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The end of all education is not merely the acquisition of knowledge but the training of character … Any education worthy of the name must … develop the intellectual, spiritual and moral faculties within the character of the child.

Using these words from Bishop Barlow, third bishop of our diocese, Bishop Trevor Edwards opened the recent conference for teachers of Religious Education in Anglican schools in this diocese. He emphasised the key role of religious education practitioners, who are on the front line in engaging with unchurched children coming typically from families with little Christian knowledge.

The conference took place in St Mark’s National Theological Centre on 9th May. Its purpose was to draw together RE teachers to encourage them, to give subject-specific professional development and to create professional networks of support. Seventeen teachers of Religious Education representing seven of the eight schools overseen by the diocese attended.

Dr Grant Bell from St Martin’s College at CSU in Wagga Wagga delivered the keynote address, providing opportunities for interaction and reflection on the theme of the Teacher Leader and the School Community. He focused on how leaders can build communities of care and respect, explained the contexts where this happens, and discussed how an Anglican school will express Christian values in its programs, roles and personnel.

Keynote speaker Dr Grant Bell addressing the group

Dr Ruth Edwards, the Diocesan Education Consultant, tackled head on what she termed the ‘great Anglican identity crisis’, where, despite their Anglican affiliation and responsibility to Anglican churchgoers, Anglican schools are dominated by their role as social institutions. She suggested seven reasons for valuing the Christian faith, and commented on the recently released Diocesan Guidelines for teaching religious education. Participants reacted with wry laughter to references to the limited time they have to deal with a huge range of material of great intellectual and spiritual complexity.

Three of our RE teachers shared with their colleagues units they enjoyed teaching, giving a brief overview of context, aims and resources. Lyndal Foote from Canberra Grammar Junior School showed how a richly creative Year 4 unit on Faith and Art uses transdisciplinary concepts to link religious content to other class work, and to instruct children in unique Christian ideas while also respecting the commitment of those of other faiths.

Gareth Tyndall from The Riverina Anglican College generously made available a wealth of resources for a secondary unit on the Sermon on the Mount and Social Justice, demonstrating reflective self-critique for continuous improvement.

Rebecca Morris from Burgmann Anglican School spoke about a Year 9 overview of the Bible, illustrating specific approaches and introducing hearers to some creative activities for engaging students based on a realistic evaluation of classroom dynamics.

Attendees much appreciated these sessions led by local practitioners. They provided the foundation for interactive group work where all could share together ideas and lessons which work, as well as canvassing approaches to the challenges and frustrations of teaching RE, and to determining aims, strategies and selection of material.

Participants were enthusiastic about the conference. They enjoyed the combination of academic input and practical examples, and the affirmation of their work. One participant commented that he arrived fearing boredom but found a growing  synergy developing as people interacted around relevant discussions. There was a general keenness for further such conferences which bring ideas and people together.

For further information contact Dr Ruth Edwards on: redw7191@uni.sydney.edu.au.

By Dr Ruth Edwards