Key Takeaways from Strictly RE

It’s difficult to decide if CPD has been useful or not, until you reflect on what it is that you will take away from it. Sometimes that manifests itself in things you can instantly use in the classroom, but it can be much subtler than this. Conversations with other delegates, being with a professional community and focusing on your own subject for a day can bring intangible benefits that might not be measurable in the short term but contribute to a longer-term development.

In terms of physical takeaways, there is the obligatory NATRE tote bag full of resource ideas and RE related courses. And of course, the handouts/resources from each session to unpick and apply in my teaching. However, I thought it would be useful to think about each session that I attended to reflect on what my teaching takeaways are from each.

Key note – Religious literacy – Prof. Grace Davie

This was a fascinating session looking at research on the changing landscape of religion worldwide and in a more local context, and how it links to religious literacy. Rather than spending time discussing the definition of religious literacy Prof. Davie argued that understanding the realities of the existence of religion and communities today can inform our students to understand beliefs, as part of their religious literacy.

Takeaway – I will be using a few of her examples with my students, specifically on how a Muslim community responded to Ebola in adapting Muslim burial rites for that period of time, how the Pope influenced the masses on the environment and how the Church has grown in particular urban areas.

Shi’a Islam  – Zameer Hussein

I’ve seen Zameer speak before on Shi’a Islam, but this session promised to extend my knowledge, especially as I need to teach Ashura soon with my GCSE class. He was engaging, knowledgeable and knew exactly what we needed to know to be able to teach important Shi’a beliefs and practices. He included some suggestions of simple, but effective activities to do with students including using sources of wisdom and authority to support Shi’a beliefs. He countered myths and misconceptions about some of the more publicised practices using visual resources including clips that can be used with students in class.

Takeaway – I will be using a significant amount that I learnt from this session, this term with my Year 11 GCSE class but also in the summer term of Year 7 on the Life of Muhammad.  For example, the importance of Ashura for Shi’a at GCSE and the slight difference of emphasis of Muhammad’s final speech.

Zameer’s session

Conversations about curriculum- Kathryn Wright & Olivia Seymour

This session started with a classic RE discussion; what’s the purpose of RE? I thought my view on this was a minority view in the RE community, but in our paired discussion I found my partner in agreement that its purpose is very similar to the purpose of all other subjects.

We were presented with a curriculum model for RE based on the three disciplines of Theology, Philosophy and human/social sciences. I personally like this distinction of what makes our subject especially as they are academic disciplines that all contribute to what ‘makes RE’.

Takeaway – I will be using this audit tool at our INSET this week to see how our curriculum fares in terms of the multi-disciplinary approach. If there are any unintentional skews towards one, we can consider why and what, if anything, we can do to balance it out.Discussion on the purpose of RE

Panel – National RE: What does the future hold

Questions came from the tightly packed audience on SACREs, school compliance and non-specialists. The panel were optimistic about how some of RE’s challenges can be overcome and referenced the recommendations of the Commission for RE report in some of their responses, which might contribute to positive change for RE in the future.

Takeaway – The takeaway from this session isn’t necessarily something to input into my lessons but it was interesting to hear from the ‘great and good’ of the RE world on their perspectives on the realities that colleagues are facing.

The panel – Deborah Weston (NATRE), Ben Wood (NATRE), Rudi Eliott Lockhart (REC), Naomi Anstice (NATRE)

Keynote – RE and Realties of religion and belief – Lat Blaylock and Stephen Pett

The tag team, Lat Blaylock and Stephen Pett smoothly linked into Prof. Davie’s opening keynote by sharing more on how the realities of religion and worldviews might be taught in the classroom.

They included using research data with students on religious affiliation, how student views on ‘big questions’ can be analysed in the ‘snowflake’ activity and they shared some new BBC resources for GCSE. The snowflake activity gets students to put their opinions onto a diagram on a kind of scale that, when the lines are drawn, give an overall visual of their views that they can then analyse, share and compare.

Takeaway – I’m going to add some more of these statistics to my resources, so students are reminded of the realities of religion.

An OUP cake. Photo credit: LeeAnne Baker

Overall the conference, gave me lots to ponder and adapt for my classes. It was a long day, added to by the venue being out of central London, but for subject CPD it was worth it. I often find at conferences where you select sessions, that choosing seminars that are relevant and that move forward my thinking can be tricky but I think I chose well and got something from all of them.

Finally, a huge thanks to @OxfordEdRE for asking me to go and share my thoughts on the day. It was a great day catching up with RE colleagues and giving subject specific professional development that will impact students and learning straight away.

Dawn Cox is a Head of RE and SLE in Essex. She tweets as @missdcox.