Gert Biesta isn’t sure. He thinks that the benefit of research is to offer ‘informed uncertainty’ to them; teaching is a journey with pupils into the unknown. So, in response to a short presentation from me that showed how engaging with reports on Research for RE had built teachers’ confidence, he wondered whether that is a good thing or not.
This conversation happened during the AULRE[i] conference of May 9-10 at Newman University, Birmingham. We’re planning a series of blogs that reflect on this conference, in which the other writers and myself are asked to weigh up what the AULRE conference offers to teachers. It’s a good question, since AULRE wishes to become an association for a broad range of RE professionals and (I’d argue) the research presented at its conference needs to reach teachers to develop RE. If it can, it has tremendous potential. I’ll try to show why by drawing on a few of my conference experiences.
First, back to the confidence dispute. Having had time to think about it, I don’t disagree with Gert, the issues just need spelling out. This definition of positive emotional energy from the sociologist Randall Collins helps:
“. . . a feeling of confidence, courage to take action, boldness in taking initiative. It is a morally suffused energy; it makes the individual feel not only good, but exalted, with the sense of doing what is the most important and most valuable . . . Emotional energy has a powerfully motivating effect on the individual; whoever has experienced this kind of moment wants to repeat it.” [ii]
That’s what kept me going for thirty years as a teacher. Arguably, the contested nature and content of RE make this kind of confidence particularly needed. I do think that RE teachers need to have confidence, but it’s the confidence to face difference, uncertainty and ambiguity with pupils, so that they grow up able to relate to the world as it is. We need to be professionally robust and epistemologically humble.
The AULRE conference had three keynote sessions, all of which visited this same kind of territory, as all three speakers resisted the narrow accountability model that continues to dominate English education. Joyce Miller spoke on the CORE report and its reception, regretting that some commentators had seen an overemphasis on content knowledge and lack of attention to pupil self-awareness and reflexivity. [iii] David Aldridge considered a pedagogy of belonging; an alternative to technicist models, emphasising attentive listening, slowness and love. I was particularly provoked by Pat Hannam’s address, on education, RE and the future of the world. She illustrated the crises of environmental degradation, children’s unhappiness and policy drift (namely the Ofsted definition of ‘good’ education which alludes to neither the world nor children) and underlined our responsibility to bring children to action. It was commented that they may be doing so already without us, and whilst this may be true, it doesn’t remove our responsibilities as educators.
It was an excellent conference, and many more examples could be given, but it’s time to come back to the question of how teachers might benefit. Well, I hope it’s clear that visionary thinking is happening in our subject. At one level, I’d like teachers to be aware of it, participate in it and help it to build RE’s future; at another level, I’d like it to have to connect with the everyday reality of school. The two levels can be bridged, of course, and I’ll just mention one more AULRE conference example, Frances Lane’s presentation on using research communities of practice to support trainee and beginning teachers. It’s at this kind of interface where I see Culham St Gabriel’s research strategy developing in the future, as well as supporting later stage teachers to become researchers via master’s and doctoral work which informs classroom practice.[iv] If you are interested in making this kind of professional journey, you might well find inspiration and possible starting points at the AULRE conference, so do take confidence and get in touch if we might support you to attend. Kevin@cstg.org.uk
[ii] Randall Collins (2004), Interaction Ritual Chains, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pages 39, 49, 121, 134, 105-9, 108, quoted in Christian Smith (2017), Religion: what it is, how it works and why it matters, Princeton: Princeton University Press, page 223.
[iv] We do already support doctoral researchers to present at AULRE through a bursary – again, those interested are welcome to email me.