Tips for the ECT RE Teacher to Thrive

By Oli Aston

 

I will never underestimate how teaching is such a huge responsibility and privilege. As an Early Career Teacher (ECT) you come to realise this very quickly, even before you have your own classroom, as you complete your training and get to know the role. You develop an appreciation for the job in hand and feel the responsibility you have for shaping young minds and sharing your passion for knowledge.

However, to thrive in your role, I believe you must equip yourself with extra tools and take personal responsibility for improving your practice. Of course, this is as well as utilising the support that your school and the Early Career Framework offers. But, where should you look for those tools?

This is a reflection on my time as an ECT which gives five recommendations for things to focus on as an ECT RE Teacher. As an RE teacher myself, about to finish their ECT induction years, I’ve reflected on the steps I’ve taken to be personally responsible for improving my teaching practice and the expertise I have drawn upon for my own development. This time of reflection has encouraged me to share with you some practical steps I have taken to develop my subject knowledge and teaching and learning practice as an ECT.

 

  1. Build those relationships

Firstly, it’s important to make the most of the experts you have around you. I work with inspiring and hardworking colleagues and have no doubt that you do too; I will forever be in ore of their dedication to their jobs. Their efforts, experiences and ideas are so worthy of our attention. Those close to you during your Induction are your mentor and Head of Department (HoD). Building positive relationships with every staff member, but especially these two colleagues, is extremely important for the enjoyment of our job, but also for our professional development.

When speaking to our mentors and/or HoD, we should aim to build a relationship of trust through reflecting honestly on our practice. I speak to my HoD and mentor regularly and am extremely fortunate to find confidence in their experience and expertise. I share examples of work, share career ambitions and targets for my classes. A strong sense of self awareness, I believe, demonstrates the ability to be self critical but also to be an honest team player who really is interested in improving and learning.

Consider how you invest in the relationships with your colleagues. I’m not suggesting you buy gifts for every meeting but how interested are you in their approaches? How willing are you to trial their ideas, even if we’ve approached it differently before? Schools are full of hardworking and dedicated staff and recognising that we have lots to learn beyond our training from them is really important.

 

  1. Know that you’ll never know everything, and so can always know more

Knowledge is power in the classroom as we know. It is our armoury as a teacher that is always there to protect us, even when the best planned lesson doesn’t go to plan. I decided to begin studying for a Masters at the same time as my ECT induction. Although this won’t be for everyone, consider taking advantage of the opportunities your school has to offer or courses you come across that interest you. For example, is there a teaching and learning forum you could attend, or a course you could complete? Knowing that you don’t know everything leaves space for new knowledge to be acquired.

Chester University in the summer offer a number of online lectures for a level students and teachers that cover topics relevant to our teaching in RE. I remember finding the discussions around Judaism extremely useful as it wasn’t a religion I was overly confident with teaching to begin with. I’ve also recently found an enjoyment in learning more about the teaching of RE through listening to a podcast.

 

  1. Listen to podcasts

Listening to podcasts on topics relevant to your subject enables you to stay up to date with ideas on how to teach and approach contemporary topics. I listen to the RE Podcast during my commute to work. Maybe don’t listen to podcasts on the way back from work as ‘switching off’ is important at the end of the school day. However, listening to this particular podcast developed my awareness of discussions in my discipline and gave me small nuggets of ideas and suggestions that I could use myself.

I’ve taken plenty from the discussions of assessment in RE and the worldviews of others from the personal testimonies individuals share. You could even embed some of the debates/ideas in your lessons, especially with sixth formers. Louisa Smith, teacher and creator of the RE Podcast explains what the podcast offers for the ECT RE teacher:

The RE podcast is my easily accessible weekly podcast. As an RE teacher with over 20 years experience of teaching, I explore a variety of subject specific ideas related to religion and worldviews, ethics and philosophy, as well as pedagogy. I chat with people from within a variety of religious and non-religious communities to provide lived experiences to improve subject knowledge and enhance teaching.

Finding opportunities like listening to short and accessible podcasts is easily doable and will develop a wider awareness of your subject.

 

  1. Make the most of the extra time we have

As well as the aforementioned, it’s important for us to value the extra time we have as an ECT on our timetable. This extra time is a great opportunity to go and observe other teachers around your school or staff in your department, as well as to fulfil the demands of the ECF.

Not only will you be guaranteed to learn something during every visit, you will often take ideas that you can put into practice in your own classroom. Go and observe how they implement activities; explore how they use routines in their classroom, promote a safe environment and interact with students and support staff.

Could it be realistic to aim to do this once a half term? Honestly, I wish I would have done this more but have planned to visit two teachers of a level this term to explore approaches to teaching at this level. Of course, email in advance. Although you will probably be more than welcome to visit teachers around your school, it is good courtesy to give a heads up that you’re interested in popping in. I also like to email or say in person what I took from observing them, showing you valuing their time.

 

  1. Explore your subject further

When sitting in any professional development session, I yearn for something that I can take away from the session and apply straightaway in my own teaching. However, it is also good practice to go and find your own research or resource that is new and share this with others.

Finding good websites such as RE Online can be great for resources. They have essays on topics relevant to religion and worldviews and even opportunities to enhance subject knowledge and pedagogy through their posts on social media and blogs that various authors contribute to.

Another site well worth a visit is The Royal Institute of Philosophy. This year I secured a grant for my school from them to run 10 hours of philosophy activities with an expert in philosophy and some added extras, too. It was to support the teaching and promotion of the love of philosophy in our school. As an ECT, it’s great to get involved in opportunities like these. The Institute also runs competitions, articles, a level guides and masterclasses for FREE.

NATRE and the Catholic Education Service have also proven to be invaluable sources of advice and knowledge for teaching RE.

Being an ECT can be hard work; especially when you start a new school with new colleagues, students, policies, etc. However, by taking responsibility for our own practice, as well as making the most out of the experts around us, we can thrive during our induction years. Thriving as an ECT, I believe, involves being proactive about developing your own practice. It involves being honest with our colleagues but most importantly, it involves recognising that the profession we have entered is a lifelong career of a love of learning and that is what we must do.

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