David Ashton has already blogged on the use of media in GCSE religious studies but I’ve been thinking more about how DVDs* are used in general in RE.

RE has its own challenges in that we are teaching beliefs and teachings that in some parts of the country seem as though students are in a different country. Their experience and perspective of their country, let alone the world is mainly if not totally white, Christian/atheist. As an RE teacher I have to somehow ‘bring to life’ something they may never experience in their entire lives;things that stretch their knowledge and understanding of how people live.

So it is little wonder that we resort to DVDs to help us out. They provide an insight into the complex world of faith that they would otherwise not see. Students can see real life believers discussing their faith and showing us how their faith impacts their lives. But there are also issues with using these.


Issues with using DVDs in RE

1.My concern is that DVDs become the ‘go to’ lesson resource. Teachers relying on them to some how make learning about religions fun, or in some cases being deliberately controversial or to shock the students. There is a belief that DVDs are more engaging than books or discussion or teacher led knowledge. In a worse case scenario DVDs are used as a behaviour management tool; ‘Put a DVD on, that’ll keep them quiet’.

I personally find this dangerous and gives students the wrong perspective of a religion. Planning along the lines of ‘I need to teach forgiveness’ with the response ‘I have a good DVD to teach that’ becomes a common way to plan lessons.

2. These DVDs usually represent the faith in its ‘purest’ form. The reality is that many believers do not fully practice the beliefs and teachings that are presented in them. Conversely, when you show clips with some reality in the students end up with a skewed view of those believers. How can we use DVDs and still give the correct perspective?

An example is in a programme on Jewish matchmaking one of the men had been into prison. The students couldn’t separate this out from why some Hasidic Jews might find it difficult to match make in the UK. Their ‘go to’ reason was ‘because they might have a criminal record’.

3. DVDs date. Some of the best ones I use are really old;at least 15-20 years old. But they are the best version of something that I can find. They present the issue/belief well. Demand for uptodate resources outweighs the commercial value for any provider to produce new material.

4. Finally, linking to David’s blog there is a temptation to use DVDs to shoehorn religious teaching; Linking to point 1. Instead of starting with what we want them to learn and using the best possible strategy to do so, we desperately try to find a DVD that will do it for us. Or in the case of GCSE we HAVE to use a DVD to teach part of it to fulfil the requirements of the specification. Many forum posts have been seen saying ‘can anyone recommend a good clip for teaching…?’.

This blog isn’t intended to stop teachers using DVDs;I will continue to use them. But rather to highlight the traps and issues overusing DVDs in RE may have. The ideal scenario is that all schools have a personal link with several members of each religion so students can meet, experience and ask all the questions they want. Maybe SACREs should be a key partner here. Schools need free, child friendly, volunteers from each religion to work closely with the RE department/coordinator.

However until that time, whilst the cost of travel to visit a religious place of worship or for a visitor to have a meaningful interaction with every child is reduced, the £10 DVD will always take precedent.

* I will refer to DVDs but am referring all types of media including videos, YouTube, web clips etc


RIP Lesson observations. RIP feedback.


I’ve been thinking about and discussing lesson observations this week. So I thought I’d share my thinking.

A summary of mine and others’ experience of lesson observation is the following:

* You’re told (or sometimes not) that someone is coming to observe you. It could be anyone. Trained or not. SLTS or otherwise.
* They stay anything from 20mins to the whole lesson.
* They have a set of criteria they need to find evidence of. Until recently the evidence was just watching the lesson.
* They ticked what they saw or what they think they saw. Some came with ideas in their head already as to what does/doesn’t fulfil a criteria
*They complete the observation proforma. At the bottom there’s usually space for a grade (or four) and strengths/areas for development.
* They arrange a time to ‘feedback’
* In this time they say what they think they saw and what they thought was good and what they thought they didn’t see became an area for development. In some cases they might ask the observed ‘How do you think it went?’ They pass the observed the piece of paper.
* The piece of paper was filed and not seen again unless put in a PM/threshold folder
* And if the teacher was unlucky, had the ‘wrong’ observer, a pedant watching, an inhumane leader or untrained eye watching them it may finally result in soul/career destroying consequences. As a minimum, tears and at its worst losing their job.

So what was the point of all of this? In many cases it was done to say it had been done. For some they could enter the numbers on a spreadsheet and in rare cases it might link to some sort of CPD that might help address the area for development.
The benefit of this model was it was relatively quick (lesson, writing, feedback) and it didn’t require much thought or engagement from either side. It was mostly seen as a judging process and the judge had power to make or break.

Now things are moving on from this model and I’ve had thoughts on how things could move from ‘Lesson observation’ to a ‘Review of progress’ coaching process that is very different.

It is important at the start to say ‘why’ are we doing this? What is the purpose of this process? If it is for PM or to tick boxes we’re on a loser.

My belief is that anything that is done in this process should benefit the teacher and in turn directly benefit the students or help to develop the reviewer in a particular way, that doesn’t include for the benefit of their spreadsheet.

So I propose that a range of aspects are looked at some of which I will discuss:

  • Teacher discussion
  • Student discussion
  • Questions posed
  • Book look
  • Data
  • Live classroom experience

The first and most important throughout the whole process is…

Talking with the teacher (with all other documents with you)

Not one thing should be judged or decided or added as an area for development or written without a discussion with the teacher. The ideal that this is well before the reviewer goes into the classroom. If not, there should be a reasonable amount of time for the discussion after the lesson.

I propose we ditch the phrase ‘feedback’. It has developed connotations of judgement, that the person observing is in some way in a higher position to make a comment or that it is being ‘given’ to the teacher. In a coaching model what is recorded is what has been discussed. Strengths and areas for development are decided by the teacher in the after lesson discussion NOT on a piece of paper handed to them by an observer. Let’s say ONE thing is enough to develop, unless it is a simply resolved area.

The data must be discussed. No judgement must be made by a reviewer about the data without a discussion. Data can be very informative but also very dangerous.

Questions posed

I propose that as part of the review the reviewer comes up with key questions for the teacher and students before, during and after the lesson itself. These may change with the lesson. Every proforma should have a large space for questions and these must be asked either in the lesson or in the after lesson discussion.

It’s the answers to the questions that are important. They are the things that can help create a full picture of what is happening.

Have you ever asked a teacher you’re watching…

  • How is it going with this group?
  • How do you know?
  • What have you already tried with them?
  • Why did you do X? Did it work?
  • How might you resolve X?
  • What is working well with them?
  • What are the challenges?
  • What happened in previous lessons?
  • How does this lesson’s learning sit in the overall scheme?
  • What will you do with them next lesson? Why?

Coaching and asking the right questions is far more powerful in terms of development than giving a target in a ‘praise sandwich’ and writing down a target for a teacher they don’t agree with.

Book look

Another dangerous process that without full explanation from the owner of the book and the teacher can really misidentify what is going on. Is it really possible to see ‘learning’ from a book? Can you see ‘real’ progress?

In no circumstances should a teacher have their books reviewed and recorded ‘results’ on paper without a discussion about them.

Why are we doing this?

Giving grades has always been dangerous. They is a tendency to think that 2 is good enough and people take a sigh of relief when they get a 2. There are huge issues using numbers. We’re moving from using them with students so let’s replicate this with our own development. Using a coaching & reviewing model means that the teacher themselves are ‘in control’ of the outcomes and even someone considered to be ‘Outstanding’ has an opportunity to reflect and think about what they’re doing and the impact it is having. The review should not be in isolation and the decided areas for development should form part of the teacher’s personal development focus. If this model was fully implemented I can see that it could work with the PM process. But that’s another blog.

The past few years and weeks have reminded me…

Observations can be emotional & tiring.

We generally try our best.

We generally want a positive experience & to be appreciated.

We are humans.

The importance of a classroom


In my career I have had a variety of situations regarding classrooms.

I was lucky for 5 years to have my ‘own’ room and it was rare that anyone else taught in there. It was large. I got it organised. I used the space and storage exactly how I wanted. Students knew where to get things from. Everything was stocked. If you came in you would easily find a board pen AND the board rubber. You could easily find lined paper or a set of colouring pencils. If a student asked for anything, I would have it to hand instantly. It was my domain. My beloved classroom.

And then I started working on SLTs. Suddenly, you’re teaching less and you’re last to be allocated rooms in the system. Some would say ‘rightly so’. You’re timetabled to teach RE in a science lab. You have a class in an English room. This shouldn’t be a problem right?


I cannot explain how unhappy I was doing this. I have arrived into rooms where the teacher desk is so covered in paperwork that I cannot fit my laptop onto the surface. Often I have sifted through it and seen the hard work that children have produced unmarked and unvalued in scruffy piles.I have arrived to have a whole whiteboard covered in text and of course, absolutely no board rubber to clean it off.

Classrooms where remote controls are not in the obvious place or don’t exist in that room. Rooms where there is no lined paper in sight. A room where you can never refer to your own subject specific displays and you cannot put up examples of your student’s work.

And then there is the table set up. Going from rows to horse shoe to groups. People used to say ‘quickly get the students to move the desks around at the start and end of the lesson’. They clearly haven’t worked with secondary aged children for a while! Why should the start and end of my lesson be ‘table arranging’?

I have also taught in a dual campus school. You had to drive in your break time from one campus to another. Some people didn’t drive and walked. In the rain & sun. You would arrive to class completely shattered, needing the loo and you have no time to set up, let alone make sure you’re ready standing at the door to greet the students with a cheery smile. It was only at that moment when you realised that you hadn’t brought the worksheets left on the desk at the other campus that your lesson fell apart. Or forgetting a board pen and there not being one in the room. Really? How can there not be a board pen in a class room?!

At it’s worse I taught in 14 different rooms. 14 different systems to conquer before I could start my lesson.

So now, having taken a demotion, I am in the luxurious position of having ‘my’ own room. I am beyond happy. I LOVE MY ROOM. It’s organised. I know where things are. Anyone teaching in there knows where things are as they’re in the logical place i.e the board rubber is next to the board, the remote controls are on the desk. Someone said that the kids had told them I’m ‘OCD’ about my room and how it’s organised. I admit it. I am.

Don’t get me wrong. This is no-ones ‘fault’ ( well you could blame the Government for funding I suppose!). However for the quality of my teaching it is essential. I genuinely feel my teaching is better because of it. Think about that. Think of the impact it may have on students on a daily basis. What if they had four classes in a row they were table shifting?

So what does this mean for you?

If you have your own room. Relish it. But ensure that for anyone coming into that room you make it accessible. Welcome them. Don’t scowl when they bring their huge trolley of equipment and large box of books. Offer to help. Ask them if they need anything specifically for that lesson. Make sure the board is clean for them. Offer some storage space for things hey need to leave in there. Ask if they want any display space.

If you are the leaders of a school, think about what you can do to help those that are nomadic. Should there be an expectation that every room has a ‘set’ of core items? Could a member of support staff help prep a room? Do a tour of your school. What do large piles of paper ‘tell’ the students and visitors about your school?  If your observation criteria includes something on classroom environment, think carefully about your expectations. What can you do to ensure rooms support learning for all, not just if you’re doing science in a science lab? Other suggestions for which I have had provided:

  • Bottles of water for teachers to grab quickly as they cross campus
  • Buy teachers a crate on wheels or flight bag

Remember, staff well being is central to a positive & healthy school.