For Sexual Health Week 2020 and throughout September, Brook is celebrating the introduction of mandatory RSE in all schools in England. In this blog, Jo Quinn draws on her experience as a Brook Education and Wellbeing Coordinator, to give her top tips on how to approach teaching RSE for the first time.
- Research the topic
Be sure to find out the most current information: What are the laws? Have treatment methods changed? What local services are available? Just as importantly, be sure to find out the key messages of your setting. Even those of us who teach RSE every day research updates and trends to make sure we are providing young people with the most relevant and up-to-date information.
Additionally, each school will likely have a slightly different approach to RSE so it is important to make sure that what is taught in each lesson is the same throughout the setting.
There are numerous websites that you can use to learn new information and keep your knowledge relevant. Here are a few links that we think might be helpful. Keep checking them for updates and new material.
- Brook Learn – FREE e-learning modules for professionals on a wide range of topics.
- ThinkuKnow has a library of resources for learning about RSE.
- PSHE Association has training resources and toolkits available for download.
- Use a mixture of resources
As we know, young people learn in a variety of ways. Using multiple resources will foster these learning types. Our RSE lessons often include videos, activities, discussions and quizzes. This gives us a chance to deliver the same message with a variety of methods.
Brook has a variety of free resources available on our website and your local education team might be able to provide you with educational videos and further links.
The websites listed in Tip 1 also have resources for teaching that might help support your curriculum. There are also accessible resources available on the NSPCC website, the Sex Education Forum, and the RSE Hub.
- RSE isn’t just RSE…
Think about the different topics that cross over into RSE and how you can incorporate this into the learning. RSE isn’t just about sexual health, although that is a key part. Science and biology do make up a large part of RSE of course but this is not the only topic that crosses over into our lessons.
We also bring English lessons into the sessions when we challenge language, when we break down slang terms, when we look at how some terms are offensive, overtly derogatory and even outdated.
Maths is also utilised when we look at testing windows for STI’s, working out the optimum time for certain tests based on the type of infection and date of sexual activity.
There are so many other topics that support RSE, making it a topic that can support other lessons as you teach.
- It’s OK not to know everything!
We teach RSE all the time and there are still times when a question is thrown at us that we do not know the answer to. Be honest, let your young people know that their question is a great one but that you will have to check before you answer. Be sure to take note and return with a factual answer. Young people will appreciate the honesty and feel more comfortable asking questions in future when they know that you will find out the information they need if you do not know it yourself.
- It’s OK not to answer everything – in fact, sometimes it might be better not to
There are times when the professional will be asked a question that the whole group is not ready to hear the answer to. It is OK to let the group know that the answer is something that will be discussed later in their RSE lessons. Another option is to have an ‘Ask it Basket’ where you can place questions that do not fit the topic of the day.
The professional will have to weigh these types of questions and if the answer is not suitable for the whole group, it is best not to answer. You can have that conversation with the young person separately if appropriate, or come back to the question at a later date.
- Use the correct terminology
It is so important to use the correct terms for a number of reasons. The more comfortable you are saying them, the more normal it will be for young people to hear them.
We use correct terminology at all times, making sure to correct slang terms as we hear them and making key words a part of everyday language. This makes the words less taboo and empowers young people to know their bodies.
Another reason we do this is to protect young people. If a young person knows the correct names for their body parts, they will be able to tell a trusted adult what is happening to them and where if they need help and support.
- Be aware of our own values and opinions.
As we know, young people will often pick up messages that we aren’t always aware we are putting out there. This is why it is so important that we are aware of our own values and opinions so we do not accidentally pass these on through our teachings.
Brook staff regularly take part in activities designed to help us realise values we didn’t even know we have.
This helps us think about how we teach RSE and remove our own opinions from the topic.
- Degender your own language.
We are very used to using identifying pronouns; him, her, he, she. Try to get into the habit of saying ‘them’ and ‘they’ instead because they are gender neutral and therefore more inclusive.
One of the key pieces of feedback that we hear from young people is that RSE is too heterosexual because other sexualities are not discussed. This means that for many young people RSE is not inclusive, which can be helped a lot by simply adjusting our language.
We do this particularly when speaking to young people about relationships. By using pronouns such as him/her, we are telling the young person who society expects them to be attracted to. We never want to assume someone’s sexuality, so instead, by using them/they, we are telling young people that it is OK to be who they are, that their choice of partner is just that; their choice.
- Reflect, Reflect, Reflect!
Take the time to reflect on each lesson, the material and the resources you use. As professionals we are continuously developing and reflection is a key part of this. Speak with colleagues about the lesson: What went well? What would you change? What could have gone better?
Our Education and Wellbeing Specialists use reflection as an improvement tool. We do this so we can adapt, improve and have a mental toolkit for future lessons.
Lessons do not always go the way we planned and that’s ok, as long as we as the professionals use this as a learning aid for ourselves.
- Have fun!
Yes, RSE can be a bit scary, especially if you have never taught it before. As educators, we want young people to take the lessons seriously, but it is important to remember that for many young people this will be the first time they have taken part in this type of lesson. Laughs and giggles are to be expected, and being uncomfortable and nervous will certainly be a key factor.
There are some lessons when you will need to use a ‘serious’ tone, for example when discussing consent. For others, try to make the learning fun when appropriate. Use games and small competitions to support learning.
Having fun could take the edge off the awkwardness of the lesson, giving young people a chance to redirect any nervous energy into the activity, making it easier to teach/learn about the topic.
BONUS TIP – Collaborate!
Speak with other professionals, share your resources and lesson plans, don’t reinvent the wheel! If you have something that works well, share it. If you need something to support your lessons, see if anyone else has something suitable or something you can adapt.
Teaching RSE can be very rewarding, because you are helping young people become empowered and safeguard themselves and their current/potential partners. There are many ways to teach RSE and so many different resources to support this learning. Work with colleagues, support each other and share your work to help yourselves and others.