December 28, 2014 by Mike
I was struck by the inspiring story in the Guardian newspaper about Richard Spencer, just down the road really at Middlesbrough College. Richard has attracted international attention for his innovative approach, both to his own teaching and to training others to teach. His quirky style not only grabs students’ attention, it also imparts knowledge.
Among the techniques Richard uses, ballroom dancing routines must figure quite highly in any list of unusual approaches to biology teaching! He can bring to life the intricacies of cell division, for instance, with a quick demonstration of his “mitosis” mamba, whilst staging a mock employment tribunal to provoke debate among students over the ethical dilemmas surrounding genetic disorders is a technique I am sure many b-schools could also learn from. Personally, I like the idea of studying teeth by composing a song (with the excruciating title All About Chew), though rest assured students in Durham that I’ve no intentions of following in Richard’s footsteps – my singing is a weapon I wouldn’t inflict on anyone!
The most important lesson in Richard’s story, however, is his insightful observation that truly great teaching can only happen if we push ourselves beyond our normal comfort zones. If we do what we’ve always done simply because “it works”, we will never develop as teachers and, more significantly perhaps, we will prove ill-prepared for the time when the tried-and-trusted lesson we’ve used for years no longer works. It’s about trying something new on a regular basis and just accepting the fact that sometimes we will make mistakes.