Can’t see the wood for the trees?

Picture the scene: it’s the end of the day and 3 RE teachers (the RE department) are sat in the Head of Department’s room. We are talking through the exam classes, the GCSE preparation we have done and what is coming up next. I pipe up with: ‘Guys I think we need to work on the revision materials. I think they are boring and don’t really engage our students! In fact I think I got bored when working through them.’

Now the statement is correct.

Over the last few weeks I have been focusing on producing a lot of materials for the students. On reflection I have been throwing so much paperwork at the students that in fact I may be solely responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon! However it’s not just me! To add to this paperwork frenzy, any GCSE student can visit our school website and can download 20+ files and print reams of paperwork in the comfort of their own home. There is a massive overload of paperwork here BUT the students are happy to read through it. During the lessons we went through the materials, either tests or A4 pages which summarise the course. Before our RE exam this morning we saw hundreds of students carrying around the single A4 revision guides we’ve made.

But is the critique wrong? Well, yes, we haven’t been using massively interactive resources/powerpoints/Promethean whiteboards.

But let’s look at the context:

  • Department size: 3 full time and 1 part time teacher
  • School size: 4 teachers teaching 1600 students.
  • KS3: 4 teachers focusing on KS3 – writing, resourcing and adapting between them 18 schemes of work. There are 900 students to be taught compulsory KS3
  • KS3: 2 teachers teaching 60 students a Year 9 philosophy unit – built from scratch and combined with psychology. All advertising for this role carried out by 2 members of the department.
  • GCSE – Short Course: 3 teachers teach this to 600 students. Our school has a compulsory Short Course exam for any student in the school. The 3 teachers have then created all the resources that have been needed to teach a range of students. There are 12 sets, set by English ability. However some students are set by their behaviour in English. The badly behaved kids are moved in order to improve their behaviour. The RE department has to just go along with this. The staff have created all the revision materials which can be found on an easy to use website. The students do make good use of these materials and have commented that they are pleased with the amount they can access from home.
  • GCSE – Full Course: 3 teachers teach 60 students another 6 units after school, in their own time. The staff create all the resources and then provide all the revision materials. The results these students attain are 100% A*-C.
  • RE A-levels: 2 teachers teach AS and A2 RE. They prepare 30 students in Philosophy of Religion and Religion and Art.
  • Philosophy A-levels: 3 teachers prepare 30 students in Epistemology, Nature of God, Philosophy of Religion and Moral Philosophy.
  • The 4 staff in the department are currently involved in multiple working parties, managing the differentiation for the 1600+ students we teach at both SEN and AGT level. The department is also leading the way in the school’s use of Google Apps as well as happily incorporating technology such as graphic tablets into the classroom.

As an RE teacher does any of that sound familiar? I started writing that list feeling (a little) bitter. The English department (which teaches the same number of GCSE kids) has about 15+ staff, as does the Maths and Science department. How are 3 people meant to do the same amount of work as 15 creating interactive revision materials?

BUT HANG ON!!!

3 people are currently doing the same amount of work as 15. Students like RE at our school. Students get good results in both Short and Full Course at our school! 3 people are currently producing an entire revision scheme which is used by 300 students. 3 staff are working incredibly hard on the GCSE work (let alone any of the work for the KS3 schemes, each of which is revised annually, the materials for the complex subjects of both AS and A2 RE and Philosophy).

So no we haven’t made interactive revision materials.

I’d lost the wood for the trees. Have I made an error in claiming that we should look at the revision materials we provide? My own conclusion is no. The error is trying to have everything done for yesterday! My own error is an unrealistic enthusiasm to keep developing and improving what we do with the students. As the old adage says ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.
Considering the exam season mayhem that is going on in the department at the moment, having a colleague say that the resources are boring is probably not the most useful thing to ever hear! The intention was well meant but the timing and forgetting everything else we had achieved was not!

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow!!

So what next? I’m going to make a Department To Do List (DTDL) for everyone to post on there what we might want to look at next. It could be a massive pipe dream like the introduction of a new GCSE for the higher ability students, it could be a review of the revision materials or simply underlining the title in the next Powerpoint. The DTDL is both a reminder of just how much a tiny department is capable of as well as a reminder of the massive aims the tiny department is going to ultimately achieve.

Sound familiar?

As an RE teacher do you ever lose the wood for the trees? Do you ever forget just how much you achieve as a smaller department? Do you ever stop to praise yourself and shout about what you already do to others? Do you ever take a chance to assess exactly where you are going as a department? Do you ever look at those aims and think that in fact you are doing a fantastic job already?

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