Practise Teaching, Teaching Practice: Speak Up!

“Practise Teaching, Teaching Practice” is a series of tips and observations about fundamentals for great teaching based on my experience as a teacher for over twenty years and also as a trainer of teachers for much of that time.

The voice is one of the most important parts of a teacher’s armoury and yet, foolishly, teacher training and CPD tend to take it for granted. If you’re lucky you might get an after school session dedicated to it but that’s about all. I think schools should run specialised voice sessions at least twice a week, every week and also ensure that staff have regular check ups. Why? Because teachers use their voice every day, for a lot of the day, and at a volume that would fill a small theatre. Actors train their voices so should teachers. I expect an actor uses their voice less than a teacher yet knows how to look after it more.

I have delivered CPD for teachers on use of voice for over twenty years and it’s something that can help teachers new and old. If you aren’t getting regular voice training, one short cut is to join a choir or have singing lessons, although the techniques are slightly different, the protection and practice offered for your voice might be a good idea.

Voice Projection and Protection:

There are various simple techniques to ensure you look after your voice and, usefully, if you use these techniques you will not only care for your voice you will also make yourself heard better and also be more interesting to listen to.

Speak Up: Don’t Slouch and Don’t Shout

A good posture is essential, your voice comes from within, it isn’t a bolt on extra somewhere in your mouth. In order to speak well, you need to stand, or sit, well. Then you need to breathe well. When working with teachers I ask them to breathe deeply and it is extraordinary to see how many think taking a deep breath involves chest out and shoulders up. It doesn’t. Diaphragm darling, diaphragm! In one session I worked with a teacher getting her to breathe deeply and she immediately farted, much to her embarrassment and a fit of giggles for everyone else. But this was good, she was breathing deeply! If you need to raise your voice you need to take in a good amount of air and then use this air to pass through your vocal cords as you shape your mouth clearly (to some this might feel exaggerated) to accommodate the words you wish to say.

Pace, Pitch and Pause

It is good to vary the pace of what you are saying as this can help interest, punctuate what you are saying with pauses for effect, to allow you to take a breath, to rest, and to allow pupils to take stock. Varying pitch can also help create interest and it can be a great discipline tool, particularly for female teachers. I remember one Media Studies Teacher coming up to me after one of my sessions saying she used my ‘pitch’ technique and it completely silenced her class. She had been having trouble with her class because when they were doing group work they would get rather noisy and when she wanted them to listen to her she would shout some instructions and they wouldn’t react. After she used the pitch technique her pupils immediately fell silent and one of them put up his hand and said: “Miss, you’ve got a new voice!” If a class is getting noisy, they tend to also get higher pitched. If a teacher then shouts (which you should never do) the pitch, particularly if the teacher is female, is likely to be at the same level as the rest of the class rendering the teacher very difficult to hear well. If, however, you take a breath, project properly and lower your pitch, (think Vanessa Redgrave, darling), your new, fruity, voice will be heard straight away as it will be at a lower pitch to the general hubbub. You will be heard and you will be obeyed! 😉

There are many other techniques that can help you be heard, remember: project and protect! Seek out voice training, preferably as part of a wider look at good communication strategies such as use of gesture or even rhetoric. Here is a blog I wrote about Rhetoric and storytelling. I also run courses on voice training and communication, if anyone is interested in these please contact me here.

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