What is your number one #TeachingAsset? by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What is your number one asset for teaching ‘Outstanding’ lessons in your classroom?


In this post, I hope to provide you with how to overcome a very popular teaching ailment in the classroom. Arming you with some very simple, non-verbal strategies that every teacher can deploy. Ideas that could prove so useful, that you can embed these every day into your lessons. The words of Jim Smith (@TheLazyTeacher) resonate with me here. “How your students learn more, when you teach less!”

I’m redundant!

It is estimated that 73,000 days are lost to voice strain every year! (Source: TES)

Today, my body provided me with an ill-timed reminder. I woke up to discover what is most important to me in the classroom. I woke up and had virtually lost my voice! It’s that time of the year, when we all need to start looking after ourselves, and ensure that the #GuiltyTeacher Syndrome does not come back to haunt us…

Photo Credit: .Lisa Marie. via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: .Lisa Marie. via Compfight cc

Now, I do not need to tell anyone reading this, that without your voice, you are practically redundant in the classroom. But, are you? I hope to provide you with the following information:

  1. Early warning signs
  2. Seek quick help and ideas
  3. Evidence-based research
  4. What triggers voice tension?
  5. How stress affects the voice?
  6. Union surveys
  7. Top-tips
  8. #TeacherTalk

1. Early Warning Signs:

  • Breaks in your voice.
  • Changes in pitch or volume.
  • Vocal quality reduces.
  • Your body starts to ache.
  • You need to put in an increased amount of effort.
  • You feel a s though you do have a ‘lump’ in your throat!

2. Quick! Help me!

The first thing this morning, I send out the following message on Twitter hoping for some instant feedback. I was not disappointed.

Tweet by @TeacherToolkit
Tweet by @TeacherToolkit

Within a matter of minutes, I received a flurry of suggestions – some obvious – some for humour – and others reminding us all, that simple ideas can help facilitate learning in the classroom. In essence, ideas that would enable ‘me as a teacher’, stepping back and allowing the students to do more with their own learning.

in response to @TeacherToolkit
in response to @TeacherToolkit

3. Evidence-based research:

During the course of the day, I recalled the work of a former colleague who was very keen to raise awareness of voice-coaching and voice-projection in one of the Staff Well Being workshops I was organising for part of our school INSET programmes. This led me back to the charity work of Voice Care Network UK and some very useful information, reminders and resources:

  • Our voice is important to us all.
  • 35% of the working population use their voice as one of their main means of performing their job every day.
  • Professional Voice Users include Teaching Staff in Education (Teachers, Support Staff, CPD Leaders and Head Teachers, and in particular those in teacher training on ITT, PGCE, GTP, SCITT, Teach First and NQT induction programmes).
  • Our Voice Workshops are recognised by the Training and Development Agency for Teachers (TDA) and we have long term, exclusive, training provider contracts with the Association of Teachers + Lecturers (ATL), the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) (Call Centres) and the BBC.
  • A range of useful workshops for teacher. (Source: Voice Care Network)

4. What triggers voice tension?

  • Ofsted stress!
  • Appraisal
  • The fear of a particular class or meeting.
  • Feelings of criticism and victimisation
  • Lack of time at work to complete duties.
  • Additional stress from outside work.

5. How stress affects the voice?

  • Difficulty in swallowing.
  • Aching neck.
  • Backache and muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Immune system reduced
  • Indigestion/Digestion system upset.
Photo Credit: JenniferGentle via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: JenniferGentle via Compfight cc

6. ATL union survey:

68% of teachers in primary schools have suffered voice problems – ATL.

“Sixty eight per cent of teachers working have experienced voice problems which they feel have been caused by their job, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). Over a third (37%) of teachers who have experienced voice problems have visited their GP, and almost a quarter (24%) have had to take time off work.”

“Overall 60% of teachers surveyed have experienced voice problems. The high level of voice problems among teachers is unsurprising since 54% of teachers admitted to having to raise or put pressure on their voice at least once a day, with 70% raising or putting pressure on their voice at least once a week.”

“However, 42% of teachers who had experienced voice problems, said their school had offered little or no support when problems occurred. Twenty per cent of teachers said that their school had shown them no support, and an additional 22% had found their school to be quite un-supportive.

It is also essential that all education professionals are taught how to use their voice more effectively, which is why ATL is calling for voice care to be made compulsory in all teacher and lecturer training courses”. (Source: ATL) You can read more here.

Photo Credit: sam_churchill via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: sam_churchill via Compfight

7. Top tips:

According to Voice Care, their top-tips are far too generalised and ill-guided advice for teachers. Here, I’d like to offer my own strategies for any classroom teacher.

  1. Avoid ‘yelling’ and pushing your voice. (Yeah right!) But honestly, try NOT shouting.
  2. Avoid talking in noisy places when dealing with student sanctions.
  3. Check your posture and make sure your movement is under-control.
  4. Use your body language to express your conversation.
  5. Use your facial expressions to engage the listener(s).
  6. Talk calmly, slowly and breathe. It sounds daft(!); but when your voice it weak, this is the perfect remedy.
  7. Warm the voice up. Sip water regularly. Vibrate your voice nodules with humming; Ooohs and Aaaahs!
  8. Vary your vocal variety! The 6Ps: Pitch; pace; pause; pronunciation; power; presence!
  9. Seek help. Go to your GP; buy a packet of Strepsils; talk to (or email) your appraiser, SLT or a colleague if you can! Just let them know, you will be off the boil today.
  10. Finally, consider handing the students read from a script and work together in groups. I often find, an immediate confession: “I’ve lost my voice!” written on paper, engages the students to act much, much quicker than verbal routines and instructions. This is probably because it is a unique and one-off circumstance that provokes an immediate and compassionate response. This can be very similar to when you are observed by Ofsted and your students (should) rise to the occasion. Today, my Year 12 Media Studies class were the best they’d been since September!

You can download the script I provided for my Year 12s this morning, and consider using this sample of instructions as a one-off format: “Without speaking to the class”. Click here: Formal Group Presentation.

Strategies for reducing TeacherTalk
Strategies for reducing TeacherTalk

8. #TeacherTalk:

Although #TeacherTalk has taken quite a bit-of-a-bashing, as yet another gimmick towards ‘Outstanding’ teaching. My post here, describes the individual nature of our very own appraisal observations in my current school. These strategies describe possible pathways for teachers to use, to avoid falling into the trap of constant teacher-talk; particularly during formal observations in order to ‘tick-a-box’ for the observer. By avoiding increased teacher-talk due to abnormal observation/teaching circumstances, (i.e. the formal one-off observation) teachers therefore in turn, may reduce opportunities for learning. This idea and the original article was entirely contextual at the time of writing (Feb 2013).

This article reminder may also serve as food-for-thought when you do find you have lost your voice and acts as a useful reminder to us all. You can read 25 ideas here, or view my top-10 suggestions below. (You may have to adapt some of them slightly, to suit total loss of voice!)

  1. @TeacherToolkit: Provide more opportunities for students to read out, feedback or lead…
  2. @PscSaysRelax: Provide pupils with a piece of information and ask them to come up with the questions in teams. Afterwards, each group takes it in turns, to ask a question to the class.
  3. @LondonEducator: Start the lesson with a video clip and a question to spark an initial debate. No teacher input required; and ask your pupils to lead part of the lesson. This could involve getting one of them to explain concepts to the rest of the class or leading a group discussion.
  4. @lancslassrach: Start the lesson with an unusual or controversial image and ask the students what they think is happening in the picture in order to prompt discussion.
  5. @kohlmand :Have clear routines and expectations; When students enter the room, the learning starts. They look for the first task or stimuli- is it on their desks? Are instructions on the board? Are the instructions in words or pictures?
  6. @PscSaysRelax: Give the students a stop watch and let them monitor “your talking”. You are allowed a maximum of 10 minutes over the entire lesson.
  7. @zoe_helen: Imagine you cannot talk! Then think how you will communicate your ideas and assess student progress without the use of teacher verbal input.
  8. @cparkie: Have a period of reflection in each lesson. Consider what has been achieved. Make it silent!
  9. @Ange_K1: For lessons where there will be new information; offer a marketplace or put the information around the room in bits for the pupils to sequence. Or, if you’re lucky enough to teach science, do a practical and get the class drawing graphs (at KS3 that always gets them to a high level) and reduces the amount of talking I have to do.
  10. @Goodnessknows; Use talking partners regularly so EVERYONE is part of the classroom dialogue which enables ideas from others to develop their understanding and thinking.
Strategies for reducing Teacher-Talk in class.
Strategies for reducing Teacher-Talk in class.

You can download this useful Talking In Class padlet here.

Upcoming events:

Thank goodness a blog doesn’t require talking! I’ll be back on form in the classroom next week! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget I have 3 upcoming dates:

  • Online training: Outstanding Lessons with The 5-Minute Lesson Plan.
  • When? Tuesday 26th November @ 4pm – 5pm or Wednesday 27th November @ 4pm – 5pm. Click here to book or enquire.
  • And finally, I am presenting on ‘Teaching and Learning leadership’ at the PiXL National Conference on Tuesday 3rd December 2013. Hopefully, I will have my voice back. Do consider coming along to say hello. There will be also be a wide variety of speakers and topics discussed throughout the day. Contact @PiXLClub if you are interested.

7 thoughts on “What is your number one #TeachingAsset? by @TeacherToolkit

  1. I once taught a whole day during my NQT year without speaking once – strangely it led to some fantastic learning and a lovely working atmosphere amongst the students. I planned for it and it worked: made me realise that sometimes (and I stress sometimes, in these days of querying teacher-talk versus independent-learning debates) we need to step back and let them get on with it.
    In one drama lesson the kids didn’t even notice I hadn’t spoken until the end of the lesson. All instructions were given by gesture and looks etc and a lot of pointing. it worked well as a variation technique.

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