RE: What is it good for…

There’s a big debate going on in Religious Education due to the ever shifting political sands our subject seems to be built on at the moment; but where is the rock our subject should be built on? What’s the actual purpose in schools? There are a few major camps…

Theologians

The deeper study of the religions; the exploration of traditions looking at the way the culture and history of faith groups has interpreted teachings to change daily life for believers; or unpicking the messages in scripture to understand the messages behind the stories. It can even be the study of exegesis and the way the nuances in translation have changed our understanding of faith over the millennia. For those interested in religion as an academic pursuit we have a wealth of literature, historical documents and real world experiences to draw from in the study of RE. This is for many specialists the purest form of our subject.

Philosophers

Others see RE as an expression of critical thinking and unpicking the truths of the universe though philosophy. (Always good to remember that the literal translation is “love of knowledge.”) 

The content is often merely a tool to explore the truths of life; looking at comparison, searching for the similarities and underpinning themes.

There’s also the purist value of constructing beautiful arguments and the intrinsic worth of thinking hard. These practitioners offer many valuable skills to those looking to develop their studies further in many fields.

Moralists

How should we live? Some specialists despair at the movement to explore morality without the underpinning of religious teachings, but looking at how we should live our lives has real value to our students and to our society. 

The messages in all major faiths are those of how to live our lives and generally (not in all cases) make society a better place. In many ways this is what RE should be about. The how is important but to make it RE and not just a lovely chat it must be explored in parallel to the why? The why being the religious teachings, scripture and underpinning tenets of the faiths we study.

In my (occasionally) humble opinion I think the best of RE offers a rich tapestry interweaving these first three themes. Perhaps that’s more preference than purpose if I’m honest with myself, this isn’t an easy issue to unpick.

Evangelists

Some feel that their duty is to convert others to their faith and this draws them into our profession (assuming if you’ve read this far you’re an RE teacher.) Although I appreciate that these individuals have a desire to save our eternal souls for whatever God they believe in the circumstances of our employment is that we are paid to teach; clergy are paid to preach. 

In faith schools where there is a clear ethos and belief system in the school the line obviously blurs somewhat, sometimes creating a special culture and purpose within a faith learning community; at other times it reaches the national news and new government initiatives appear, which leads me neatly into…

Survivalists

Although I don’t support the philososophy of those who jump on every political Trojan Horse which could buy our subject a little time before what some percieve as our inevitable demise; from British Values to SMSC there’s a lot of ways to convince people that RE is essential to these current agendas. 

David Ashton laments the politicising of RE here. (An excellent RE blogger I recommend to all those with an interest in RE.) David raises some serious concerns about the purpose of RE that worry many specialists; the interesting alternative to consider is the relationship between politics and the pulpit for so many years and the fact that religion itself has always been influenced by politics due to the nature of power and attempts to control the culture of the masses. 

In terms of skill set we also need to consider who is best prepared to explore difficult, controversial, sensitive and emotional material. I would argue that RE teachers are ideally suited whether many like that fact or not.

So what is it good for? 

You know my thoughts but I’d love to hear your ideas. I feel this is one of the biggest themes for discussion as specialists in RE and something we should be reflecting on as it directly impacts our classroom practice.

If you have a blog on this please feel free to link it in the comments.

To Blog or Not To Blog

That is the question. Is it better to have blogged and not been read or never to have blogged at all?

Notes to accompany CPD session 05/03/15

Blogging: is it for me?

To start with I’m  going to explore some of the positives and negatives of blogging. Looking at why some people choose to blog and some people don’t.

There’ll be many more reasons than the ones I offer but this is intended to explore the issue rather than produce an encyclopaedia of reasons.

Positives

Reflective Practice: I personally enjoy blogging as a way to look back at projects I’ve tried and tease out the finer points and explore how I could improve those ideas. If I wasn’t blogging I’d still reflect but I think it places these reflections under more intense personal scrutiny.

Feedback: You will get comments; some positive and some negative. From time to time you may even get comments from people who’ve come up from under their bridges. It’s a source of dialogue and alternative views. If it keeps you thinking that has to be a good thing, right?

Community: A totally unexpected bonus for me is that the blogging community is relatively welcoming of new bloggers. Before you know it you feel like part of a community freely sharing their ideas.

Sharing: If you have a great idea and keep it to yourself your impact is far more limited than if you share it. You can have a positive impact by sharing your practice, methods, ideas and reflections.

Positivity: It’s an opportunity to share the highlights of education. Things that you or your students enjoy, best practice and celebrations of achievement. There’s enough negativity; why not share some positivity.

Negatives

Time: Blogging takes time whether you like that fact or not, not just for writing but also for reflection. This can be countered somewhat by being diligent and not falling into the blog by compulsion trap, only blog when you want to. It’s hard to say no sometimes when people are asking for a contribution but unless it’s your main source of income or essential to your priorities you’re under no obligation.

Other Priorities: If something comes up that’s more important than blogging take your advice from Nike “Just do it!”

Public Eye: Don’t get excited just yet superstar, but people may read your blog. This can sometimes have negatives results and must be something to be aware of.

Ego: Some bloggers and other online educelebs sometimes start believing in their own hype. Some people might think this just because you blog despite your humility and openness. Stay honest to yourself and don’t get carried away.

Doubters: The “How do you find the time?” crowd. What they really mean is you must be missing out on another part of your life, have no friends or be doing your job badly to do this. It’s the same if you’re commited to any hobby; I get the same questions about my Ultrarunning. The reality is that you choose how to spend your time; 1 less hour watching dull TV is an hour you can spend on personal development or even…enjoying yourself. Maybe even watching good TV. Your time, your choices. Think very carefully about who you let make decisions for you.

Conclusion

As far as I’m aware blogging won’t make you rich and there are some potential issues but if they haven’t put you off read on…

So what types of blogs are there?

Group Blogs: Written by groups of people rather than just one these tend to give a variety in both ideas and issues covered. Getting involved in a group blog like @Pedagoo means you can share your ideas without feeling the expectation to blog regularly. It also means your early blogs get an editor to check them over. I really recommend this as a great way to start blogging from personal experience. If you enjoy it your next step might be to set up a…

Professional Blogs: These are blogs focused on writing about a specific career, in our case (assuming you are in education) things about teaching and associated issues. Keep it professional by not mentioning students names or using it as a platform to insult others. It may seem obvious but it sometimes happens.

Class Blogs: These can be about the exploits of a form class (I particularly enjoy the nursery blog from the school Finbar attends. The featured image of him is from the nursery blog.) Or you could set one up for a particular project or club where you act as the editor for students as writers. If you are setting this type of blog up remember to get permission from your school and permission slips from parents. If done correctly this can be a great way to share and celebrate student achievements.

Personal Blogs: If you want to spend a huge amount of time writing about your hobbies, recipes for lovely cakes, sharing what you eat, about your running and very little about education you may want to do this instead of a professional one, but don’t expect it to have an impact on your professional development. Nothing wrong with this but know why you’re doing it (see below.) It is ok to mention a little personal stuff on your professional blog to show a bit of personality but don’t go wild.

Things to consider…

1) Know WHY you’re blogging and pick the right style of blog for you. 

2) Know how much time you’re willing to put into it; it’s (probably) not your full time job.

3) Have a look at some blogs online to get an idea of what you like and help you get an idea of what is out there.

4) Look at the different sites that host blogs. I recommend WordPress; it’s free and surprisingly easy to use. My thanks to @ICTEvangelist for recommending it to me.

OR

Consider using one of the existing group blogs or even doing a guest blog for someone you know.

Readers: If they don’t know it’s there they won’t read it. Remember to post it on your social media, maybe send it to people who might like it by e-mail. (Don’t overdo this.) You can also tag people in a Twitter post. (Again, use sparingly.) If it’s relevant to their interests or mentions them it’s polite to tag.

As always I asked Twitter to recommend some blogs to read…

http://johntomsett.com

http://www.learningspy.co.uk/

http://changing-phase.blogspot.co.uk/

https://classteaching.wordpress.com/

http://www.educate1to1.org/

http://headguruteacher.com/

http://staffrm.io/

http://musingsfromtheisland.wordpress.com/

http://www.belmontteach.wordpress.com/

http://www.missbsresources.com/

http://pedagoo.org/

http://fkelly.co.uk/

http://deeplearning.edublogs.org/

http://justtryingtobebetter.net/

http://www.thelearninggeek.com/

http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/

Not an exhaustive list; if you want an list of EVERY edublogger follow @oldandrewuk or @TheEchoChamber2 (Much like those ironic QI jokes on Dave you may even be reading the blog on @TheEchoChamber2.)

Look forward to reading your blogs:)

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE

Twitter for CPD

Notes to accompany CPD session 05/03/15.

Is Twitter useful for CPD?

I’ll admit I was a bit sceptical at first but @MrHumanities talked me into signing up to Twitter for professional use at my first Teachmeet in December 2013 so I’ve been on for just over a year and I’ve gone from cynic to enthused convert. Mainly for predictable reasons but for some unexpected ones too…

I’ve seen lots of great ideas that inspire me; I like a boost to keep my enthusiasm high and Twitter has been a source of great positivity.

Twitter keeps me informed of events, particularly Teachmeets, happening in the local area. More on why I love Teachmeets here.

I find that if you want to discuss ideas there’s a load of educators to engage with.

I’ve also discovered @EduBookChatUK which is where fellow educational literature geeks meet to reflect and discuss their recent reading. 

My favourite thing on the Internet is @Pedagoo which is a group of educators anyone can join who share blogs and great ideas. You can see loads of these ideas and inspiration on #PedagooFriday each week. My blog on Why Pedagoo? can be found here.

I’ve made friends! I never expected to connect with people in the way I have because of Twitter and Teachmeets but I feel I’ve made real friends because of this. It may be due to the lack of a social life I have as a teacher but it is great to connect positively with so many people.

It’s a global teacher support network. If you want a resource/idea/contact/guidance there’s someone on Twitter who will help you out. I’ll openly admit that @ICTEvangelist has answered many of my stupid questions on tech use for which I’m hugely grateful. 

There’s also loads of blogs posted with great reflections on up to date topics allowing me to enrich my understanding and widen my perspective on educational issues and pedagogical techniques.

There’s many other minor reasons but in summary it keeps me informed and enthused about education. So if you’re convinced my advice for first steps would be as follows:-

1) Just log on and create an account, once you’ve got your password and Twitter handle sorted you’re in business.

2) Stick in a short biography so people know what you’re interested in, it makes it easier to connect with you.

3) Add a photo; people are wary of the egg. It’s amusing as you could be anyone online but people respond positively to a picture.

4) Imagine anything you post could be read by the national press, your boss, friends, parents, students and well anyone. Then remember that before you post anything you may regret.

5) Choose how you want to use it. It really is your choice. Some people are Lurkers who never interact but watch and read. That’s fine, it’s your account. Some favourite and retweet (RT) but don’t directly engage. Some engage and discuss with a small number and some with anyone. The key is to make Twitter do what you want it to do, not the other way round. The machines aren’t our masters just yet, Siri told me so. There’s also those who actively engage using a pseudonym or sobriquet. I regularly chat with @ImSporticus but have no idea who this person is. That doesn’t make our dialogue any lesson valuable as a learning experience.

6) Find interesting people to follow, I’ve included some Twitter sourced recommendations below. You can follow non-educationalists too BUT never follow students.

7) A final warning; if this is your professional account it’s ok to share a little bit of personal stuff and personality but remember point 4.

8) Be nice; the world needs more sharing and positivity. Don’t spoil the Internet for me;)

Recommendations to follow:

This list was sourced from the good folk of Twitter for two reasons. Firstly to get a diverse and up to date list of recommendations. Secondly to demonstrate how willing the Twitter community rally round to help out. Edited for ease of formatting for Blog, NOT word for word quotes.

@FeDuncs – most inspirational teacher with some amazing ideas. Kids eat out of the palm of her hands. Recommend by @BestNicci

@ASTsupportAAli – for his blogs and gigantic bank of  free educational resources. Recommended by @MissBsResources

@ICTEvangelist – consistent good advice and extraordinary tech God, who you need to know in this fast paced digital era. Recommend by @MissBsResources

@johnjohnston  a quiet and thoughtful educator. Recommended by @IanStewat66

@KerryPulleyn and @CreativeNorton worth adding to your list. Recommend by @PeteJackson32

I manage Eal and @EAL_naldic @EALACADEMY are indispensable resources now that local emass support are mostly on the dole now. Recommend by @sarspari11a

@MrsMathia That’s good to share whole school for hints and tips for everyone #notjustNQTs. Recommended by @FeDuncs

We couldn’t put @Totallywired77 on the list even though @FeDuncs recommended him as he was opposed to being on a list;)

@jim1982 and @LA_McDermott also recommended by @FeDuncs

@musicmind recommended by @ICTEvangelist for her ninja skills. Hatsumi Sensi would be proud.

I’ve not added my personal recommendations as the whole purpose was go get an eclectic mix selected by Twitter. It also shows if you ask Twitter you’ll get a response.

Further Reading: @dan_brinton has an excellent blog with many more relevant blogs linked to it here.

Hope you all enjoy the brave new world of online CPD that is Twitter.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE