions what I am looking for in them, which is passionate but civil engagement with the material and with their peers. While I obviously teach every class differently depending upon the particular learning outcomes and constellation of students, common features of my teaching style include starting with and keeping to the day’s agenda, varying the format of instruction, circulating my presentation notes to my students in advance (n.b., my non-native speakers of English have told me how much they appreciate this practice), and assigning frequent assessment opportunities while providing a range of choices in assignments.

While I come to the classroom with a particular area of expertise, my goal is to change not so much what but how my students think and I attempt to do that in two primary ways.

First, I make explicit my desire that they develop certain virtues or skills beyond mastery of the course content: intellectual curiosity, the principle of charity, a hermeneutics of suspicion and retrieval, a willingness to be persuaded by the force of the better argument or by that which stirs the spirit, an ability to justify one’s stance on controversial issues to others, and confidence, openness, and time management in public speaking.

Second, I assign them to read diverse and often mutually incompatible approaches or perspectives on any given topic and then give them freedom to sort out where they stand while often (though certainly not always) concealing my own stance. For example, my Asian American Christianity course concluded with some students being totally convinced (in ways they had not been previously) that the church of the future must be totally desegregated if it is to properly represent the kin-dom of God, other students passionately defending the legitimate place of ethnic-specific congregations even beyond the first generation, still others insisting upon intermediary positions (e.g., affirming the move from ethnic-specific to pan-Asian ministries but not necessarily from pan-Asian to multiracial), and my not disclosing which position was closest to my own.

One of the challenges that many teachers face in the classroom is the incredible range of student abilities found therein. While this was certainly the case when I taught undergraduates, it has also remained true for me at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University, since all of my classes are cross-listed and open to students of all graduate levels—MA, MDiv, PhD, and DMin.

Pedagogically, however, the challenge remains the same: find ways to challenge the most talented students and at the same time reach the least equipped, highlight the key points of the material for those who are struggling with the readings without being too rudimentary for the more advanced, and develop assignments that allow stronger students to express nuance and depth at the same time that they provide genuine opportunities for those who are finding the class difficult to rise to the level of expectations.

I expect to continue to refine the art of teaching so long as I am in the classroom. I am fortunate that teaching has been, and remains, a principal joy.

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Peruse Grace Kao’s courses to learn more about what she offers.