Welcome to my blog!

Never doubt that a small group of THOUGHTFUL, COMMITTED citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

— Margaret Mead.

Hello readers! My name is Saira Hassan and I am A-level Religion and Philosophy Lecturer. I will be starting my second year of teaching this September and have decided to start this blog alongside.

Aside to teaching, I enjoy reading – particularly anything history related, whether that be South Asian history, Islamic history or history in general! (I had a short spell teaching GCSE History). I am currently broadening my understanding of mental health, particularly how this affects young people, and learning new ways to manage anxiety – I also share these with my students to help them understand that everyone experiences some level of anxiety, and that there is support available.

My most recent adventure has been joining the gym – something I started in order to find new ways to become more productive in the mornings and relax and unwind in the evenings.

Aside to all of this, I enjoy spending time with my family, drinking tea (TEA-LOVER!) and catching up with my friends. I have also had a short spell of travelling to a few countries and hope to increase this in the future!

This blog will be a space to share my journey of being a teacher with you all. I will be posting again soon, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

Thank you!

What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity… recognising, celebrating and rewarding every individual for their uniqueness, for what they bring to the table and for the potential they can reach. For me, diversity means equality and inclusion for all, a chance to celebrate differences rather than make people feel li exeke ‘the other’.

Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com

Diversity is something we have been discussing for many years, and is something that has been at the forefront of many minds since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a result of the brutal killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests that followed his death.

The recent events in America have spread over to the UK, one of the most important things that has arisen from this is more and more people discussing how to diversify the curriculum. In order to ‘begin at home’, myself and 3 colleagues have co-founded a ‘Diversity Working Group’ with fellow teachers as a result of our plans to make the A Level curriculum more diverse and inclusive for our learners and local community. This was founded as a result of our discussions about the lack of diversity in parts of the curriculum and it not including everything we would like it to, as well as us noticing patterns in some of the students we appeal to in our subjects. For example, some A Level Film and Media students noticed a lack of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic students in their classes, they also noticed that there was a lack of female scholars and those that were included were labelled as feminists (often seen as negative). My own A Level Religious Studies students noticed a lack of female philosophers and scholars too (only 1 mentioned in the entire specification). Therefore I am delighted that the book ‘The Philosopher Queens’ by Lisa Whiting and Rebecca Buxton has recently been published. I will be incorporating this within my teaching to show my learners a greater awareness of female philosophers and scholars in Religious Studies. Our History teacher extended the list of questions offered for A Level History coursework which have recently been approved by AQA, examples include: South African and Indian home policy, Chinese Factionalism, Japanese Economy, LGBTQ+ Britain, American Women’s Rights and African-American Civil Rights.

The Philosopher Queens by Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting: Unbound
By Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting (individual chapters from several authors) – A MUST READ.

We have developed this group from a few discussions and it has successfully made its way to our Principal who will be chairing our diversity awareness meetings. We are hoping to make this a cross-college working group to ensure we are including all of our students. I feel this is the start of what will bring some great changes to our teaching and learning strategies for our learners. I’ll be writing another post on this in a few months time to update you all.

This discussion with members of the University of Buffalo sums up what many of believe about diversity. These are the kinds of discussions I have with my A-Level students to help them gather their own views, learn from each other and to teach them to ask these questions from their peers, friends, family and future colleagues.

What kind of activities/tasks do you have to ensure you are being diverse and inclusive of all your learners? Let me know in the comments section. I would love to hear from you so we can share ideas/learn from each other.

Remote teaching and learning

COVID-19 has forced all of us to make changes to our lifestyle, included within this is the education sector. Schools, colleges and universities in the UK switched to remote teaching from March 20th, teachers and educators across the country had to renew and refresh their teaching overnight to continue delivering for students. My workplace in particular very quickly set up CPD courses for all staff members to attend to allow us to become accustomed to the different programmes offered by Google and Microsoft to continue to educate and support young people. This post will be a brief insight into how I have been delivering lessons to my A Level Religious Studies students in the current situation. 

Google Classroom: 

We use Google Classroom all the time – it is our usual form of online communication where we post lesson resources and important notices – just like Moodle or Blackboard. We have continued with this as the main form of communication for teachers and students. During the current crisis I have been making the most of the ‘Assignment’ function in Google Classroom, setting all class essays and tasks as assignments for students to ‘turn in’. This has actually made marking much more effective and efficient, as I can mark all work online using Google Docs. I will definitely continue with this once we return back to teaching in our classrooms! 

Google Meet: 

All lessons are being delivered through Meet. It is just like Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams. I simply set up an online lesson, share the ‘class code’ with my students and we meet at our usual lesson times. I know some educational settings have not been delivering lessons as such, instead they have been uploading work online or sending work packs to students to complete. However, delivering lessons whilst we still have content to teach at the usual lesson time provides some regularity, normality and continuity for myself and the students. 

Google Meet allows you to share your screen with the audience, therefore most of my lessons have not had to change drastically, as I can easily share my presentations with all students and talk them through the tasks. I can edit the slides as I go too, so any questions, arguments or suggestions that my students provide, I can easily add these on as we go through the lesson.

Google Meet allows you to show or hide your face, share screens and also has a chat section called ‘Hangout’ where I usually post questions for discussion and where students can post any questions they have for me. This has worked well for discussions and allows those students who do not want to speak in the lesson to still have an input in all tasks.

Jamboard: 

This is a virtual post-it note app provided by Google, I started using this in my lessons in January after another teacher showed us how it works. You simply set up a ‘jamboard’ which is like a blank page, you can add a title, I usually write up a question or statement. You then share it with whoever you want – just like sharing a Google Document and then they can post their answer or suggestion on to a post-it note which will appear on the main page. Here are some of the ones I have created previously:

To do this whilst remote teaching, I share the link with my students and my screen, as they post their note, it appears on my screen which they view through Meets. I particularly like using Jamboard for Starters, to see how much knowledge the students can remember from a previous lesson or to see what they already know when we start a new topic. I also use this for ‘silent debates’ – I will post a statement and the students can post their answers on different coloured post-it notes depending on if they agree or disagree. I have also used this in tutorial sessions to generate feedback or discuss important issues like lowering the voting age or making tutorial compulsory for all students. It’s a great way to generate discussions as everyone can see the answers. Jamboard can also be very useful for ‘stretch and challenge’ – I often ask students to elaborate, critically analyse or evaluate a point they have made. We also draw links between the post-it notes to help students consolidate their learning.

Kahoot: 

I absolutely love using Kahoot for Starters and Plenaries, however I wasn’t really aware of how to use it with remote teaching. I was very happy when a colleague of mine created a CPD video showing us how to to do this, and once seeing this I realised it was very simply! You can play Kahoot simply by screen sharing which is what I have been doing or you can set the Kahoot quiz as a challenge for students to complete within a time-frame and then share the results with the students. Again, this has brought some kind of normality to my lessons as the students love Kahoot too. One of my students has gone on to create a Kahoot quiz for revision – a useful tool which has been shared with all students.

A final addition to my remote teaching is a weekly catch up with all my students at the end of the lesson – I have been leaving 10 minutes spare at the end of every Friday lesson to check in with my students and see how they are coping the current climate. As a mental health first aider, this is one of my natural instincts and priorities as a teacher. The students really liked this and many emailed me after the lesson to say how beneficial this was for them, therefore I have continued doing this every week. As a result, I have made some referrals to our mental health and safeguarding team to help any vulnerable students. This also allows myself and students to share what we have been up to outside of lessons, the students have been sharing decorating ideas and recipes with each other.

Although the initial change to remote teaching seemed daunting, it has been an enjoyable experience and there are definitely some great benefits to teaching this way. Saying that, I can’t wait to get back to the classroom and funnily enough, some of my students have also said they just want to get back to College!

How have you changed your usual style of teaching? Are there any resources or ideas you can share? Let me know in the comments!

Women’s Development Course 2020: National Education Union

At the start of this year I attended a two-day Women’s Development course with the National Education Union, celebrating the journey of women in history, with a particular focus on education. The themes included: ‘Celebrating the journey’, ‘Women at work and in society’, ‘Women’s rights at work’, ‘Tackling sexism and sexual harassment’, as well as enhancing our awareness and understanding of the work the NEU is doing to promote women’s rights. The most important part for me was networking with and learning from inspirational educators and leaders, and sharing our experiences as a network of women working to create safer and more inclusive spaces for all.

We started with activities focussing on the history and journey of women in society and the NEU over the last 150 years. The first activity allowed us to see the changing nature and the improvement of women’s rights in the UK. Examples included: the women who protested for the equal right to vote, the women from Dagenham who protested against unequal pay, a protest which directly led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act, Diane Abbott, the first Black woman member of Parliament, and Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. The activity also highlighted the endless work being carried out by women members of the NEU, in order to ensure there is more equal representation at the top. For example, the Women United roundtable held in 2003 at a Union meeting, where 97 women NUT members attended. It is clear the NEU is constantly doing more to ensure women teachers of all backgrounds are correctly represented.

We then moved on to discussing and learning about whether we really have equality in society today, and as we knew, there isn’t 100% equality present, however women are in a much better position today – and that is definitely worth celebrating! This activity was by far one of the most important ones of the training event, as it highlighted the fact that there is still a long way to go, in order to achieve full equality for all. We discussed the notion behind why 9th November 2015 was called the ‘Women’s No Pay Day’ – it signified the fact that when the gender pay gap is applied, women start to work for free while men get paid year-round. Another important take-away from this activity was that ‘Childcare’ is the poorest paying sector for apprenticeships, which generally attracts more women than men, compared to Construction and Engineering.

Throughout the course we also discussed barriers to girl’s education and how we could do more to tackle this.

The course allowed everyone to share any experiences of discrimination or judgement they had experienced or heard of. Allowing us to discuss policies implemented by the NEU to protect all women’s rights, such as a model menopause policy. An important part of the course was learning about the extent of Sexism in education, by learning about the research carried out by the NEU and UK Feminista. We were provided with a very informative yet easy-to-understand report on the different types of sexism experienced by students and teachers in UK schools, how this is reported, and what we can do to notice and eradicate this.

We were also provided with the latest NEU newsletter for Black North West NEU members, which included a detailed overview of the NEU Black Educator’s Annual Conference in 2019.

We were given time to discuss our plans to celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, all of which I will be including in my next blog post. It was enlightening to see the NEU views the rights of all of its members as equally important and worthy of being celebrated.

I came away feeling motivated, educated and ready to be a part of the campaign to improve all women’s rights in society and the education sector, especially because women make up the majority of the teaching workforce.

I’m glad I attended this course, as it allowed me to learn about the important work being carried out by the Union to champion the rights of women from all backgrounds, regardless of age, race and religion. It was empowering to be part of a group of women determined to break barriers and create more safer and inclusive spaces for all.

Mental Health and Well-being

Image result for mental health first aid england

My next blog was supposed to be a reflection of my first year of teaching A-Level, however a very important issue that has affected both me, some of my colleagues, and 100s of teachers across the country, is mental health, therefore I thought it would be prudent to write a blog post regarding recent mental health training I undertook.

I have been involved in the conversation on mental health amongst for a number of years, however I was introduced to the impact of mental health on teachers during my PGCE year. I have been looking into some official mental health training, as I have many students, colleagues and friends who I have helped previously, but the formal training would be a chance to enhance my understanding of mental health in the workplace and what practical steps I can take to help others. I was chosen to become a Mental Health First Aider by my manager and completed the training at my workplace with Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) (https://mhfaengland.org) with Dawn Hardman (@dawnhardman – Twitter).

Image result for mental health first aid england

Mental Health First Aid England is a social enterprise programme accredited by the Royal Society for Public Health the has been around for over ten years in England. Their vision is to open up the conversation on mental health, keep this conversation continuing, and “to improve the mental of the nation”. Although the conversation regarding mental health has improved, we all still have a very long way to go. MHFA are at the forefront of decreasing and eliminating the stigma still attached to mental health. There are some excellent resources we were provided with:

Our mental health master trainer, Dawn Hardman, was phenomenal – her work ethic, dedication to teaching about mental ill health, and her passion to help those who suffer was evident throughout our training. Dawn is literally a fountain of knowledge, she perfectly planned our training so that it was relevant to everyone, as we had a culmination of teachers, educators, members of the Safeguarding team and external HR managers with very different experiences. The training was relevant for colleagues, students, family and friends and Dawn was able to create a very comfortable and safe environment for everyone. Just as a teacher makes the classroom a safe and comfortable environment for their environment, I truly believe trainers have to make the environment safe for their trainees, and Dawn mastered this. We knew we would be having some intense and difficult conversations, as everyone has experience or knows someone who has experienced mental ill health, and Dawn made sure we all set some ground rules we could easily stick to. Furthermore, Dawn often repeated a very important point; in order to keep us safe, she shared stories of patients and people she had worked with. This was also a great tool I have been using with my students who suffer from mental ill health, in order to show them that its okay to talk about our mental ill health and to highlight that this isn’t something they go through alone.

We all came away with vital lessons, tips and messages to use in our personal and professional lives. Overall, the training was a gateway to endless knowledge and support that MHFA provide. Since completing the training, I have become even more aware of mental ill health and made some positive changes for myself, my students, family and friends.

Here is a list of organisations and apps you may find useful:

Organisations: Minds Matter, Mind, Time to Change, Anxiety UK, Samaritans.

Apps: ‘Mates in Construction’, ‘Stay Alive’, ‘Hub of Hope’

MHFA offer in-house training to all workplaces – you can get in touch with them for more information at:

Website: https://mhfaengland.org/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MHFAEngland

Facebook: https://en-gb.facebook.com/MHFAEngland/

Image result for mental health first aid england

Key lessons from my first year

I started my first and current job as a Lecturer in A-level Religious Studies in March 2018, we recently celebrated our A-level results day so I thought this would be a good moment to reflect on my first year of teaching to share what went well for me and what I will be improving for 2019-20.

I was offered this job during my PGCE year, which meant I could complete my placement and get paid at the same time – win win! As A-level RS jobs are quite scarce, especially in the North, I made sure to make the most of this wonderful opportunity and couldn’t wait to get started and have my own classes!

I am actually the only RS teacher at my workplace, which at first was (and sometimes still is!) VERY daunting as well as exciting. As I started this role mid-year, I spent March—May 2018 preparing the students for their AS and A2 exams and then spent the summer re-jigging the course and schemes of work ready for the 2018-19 academic year.

Between September 2018 and now, I have learned a great amount about myself as a teacher, about the AQA Religious Studies course itself, as well as made some great improvements in my teaching – as we all know, teaching is all about continuous improvement and I always believe we can learn new things every day. Below I will be sharing a small list of things that went well for me and improvements I will be making this academic year.

What went well for me…

1. Network, network, network!

The best advice given to me throughout my PGCE was to NETWORK with everyone in the workplace, to ensure I introduced myself to my colleagues and made every attempt to learn from everyone I met. This is something I have reminded myself of at certain points throughout the academic year, mainly when other new teachers started or when meeting other colleagues across the College. For example, my College also runs and delivers university degree courses for the University of Central Lancashire, University of Bolton and Buckinghamshire New University, so when I met the University Dean, I made sure to mention that I had a Master’s degree in Religion, Culture and Society and had taught undergraduate degrees whilst completing my Masters. The reason I did this was to introduce myself and show that I had more to offer than just A-level teaching.

I think it is always beneficial to be able to do various things as part of your career, so that you can expand your job role (where possible) and show that you are willing to always learn new things. I was recently asked to join the ‘Honours’ team, with a specific focus on the Extended Project Qualification side to this (EPQ). For those that may not know, many colleges and sixth-forms offer a tailored tutorial programme (‘Honours’) for students who achieved 7, 8 and 9’s for their GCSES. I had previously mentioned my keen interest in joining this team and offering my help with EPQ for students as this was something I had done whilst on my first placement during the PGCE year and wanted to try something new for my second year of teaching.

2. Ask for help!

In addition to this, as someone who sometimes struggles with asking for help (thanks to social anxiety!) I made sure to change this and ask my colleagues for help when I started my teaching journey, as I knew I had a responsibility as a teacher to provide the best learning environment for my students. Almost 18 months of teaching later, I can say I have noticed a great improvement in my ability to ask for help when I need it, as I know all of this will help me improve my teaching experience.

3. CPD!

A final piece of advice I was given by my PGCE lecturers was to ensure I made time for CPD and training events throughout the year, so that I could network with others teachers in the profession, learn new skills and activities that I can use in the classroom to improve my teaching and to ask and provide help to other teachers. Throughout my first year, I have attended CPD events with both the teachers union that I am part of (National Education Union) and with AQA. These training events have been hugely beneficial for me, I have managed to start using new resources and activities (which I will share in the next post) and understand the specification much better now.

What I will be improving this year…

1. Reading more

I have already started on this goal for 2019-20, however my issue is that I can’t seem to read one book at a time! I am currently switching between ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth, ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg, these are to better understand how I can develop leadership skills and improve my resilience in order to succeed. I am also reading ‘The Great Philosophers’ by Stephen Law, this one is to improve my own understanding of some of the key philosophers that are part of the AQA Religious Studies curriculum. Once I have completed these, my next read is going to be: ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’ by Professor Dylan William. I am intending to finish a book per month (this sounds very slow but I’m trying to fit this into my already busy schedule!)

2. More 1-1 support for students

I began offering regular 1-1 support to my RS students from March 2019 onwards and believed this massively helped some of the weaker and less motivated students to find some time to focus on one subject and improve their revision techniques. This academic year, I am going to try and offer more regular 1-1 support from October 2019 onwards.

3. Personal statements

As well as Lecturer in Religious Studies I am also a personal tutor for AS and A2 students. From September onwards our A2 students will be focussing on their university applications and this year I will be improving my own understanding of what universities REALLY WANT from personal statements, specifically for the Business and Sciences as these are fields I am not so aware of.

Over the last 18 months I have learned an awful lot about myself, my subject, my students and the career I have chosen. I’m sure I will continue to learn more on this journey and I look forward to writing my reflections this time next year!

I hope this post has been somewhat useful to you. I would love to open up the conversation about your reflections, the different things we all do and anything we would like to change/improve, so please leave a comment below with your thoughts!

PGCE REFLECTIONS…

In this post I’ll be sharing my PGCE journey, for anyone who isn’t aware this stands for Post Graduate Certificate in Education; your passport to becoming a teacher. This post is for anyone who is thinking about teaching, particularly 14-19/ post-16 teaching.

I completed the PGCE at Edge Hill University, the first non-denominational teacher training college for women from 1885 until 1959, and in 2005 it was awarded taught degree powers and became Edge Hill University. It is one of the most-reknowned teaching universities in the UK, with a strong primary, secondary and Further Education professional teaching team. I was aware of a few people who had studied their PGCE at Edge Hill and had only heard good words, so knew that was the place I wanted to study at too.

As my course was focussed on teaching young people aged between 14-19 or 16+, my placements and the modules I studied were geared to this age range, however the course itself did not differ hugely to the secondary PGCE. I studied a total of 5 modules, which illustrated the journey of every PGCE student: The Developing Teacher, The Research-Informed Teacher, The Employable Teacher, The Outstanding Teacher and a year long Reflective Teacher module. The module titles are pretty much self-explanatory and when asked for feedback from my tutors about whether the content of each module reflected its title, I said it did, perfectly!

I think, historically, most Further Education/Post-16 PGCE students have wanted to teach either English and/or Maths, or the vocational subjects, such as Catering and Hospitality, Health and Social Care, Engineeeing, Construction, Health and Beauty courses and so on, therefore most placements were geared towards Colleges that offered these courses. However, there has been an increase in Post-16 PGCE students wanting to teach the A-level subjects too, such as Religious Studies/Religion & Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Law…. the list could go on but you get the jist! Some of these subjects are now taught at GCSE level too, so a secondary PGCE could also work, but there are many teachers (myself included) who want to strictly focus on the Post-16 sector.

I was able to start the placement aspect of the course by the end of October. I spent a total of 4 months at a Sixth Form College in Warrington where I shadowed some excellent Religion and Philosophy specialists, as well as planned and delivered my own lessons. Both of my mentors at this College had different teaching styles, one mentor had taught a variety of Philosophy and History at University level in Australia before migrating to the UK where he started to teach in the Further Education sector. My other mentor was previously a secondary school teacher and now in Further Education. I was able to learn key elements from both of their teaching which I have managed to implement in my own lessons.

Throughout the year, I had 8 official observations and several informal observations too, so that I could maximise the amount of feedback I was receiving in order to constantly improve my teaching skills and understanding of the A-level specification. I also completed 30 hours worth of lesson plans, and plenty more paper work! (The PGCE is known for the amount of paperwork student teachers are required to complete).

I began applying for jobs from January onwards, and had lots of interview practice with my tutors and peers at University. In February 2018, I was informed of a fixed-term job, and after speaking with my mentors and university tutors, decided to accept the offer. This was by far one of the best decisions I made, as I was offered a full time contract in June 2018, and started my first official full time role as a lecturer of Religion and Philosophy in July 2018.

It is well-known that the PGCE course can be intense, you are training whilst more or less doing the equivalent (or more!) of a full time job without being paid! However, I can confirm that the PGCE year is NOT what your entire teaching career will be like. If, like me, you are a super organised individual, you may struggle at some points in the year, you will find at some points during the PGCE year that you feel out of your depth, like this is not the career for you, and that it isn’t getting any better. However, I and the 1000s of other teachers in this field can confirm that it does get better.

There were, of course, some not-so-good moments throughout the year – I will be sharing some of these in a future article, as we all know the life of a teacher is most definitely not a walk in the park. However, there are by FAR, more great moments that I cherish. I always try to view the challenging times as lessons that can teach me new approaches to teaching, as well as help build my confidence, resilience and character. I am at the very start of my career, and hope that these challenges will shape my career for me.

So, there it is, my PGCE journey! If anyone has any questions, please do not hesitate to drop me a message on this post. I would also love to read about your journey and for those who are considering teaching, I hope this post has helped a little!

My story!

Welcome to my blog!

In this post I thought I would share with you my journey to becoming a teacher of Religion and Philosophy.

I have been intrigued by the importance of Religion and Theology from studying GCSE RE; I more or less knew then that I would one day teach this subject and aim to become just half the teacher my inspiring GCSE RE teacher was.

After my GCSEs I went on to study A-level Religion and Philosophy, alongside English Language, History and Politics and then undergraduate and Masters degrees in Religion, Culture and Society (the best decision I made!). After this, I spent a year working in an independent secondary school, shadowing subject teachers and members of the Senior Leadership team in order to really understand the life as a teacher, although I knew working in a state school would differ to an independent one.

In September 2017 I started my journey to becoming a qualified A-level teacher, as I knew A-level teaching was the one for me – what drove me to teaching at this level was a culmination of the maturity levels of students and their understanding of this topic in the contemporary world, the scope of the specifications and the chance to really engage with key topics and issues at this level with 16-18 year olds! It was at this age that I had decided to become a teacher and I relished the opportunity to inspire young people at this age.

I graduated from my PGCE course (more on this in the next post!) in July 2018 having already secured a full time position at a Sixth Form College.

So here we are today… a couple of years into my teaching career I decided it was the right time to create a blog where I would pen down my journey, thoughts and experiences of being an RE teacher. Over the next few posts, I will be sharing key points from my first year of teaching, hopefully to help any new teachers starting out in their career. I would love for you to send me a message with your thoughts and to share your experiences too. I will be focussing on Religious Studies and Philosophy as much as possible, as I believe we need to be discussing this subject now more than ever!

In the following post, I’ll be sharing my PGCE journey and any words of advice for those starting their own teaching journey.

Thank you for reading!