Learning to glean

Are you feeling inundated by advice and ‘helpful’ anecdotes for your teaching? Fed up with the animosity on social media RE pages and wondering how the most tolerant subject can produce teachers and leaders who can be so judgemental and condescending?

In a subject which is meant to be a pioneer for community cohesion, how have we missed the bar so much in how we speak to other RE teachers and colleagues?

(I should just say that it is in the teaching standards to further our own CPD and I do understand that there are some teachers who refuse to learn, research or change their ways. I know how frustrating it is for some to keep answering the same kinds of questions when teachers should be trying to better themselves. This blog isn’t about those teachers who don’t want to change- let’s face it, they won’t be reading this anyway! Although it is time to show more compassion and kindness to our colleagues and dig deep into the values of our wonderful subject perpetuates.)

The Biblical story of Ruth celebrates the power to start again, to gather what was previously scattered, and to glean all that we need. In teaching, gleaning what is relevant has become more important as the information, guidance and advice can come in torrents.

In Religious Education, there is certainly a push to use research and this is largely positive. I attended a fantastic conference, REXchange, held by Culham St Gabriels in October. It birthed some new ideas for me and got me thinking about my own professional development. I’m grateful to the presenters for sharing their ideas.

Research can be about RE- most of the research projects that we often hear about are founded in the RE world, often with a focus on pedagogy and teaching methods. I spent a glorious half term benefitting from the wonderful Farmington Fellowship opportunity (now Farmington Scholarships) and learning from experienced mentors and other colleagues. It shaped my career and deepened my passion for RE as I looked into motivating disaffected RE teachers.

Yet there is also research for RE which is more about research beyond the RE world, yet has something to say for RE, for example on assessment, knowledge retention or using technology.

With all the research out there, how can we glean what is good for teaching RE without being overwhelmed by the sheer amounts of research and information, but not missing out on innovative or interdisciplinary work that could benefit an individual or school?

It is worth noting that we should make sure there is evidence in everyday practice and not just on paper. I have read so many books, but it isn’t until I’ve actually tried something in a lesson or topic that I know if it will benefit. It will involve being brave, taking a risk and ‘having a go’.

Don’t be scared off by the idea of taking part in research- it is very much like what we do in professional practice anyway where we test and see what works. Just with research, it is more systematic and rigorous and used for the wider profession.

What research actually means in practice isn’t always clear- it’s very easy to look like someone is really engaged with research, but they may just be repeating stock phrases from a paper or project or spouting the need to ‘embed research in the profession’. The language can be condescending for some to hear and they may feel inadequate to take part.

Good engagement with research will involve partnership with the researcher and the teacher. The importance of networking shouldn’t be underestimated here. There are certainly going to be opportunities for linking with research and trying new ideas over the coming months. I am looking forward to meeting like-minded RE ‘geeks’ who want to deepen subject knowledge or embed practice in our local NATRE groups.

But please don’t think I am suggesting you take part in or create educational research! Time and dedication will be required and we don’t have a lot of that at the moment! Yet dipping in and trying something can reinvigorate your lessons or even your curriculum. I loved trialling Sue Phillips’ Theatre of Learning in my early career and it changed the way I taught!

You are permitted to say ‘no’. It’s okay for you to miss an #REchatUK on Twitter. It’s definitely okay to not join every RE argument you are invited to on social media or in the staffroom! Instead, enjoy gleaning- look for the little things that will help your teaching. Improving your subject knowledge is a great thing, but attending every zoom conference and reading every blog in place of leisure activities may affect your mental health and wellbeing. If you want to get fully involved in rewriting a curriculum or leading research, that is amazing. It is also fine for you to develop your teaching in your own way and you shouldn’t feel judged by RE colleagues for this decision. Be kind to yourself- your dedication can never be underestimated, but you are not replaceable to your family and friends. Learn, like Ruth, to glean from what has been scattered and find new life in these tricky times.

Sarah Payne subject leader for RE and PSHCE at Woodland Middle School and the South Central Regional Ambassador. @SPayneRE

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