“I just can’t help putting my hand up – REvitalising my career”

Hands up if you’re one of those people who just can’t help putting your hand up. I am one of those people, I never realised it was a leadership quality until I found myself leading. When opportunities come along, I just can’t help thinking – “oooh – I wonder how our school can get involved.” So much so, that my long-suffering team now audibly groan when I begin a sentence, “I‘ve been thinking…” or “I’ve been reading…” or “I’ve been talking to…”. In short, I can be deeply annoying – I refuse to apologise, things wouldn’t get done if people like me didn’t insist on putting our hands up.

A decade ago, having left a potentially lucrative (but dull), career in law to be a full-time mum, I accidentally became a Higher-Level Teaching Assistant in a three-form entry Primary school in Ipswich. I accidentally became RE lead; accidentally, I took on RE research projects; accidentally, I worked with local faith groups to develop multi-faith reflective story scripts; accidentally, I completed middle leadership courses; ran CPD; spoke at conferences; supported other RE leads. Before I knew it, I’d been leading RE for eight years, and we’d accidentally earned the Gold REQM. Of course, none of these things were accidents – it’s that ‘can’t help putting your hand up’ thing again!

However, even doers can get in a rut. About eighteen months ago, I was considering leaving education altogether. I’m sure this is something every educator has gone through from time to time. I’d been so busy doing things that I began to feel I had outgrown my space when I became a HLTA I’d thought maybe I’d do teacher training eventually. But I didn’t fall in love with teaching, I fell in love with teaching primary RE. If I joined a teacher training programme, I knew the chances were I’d eventually leave RE behind. It seemed that there was nowhere else for my career to grow. I began looking for a new (non-education) career.

At this opportune moment, I was extremely lucky to receive an email from Jan McGuire. Jan was a classroom teacher, curriculum lead for RE (for over 20 years), County Education Adviser and REQM Assessor. Jan is currently the Association of Religious Education Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (AREIAC) Executive Secretary, REvitalise project Manager and works as a SACRE Local Authority RE Adviser and Independent Education Adviser for RE/ SMSC/ Controversial Issues/ EHWB. Jan invited me to take part in the AREIAC REvitalise pilot. Despite not being entirely clear about what the program was, I jumped at the opportunity to do something different. Finally, all that impulsive putting my hand up for things had put me on someone else’s radar. Early on in our sessions together, Jan told me of a person who had influenced her RE career in singling her out and supporting her development. I wonder how many of us have benefitted from the informal support of another professional? The education system is so special because of the generous people who give their time to develop other adults as well as children.

I soon learned that REvitalise is a personalised mentoring program specifically designed for emerging RE Leaders. ARIEAC realised how hard it was for RE leaders to traverse the gap between classroom practitioner and Adviser, what Richard Kueh calls, ‘professional hybrids’. Teacher agency beyond the classroom is vital in developing the RE visionaries of the future. Through the AREIAC and Culham St Gabriel’s funded project, Jan led a team of established RE Advisers and Consultants who mentored emerging RE leaders across the country. It wasn’t long before I realised just how lucky I was to be included.

Things began to change rapidly. Through Jan’s introduction, I became the Suffolk SACRE HLTA representative, immediately introducing me to another level of opportunities and contacts within the county. Through the mentoring sessions, Jan helped me to recognise my strengths and gave me the impetus and confidence to move forward, her project-writing support helped me structure my vision for multi-school development and express it in a way that caught the attention of our trust board. Jan’s encouragement led me to push our trust board to consider RE development as a priority, the board allocated funding for this development. The work we have been doing as a MAT of 21 primary and secondary schools over the last 18 months, is impacting thousands of children’s learning across Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. It is also vital in supporting and developing RE leads and Head Teachers who no longer have access to Local Authority RE Advisers, even if we weren’t an Academy, these employed Advisers no longer exist in our area- this leaves a huge gap in access to expertise.

My personal growth and opportunities broadened. Without REvitalise mentoring support, I would never have been ready to apply for the post of NATRE East Anglian Regional Ambassador. Another role that, alongside working in school, has opened up so many new contacts and opportunities. I am reaching out to and connecting, hundreds of RE colleagues across our region, many of whom are, like me, the ones who just can’t help raising their hands when the next opportunity comes along. I see part of my role is to support the growth and potential in others, I’ve had a truly inspirational mentor in Jan McGuire- it’s time to pay it forward.

AREIAC, remains committed to developing the next leaders, change-makers, and champions of RE, and act as the conduit between the wider RE world and the classroom. AREIAC are looking to support the next RE leaders on their journey of development; using their AREIAC members’ academic expertise and specialisms and immense experience gathered in the RE classroom and through teaching the teachers of RE.

Could you be the next RE leader to join the programme?

To find out more about ARIEAC please visit: www.areiac.org.uk/

Written by Katie Gooch, Suffolk SACRE HLTA representative and NATRE RE ambassador for East Anglia @goochkt

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