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Using Oz to teach ag: Lessons for teachers at award ceremony

When Professor Gary Moore was asked to give a speech at the 2016 Celebration of Teaching and Advising Ceremony, he decided to try something a little different.

Moore is the 2016 winner of the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching, but even so – with many other award-winning teachers in the room, he said, he felt a little inadequate. “So I thought instead of talking about teaching,” he told the room full of celebrated educators and honors students, “I’d talk about my favorite movie: The Wizard of Oz.”

Moore was one of more than a dozen College of Agriculture and Life Sciences educators and honors students recognized in the Coastal Ballroom of Talley Student Union on April 20. The award ceremony was preceded by a student research symposium, covering topics ranging from the practical use of genetics to the impact of concussions on contact sports and athletes.

The Spring 2016 CALS Honors Program graduates at the April 20 Celebration of Teaching and Advising Ceremony.
The Spring 2016 CALS Honors Program graduates at the April 20 Celebration of Teaching and Advising Ceremony.

In his talk, Moore linked the classic film’s four main characters to examples of how to remain excellent educators. Dorothy’s most famous line – “we’re not in Kansas anymore” – can also be said of agriculture, Moore said.

“Ag is changing,” he said. “And our students have changed…the technology we use has changed.”


That’s the first lesson of teaching, Moore said: times change, and instructors must be ready to change with them.

He went on to recommend several books on teaching – because professors, like Dorothy’s friend the Scarecrow, need to keep using their brains, Moore said.

“We keep up with our field, but we also need to keep up with teaching,” he said.

Next, educators need the courage to try new things, like the Cowardly Lion. As an example, Moore pointed to his own distaste for group work, a teaching tactic that’s become popular in recent years. So he put aside his dislike and tried it in a themed class project, with students working together in groups of six emulating a cattle farm, a dude ranch and so on. What he saw as a result was students teaching and learning from each other – the result of keeping up with his field and trying something new.

Moore’s final lesson, courtesy of the Tin Man, was to have heart. A recent email from a former student reminded him that even a long-forgotten conversation between educator and student can prove life-changing.

“We make an impact all the time,” Moore said. “You can say something to somebody, and you don’t know what the result might be.”

-C. Kellner