When in Rome…

I travelled to Rome many years ago with my family and since then I have always wanted to take students there – call it No. 1 on my Teacher’s Bucket list. 298983_248143781900923_773827034_n[1]The history, culture and religious undertones that floods through Rome is just captivating and inspiring. The problem was organising such a big trip! Now maybe it is the philosophy teacher in me but sometimes in life it feels like a window of opportunity opens…well that is exactly what it felt like on a college conference at the end of last school year when I got talking to Claire -a local R.S. HOD who mentioned an upcoming college trip to Rome in 2019. Spotting this opportunity I just casually said ‘Oh well if you need anymore to join you just let me know.’ Well you guessed it…in September I got the email that invited 10 of my students to join them on a 5 day trip to Rome (and me of course)!

Now I don’t know if any of you have organised such a trip before but it is like opening Pandora’s box of tasks from collecting payments, passports details, organising a presentation evening, sending endless emails and updates to students and parents, not to mention filling out all the paperwork, risk assessments and codes of conduct…my list went on. image1 (003).jpegMy saving grace was Claire, who had not only run a similar trip before but organised all the Rome elements from itinerary, accommodation, to transport and trips. Before we knew it the date had arrived, we were all packed and ready (wearing our Rome hoodies, armed with passports and even some homemade cookies and flapjacks from one Mum) and off we went to the airport.

We met the other college at the airport, seamlessly went through customs, had an amazingly easy flight and we were in ROME! Once bags were collected, we met our tour guide and coach and headed to the Catacombs were we wandered through the maze of underground tunnels, studied the art work and remaining visible relics and listened to the history of the many Christian Martyrs and pontiffs once buried there (with some still remaining). Once leaving the labyrinth of passageways (I would not want to get lost down there!) and re-entering the warmth outside we made our way to our hotel.

Up the winding roads towards our hotel, we were surrounded by epic views of Lake Albano, the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo and Rome itself. Our hotel, Villa Palazzola a 13th century Cistercian monastery, was absolutely breath-taking! What a privilege to stay somewhere that housed monks and friars for centuries. Once unpacked we settled in for the evening, lounging on the beautiful terrace together whilst the students played cards.

Continue reading “When in Rome…”


The origins of ‘Mark with Me’

In September, I excitedly ordered 2 top mark papers back from each A2 exam. I was so pleased that after two years I had a selection of exam answers to work from and set the standard. I also of course wanted to do as many blogs as possible to share the information…then they arrived and I realised I had 18 answers sat in front of me. So after 3 months of trying to motivate myself to start working through the papers, alongside settling in new classes and all the inevitable start of term stresses, it just wasn’t happening. So my busy blogger’s brain started, how was I going to share all of this invaluable information without endless screen shots, highlighting and footnote commentaries? The answer…why not film myself analysing the papers instead!

Here is my first attempt (after many false starts and numerous edits when I couldn’t read certain words)

Second attempt:

I hope you find them useful. I will post all new videos on YouTube and you can access them on the blog via: Mark With Me 

Himalayan Singing Bowl Workshop

I am always on the look out for new experiences for my students, so when the local Buddhist centre offered to run a free workshop on Himalayan Singing Bowls I jumped at the opportunity. Now I know it is not directly linked with the spec but I strongly believe that wider experiences are crucial to a student’s development, helping them see beyond the exams, homework and endless monotony of power points.

So my first year’s ventured out of the classroom and down to the Hub, ready to enter the unknown world of meditation through Singing Bowls. 20190311_135355.jpgEverything was already set up, by our workshop organiser Kate, who had brought with her over twenty singing bowls from her many travels across Southern Asia. The students sat on the floor in a large semi circle and asked to close their eyes as Kate walked around gently circling a small singing bowl in her hands close to them. After taking a few photos I joined the students and had my first experience of a Signing Bowl and what an experience it was! It was amazing, totally captivating, as if it touched deep inside your core and you just felt peaceful, the vibrations permeating over your body, making you feel totally calm. One student said “It was very calming, put all the stresses in the back of my mind, I didn’t consider any troubles.”

20190311_151948Throughout the workshop, the students learnt about the history and practices of using Singing Bowls especially for meditation. Originally understood to have come from Buddhist monasteries in Tibet and used as sacred vessels in monastic ceremonies, the bowls have sound qualities previously unheard in the west. We explored how different bowls, those that are hand beaten or carved and decorated, each have a distinctly different sound.  Every hand forged bowl was unique, with a quality of sound that was determined by the precise composition of the bronze alloy used, the shape, thickness and size. This all affected the bowls fundamental note, pitch, harmonic resonance, duration of vibrations and tone. What was so surprising what how you seem to connect with one bowl and sound more than another. Certain sounds, for me, were awful, like nails on a chalk board whereas other sounds seemed to consume me in a blanket of calmness.

Continue reading “Himalayan Singing Bowl Workshop”

Revision Support

The exams are on the horizon, so starting revision early is crucial. Here are the Revision Textbooks, Guides and Workbooks that might help:

Highly recommend for assessment support:

For a full review of the Revision Textbooks see: Revision Guides: Which ones are worth your money?

Revision Workbooks: These are brilliant for testing your knowledge with short questions, topic support and exam style questions (click on the links below for Amazon).

OCR A Level Religious Studies: Philosophy of Religion Workbook


OCR A Level Religious Studies: Religion and Ethics Workbook


OCR A Level Religious Studies: Developments in Christian Thought Workbook


Here is an overview of the Revision Guides:

I have created these Revision Packs for my students containing quizzes, glossaries, summary sheets, essay tips and possible exam questions. It also provides space for notes and outlines the spec requirements. Everything you need to get your revision off to a flying start! If you would like a Revision Pack (for a small charge) please click on the image below:


For support with Exam Stress check out: How to cope with Exam Stress

Premier of Mark With Me

Check out the first Mark with Me video, where I read through and give feedback on an essay from last year’s A2 Philosophy exam. This student achieved an A* overall:

All future videos for Mark with Me can be found under the heading ‘Exam Preparation’ on the blog’s main page .


GROW and Staff Wellbeing

For the past five years I have led a small team of teachers dedicated to supporting and developing staff in all areas of their professional needs, including teaching and learning. This year, as a team of 5, it was time to revamp our image and really makeGROW an impact. Over the years we have evolved away from the lesson observations and subsequent negative image of  ‘coaching’ towards the GROW model (Goal, Reality, Options and Will.) So what does this include…

We provide support for:

  • NQT’s and RQT’s which involves one to one meetings, observations and pedagogical support.
  • Mentoring for new staff coming to college
  • All staff towards meeting PDR targets or CPD needs

We develop and enhance staff practice through:

  • CPD sessions: these are half an hour lunch time sessions split over the year, that staff can sign up for, based on developmental and professional needs. So far we have run sessions on Managing Workload and Differentiated tasks for Stretch and Challenge (see When ‘Stretch’ becomes too ‘Challenging’ for ppt, tasks and discussion pointers). We have also organised an external speaker to come in to talk about Autism and help staff in developing strategies to enhance an inclusive classroom (see Autism Awareness: How aware are you? for the highlights of the session).
  • Open Doors: my college no longer has graded observations or department audits (three days of door watching and writing excessively long lesson plans) to an Open Door system run by the GROW team. Each member of the team is allocated a quota of staff to contact to arrange a ‘drop in’ where they come for 10-15 minutes and complete a Praise Postcard of all the positive practice seen during that time. This is to focus on disseminating good/ best practice rather than focusing on passing judgements.
  • FB private group: We have set up FB group (Busy Brains Community) where staff can share articles, new ideas, issues, local events and pictures of what is going on in college.

We promote staff wellbeing through organising:

  • Staff events in college such as Pilates and Yoga classes, a Mindfulness workshop, a Christmas ‘Mince Pie and Mingle’, ‘Feel good Friday’ and charity fundraisers such as the Macmillan coffee morning (lots of excuses to eat homemade cake!).
  • Social events outside of college including a ‘Welcome Back’ meal in September and Mecca Bingo (because everyone loves Bingo…)
  • Local discounts for our staff including a massage package and restaurant savings.
  • Celebrate our Staff section on the GROW staffroom notice board, where staff highlight amazing achievements gained outside of college.

Finally at the start of this school year I took it upon myself (with the help of our Estates team of course) to redecorate the ‘spare’ room into a Grow and Staff Wellbeing space.

Before (the renovation was in full flow here):


I would love to hear what your school/ college does as far as Teaching and Learning, Staff Wellbeing and Professional Development… so please do get in touch!