Time to REboot RE? #REConsult – Musings in response to Daniel’s Friday questions

IMG_0772.JPGTwitter has been buzzing ever since the consultation documents came out on the proposals for GCSE and A Level RE. Daniel Hugill (@DanielHugill) posted some excellent questions which reflected some of the Twitter debate. I decided to write My thoughts on these questions – I have been thinking some similar thoughts myself!

1. Seems to be some reluctance to teach about religion and belief. Are we embarrassed by it?

Embarrassment of belief? I think there is some truth in this. It’s not new of course, but I think with the increased focus on P&E there have been ways that RE has been able to be justified as being relevant. I find this odd because religion is everywhere! I was often asked about changing the name of the subject over the years but I always said that the majority of the world’s population are religious, how can it be irrelevant? With world events being as they are there are numerous ways to make connections, same goes for popular culture. There is even something of a backlash going on against comedians who get cheap laughs ridiculing religion. But this does lead to the next question…

2. Some students we teach are not religious. This means they aren’t interested in studying religions and beliefs. Is this true?

The religious beliefs of the students is not of immediate relevance. Think of parallels, do you have to be a Nazi to study the Second World War in History, or an animal to study Biology, or to travel to study Geography? Ridiculous obviously. However, even when we look to Art there has been a big push to include students who don’t see themselves as artistic. I would suggest you just need to be interested in two things – ideas and people. Some of the best RE students are the most passionate atheists.

3. That a focused study of religion involves lower level skills that belong in KS3 and not at GCSE or A-level. Is that right?

Agreed this seems to be a thought. It seems to be quite disrespectful of Theology. Perhaps it depends upon the kind of degree the teacher has and their own experiences of the subject? I’ve taught about 6 or 7 different A Level papers including a textual study of John and Patristic Theology! They are demanding, but it’s not impossible to make them attractive to students. Do English teachers have to justify studying texts at A Level?

4. That the popularity of courses will fall if we approach religion using a wider range of approaches. Do you agree?

The popularity of subjects is all down to how you market them and how you teach them – make both interesting and exciting then it works. If you build it they will come.

5. That a focused study of religion and belief cannot be made interesting and engaging by skilled RE teachers. Do you agree?

Doesn’t say much for teachers if they feel they can’t do this, unless they don’t believe it themselves? Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching Philosophy, I specialised in it at university, but I loved so much about my Theology degree and am thrilled when students have gone on to study Theology themselves. If some of these changes happen I can tell you I will be right there happily leading training days on the richness of RE that covers not one university degree but at least two entirely distinct disciplines. It might involve some hard work, but I think this subject is worth that. Why should RE be easy?

My view on REconsult – Celebrate the opportunity to give RE a REboot

 

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Whose job is it to care about Staff Morale and what we can learn from chocolate

Teacher in a classroomIt’s interesting to see the difference an ‘e’ can make when added to ‘moral’, it can change pronunciation, change emphasis and create a whole dimension of leadership studies – the importance of the emotional well-being of staff. The last eleven months in particular have been filled with tales of teacher morale being at an all time low and sometimes a dip into Twitter of an evening confirms that. Tired teachers at the end of a frustrating day, questioning whether it is worth continuing with the profession that they once loved with a passion. Often the answer is to raise a shaking fist to whatever happens to be the latest political clanger. A recent favourite of mine was the Tory Peer, Lord Nash, oh so thoughtfully suggesting that lesson planning was a waste of time, so helpful! However, political changes, ridiculous initiatives will always be with us, does this mean that morale is something beyond our control? Far from it.

Within business much has been made of the correlation between how content employees feel with the productivity of the company. Perhaps it might be worth thinking more about the correlation between teacher morale and higher grades – spending the extra couple of hundred on that fancy coffee machine might then seem like a good investment! So who should be thinking about staff morale. Perhaps we are spending too much time shaking our fists at the wrong people? Perhaps Senior Leadership Teams should be making this a priority in their planning with opportunities for change available at every level. So how can SLTs make a difference to staff morale in tangible ways?

  1. Take time to find out what staff are actually doing. It’s important to really listen, observe and read what is happening in terms of subject content. How is the working experience of teachers changing year to year and is this making assessment harder? Are your demands for increasingly frequent assessments actually reasonable or are you making it harder for staff to actually get through their subject content.
  2. Think about everyone’s experiences when you are doing the timetable. I’ve been involved in timetabling for well over ten years and I’m amazed how many educational ideals go out of the window when timetables are put together. It’s so important to think about the quality of each member of staff’s day, as well as the experience of each student. Compromises are often made just to make things fit without thinking about the week in, week out realities that someone has to live with. It’s hard work to do it, but not impossible. Sadly as far as I know existing training in ‘how to do timetabling’ never seems to cover this.
  3. Environment matters. It makes such a difference to your working experience if you have space to work and that someone has thought about you when your workspace was planned. Too often teachers are surrounded by piles of debris that they never have the time or opportunity to tackle. We are busy shouting to the world at large that we are professionals, but staff sometimes have to mark or eat with piles of books or plates perched precariously on knees in crowded staff rooms.
  4. Genuinely celebrate your staff. As schools we are used to celebrating our pupils’ achievements, but do we shout as loudly about staff achievements? I’ve still got the personal letters I’ve received from leaders, who have taken the time to recognise my work, in a genuinely meaningful way.
  5. Give staff a voice. I’ve always thought it’s really important for staff to be able to meet without Senior Management present in order for them to discuss matters that can then be brought forward and presented in a neutral way. This is very different to the valuable work that unions do in schools, it’s about being able to deal with local matters swiftly so that staff are truly listened to and matters can be addressed. This relies upon the next point happening too.
  6. Listen to staff. I’ve written before about the need for leaders to be accessible. It’s so easy to be trapped in meetings in your office. I remember very well feeling guilty if an overstuffed calendar meant that I was not talking enough with staff. It’s not always possible to have that door wedged open physically, but metaphorically it always has to be open. Staff have got to feel that they have access, not just to deputies, but to Heads as well. I was lucky to work with outstanding PAs and their professionalism is essential to ensure that teachers never feel like they are being turned away.
  7. Teachers are people too. It’s sometimes easy to be so caught up in performance, grades and appraisals that we forget that every member of staff is a unique individual with their own lives beyond school. There are mixed opinions about this, but I think there are times when, if it helps, leaders should be prepared to be there to support staff through personal crises. Some feel it’s not professional to bring this into your work place, but we are only human and sometimes we need others to help us when we don’t feel strong. For me I’ve only thought of leaders as being more impressive when this happens.
  8. Invest in your team. Even when budget strings are being pulled tighter and tighter it is so important to invest in the development of teachers. Of course this refers to professional development, investing in good training. As a trainer you can instantly see those leadership teams that are genuinely wanting to invest in their staff – teachers, teaching support staff and admin teams. Investment goes beyond training, to time allocations for responsibility posts, and to creating a happy, productive working environment.

Ultimately it’s all about respecting other members of the staff community. So what has chocolate got to do with this? You could rightly think it’s about supplying the staff room with the obligatory chocolate boxes at the end of a hard term, but actually there is more to be learned here. I’m thinking in particular of the lessons that could be learned from the history of Cadbury’s. Many people are aware of the Quaker history of the Cadbury’s company, but this had huge implications for their care for the workforce.

IMG_0767.JPGThe Cadbury family were pioneers when it comes to staff morale and staff welfare. They brought in many new initiatives concerned with the welfare of their staff, for example, they were one of the first companies to close on Bank Holidays. In the nineteenth century they introduced incentive schemes for employees, invested in further education for their staff and created excellent facilities including,

“properly heated dressing rooms; kitchens for heating food; separate gardens for men and women as well as extensive sports fields and women’s and men’s swimming pools. Sports facilities included football, hockey and cricket pitches, tennis and squash racquet courts and a bowling green.” (The Story of Cadbury)

Perhaps most impressive was their emphasis on social welfare by purchasing 120 acres, creating Bournville, to build housing for their employees. They built housing in line with the Garden City Movement so that it was a clean living environment for staff, many of the cottages with their own apple trees. Sometimes teachers are lucky if they get an apple at work!  The Cadburys did care about their staff as people, about their lives whilst they worked in the factory and how they lived outside of work hours.

It was the Quaker belief system that lay behind the Cadbury family’s decisions to care for the staff so that everyone benefits from the happy workforce. They had a vision which they communicated to their staff and was evident from the actions they carried out to look after their staff. The same goes for mission statements of schools, do they work for the best of every member of the school community?

You might have strategies in place to raise standards, to improve teaching and learning, and to maximise your pastoral care, but how central is your planning for improving staff morale? Is it even part of your strategic plan? And if you don’t think it’s your job, whose is it?

Teacher with Apple

 

see also https://www.cadbury.co.uk/the-story