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WATE PGR 2018 winner: Hannah Bridgewater (Life Sciences)

Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?

I started teaching at the age of 16 at my local dance school. I had always enjoyed this and therefore when the opportunity arose to teach computer programming, very different to ballet, I decided I would give it a try. I suppose for this reason my dance teacher inspired me to begin teaching and then my enjoyment of this led to me teaching a new subject. Engaging students in learning a discipline I enjoy gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

What pearls of wisdom have you been given over the years that have helped you with your teaching?

That everyone learns differently, and teaching is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It is important to change activities and ways of explaining the same topic in order to engage everyone in the class. It is well known that there are visual learns, auditory learns… It is paramount your class caters for all learners. When it comes to teaching computer programming it is a unique skill which some people find hard to pick up, therefore my colleagues and I have developed may tips/tricks to help facilitate learning.

Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Planning, preparation and diversity are key. I wish I had been told how important it is to be fully informed and ready for your session but equally that your sessions must be diverse, changing content and the way you deliver that content. These key points will keep students engaged and motivated as well as you, as a teacher, making the most of the session.

If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what three bits of advice would you give?

  1. Be prepared and plan well
  2. If you enjoy the session, your students will do too / if you are engaged in the topic this will show through
  3. You are only human and you are allowed to show this.

What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?

For teaching computer programming specifically, there are many different tips/tricks I would pass on to a fellow teacher, as I feel programming requires a unique way of teaching to engage everyone. Even an experienced teacher may find these useful. For teaching in general, my top tip would be to remember to engage with the students and not just deliver the content.

What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?

I am a huge advocate for a white board pen and getting students up and out of their seats. However, technology is playing a more important role in society and therefore in teaching as well. Teaching computer programming, I use R studio rather than R, as it is a friendly interface for new users to get to grips with which speeds up the learning process. My main tip for using this is to get them to download packages first that create interesting graphics. This means they can get used to using R studio but with a fun task.

What new or future teaching innovations are you looking forward to?

The new innovation in teaching that I am looking forward to is gamification. This is the use of online competitions that aid learning. This could easily be used in a computer programming class, coding time trials, or coding in the shortest amount of lines.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

I'm grateful to win the WATE award - I put a lot of time and effort into planning and teaching my sessions and this demonstrates this. As someone that teaches your aim is to engage students and winning this award shows I am achieving this fundamental skill, as my students took their own time to nominate me for this. Winning the WATE award means I have motivated, engaged and made a difference to my students as well as exemplifying Warwick’s excellent teaching practices.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What’s the best part of your job?

The best part is when you see a student go from struggling in your subject to excelling. Their confidence is a huge part of that and having a positive impact on someone and enabling them to learn new and important skills for the future makes teaching a very worthwhile job. I enjoy the new challenges and interests each new cohort brings.

What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?

Lack of engagement and the diversity of knowledge between the students. By delivering a class full of different approaches and being engaged yourself will engage your students and enable you to overcome both of these.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

To never give up, you see struggling students that persevere at something they find challenging until they succeed. Also, that nothing works for everyone and different approaches are important. Finally, to always strive to be better and to improve.

If you could write a recipe for the perfect inspiring teacher, what ingredients would you need?

To produce a well-rounded, inspiring teacher, perfect to teach in a higher education setting, please follow the recipe below.

Ingredients
500g knowledge, 175mL engaging personality, 105mL good communicator, 200g management and leadership, 1 tbsp good listener, 2 tsp willingness to reflect, ½ tsp problem solver, a dash of thick skin and a sprinkle of passion.

Method

  1. Prepare all ingredients before starting
  2. Use knowledge of your teaching area and of teaching techniques as a base
  3. Add an engaging personality with a strong leadership style to the bowl
  4. Take the good communication, good listener and willingness to reflect and mix well, pouring this into the previously added ingredients
  5. Additional ingredient for an even better teacher, add ½ tsp of problem solver
  6. Finish off with a dash of thick skin and a sprinkle of passion
  7. Extra topping and decoration encouraged, as each teacher should bring their unique style.

Once finished you may deliver a motivating and engaging session. Don’t forget to return to your recipe often to develop new techniques.

There are many qualities that are needed to be an inspiring teacher but the qualities above are my top nine. Other skills that are important are to be able to diversify the way you deliver your content, to think-in-the-spot and change the class if it is not working for that cohort, and to ensure you are engaged and therefore engage the students.


Enjoyed hearing from Hannah? See the full list of 2018 winners and commendees and read other interviews.