A speaker should approach his preparation not by what he wants to say, but by what he wants to learn. – Todd Stocker
I hate speaking.
You wouldn’t know it, of course; I teach, after all. My year ten groups would probably jump to tell you how much I love the sound of my own voice. I hate telephone conversations , will text over calling, still refuse to ring for a taxi or a takeaway and have an app for all these things. I like to speak to children, and the smaller the group (number, not height), the more comfortable I am.
I hated speaking to an even greater degree at school. Among even my friends, I would think of things I’d like to say, but very rarely would they become a reality. It wasn’t cool to speak in class, and as two or three kids in my lessons led the way in giving answers, and behaviour was poor enough that teachers would welcome their input and let them lead the lesson, I would answer questions and contribute to conversations internally, trying to then challenge my own ideas, or listening to others to clear up my misconceptions. I became a habitual hypothetical conversationalist, playing out conversations in my head that never materialised to anything more.
It wasn’t until I found myself in a professional capacity that I was forced to make these conversations more tangible. Work meetings, leading recruitment strategy, conference calls all required me to not only share ideas, but lead them. This kind of discussion platform is completely different from a one to one exchange about an idea you came up with, or the pleasantries of every day life, but instead, people are listening to you. Not waiting to respond, but listening to you speak for an extended period of time with the expectation that you will take something away from it of meaning, significance or to action.
Let’s take this back into a school setting. In banking, my position helped to give me (to some extent) a level of credibility to drive those conversations: with students, we’re not so lucky. Students make you earn that credibility and rarely use the judgement of others and hearsay to form their own conclusions. That’s not to say that they are damning by default: they want to want to listen to you speak. It just has to be worth it, and those first few months are crucial with a new class to ascertain that your subject knowledge and ability to impart deserves to be listened to. The teacher as expert makes an undiluted but unspoken demand that you have a place to speak in a classroom.
Teachers speaking are a child’s first experience of talking outside of the realm of everyday conversation. Our delivery in classrooms is a model holding an audience, and sets a precedence for what to do when someone is speaking. There’s a great power in what takes place whilst you speak, and whilst immeasurable, it is these qualities that we develop through instruction in the classroom. You are not just imparting knowledge, but students learn:
- How to actively listen
- How to listen to consider as opposed to listen to respond
- How to mentally rehearse questions or order clarity over misconception
- How to consider to what extent they agree or personally respond to what has been said
- When the right time would be to make these final two elements materialise into class discussion following whet has been said
Perhaps if we consider what we are training students to do, and how far removed it may be from the listening (or lack of) outside of lessons, it may help us understand why it’s so challenging and requires repetition of practice.
So we understand the importance of speaking, and how vital it is to our roles within school. In that case, why is it so difficult to do so in front of our peers?
I started this blog with the recent LitdriveCPD events in mind, and my own experience of speaking inside and outside of teaching. So many people have given up their time to do something which requires the ultimate courage: to speak about their subject, and their interpretation of what that looks like in respect to a text, to people they respect, admire and who to them, feel like the experts in the room. Everyone who has discussed speaking at one of our events has said to me, or their audience,’ this is nothing new… you will already know this… you probably do this already… I don’t have anything new to say….’ because they have placed themselves in the position of the student when actually, they are so much more than that.
If we are to learn from one another, and to truly collaborate, speaking to be listened to is what will drive us all forward. To develop the art of appreciation of what someone else has chosen to tell you is powerful in its simplicity. Kathryn Morgan said during a WomenEd event recently that, ‘the relationship is the conversation,’ and the when the conversation is to invite someone else to have an insight into what you know, that can be the start of the most positive of relationships.
And so how do we be at peace with ourselves when it comes to talking to our peers, that we have something that they will want to hear?
- Speak about something you are comfortable with speaking about. You don’t need to claim you have all the knowledge or all the answers, but be comfortable with what you do know.
- This isn’t a matter of hierarchy: you are not the student. What you have decided to say has value.
- Everyone listening to you has come to see you because they believe you have something interesting to say. You have earned that belief just by giving the time to speak.
- The art of speaking rarely has any connection with this misconception of ‘knowing more,’ and is more focused about seeing differently. They want to know how you see things and your interpretation of a concept; it is your perspective that holds value.
- People hold the value of your time in high regard. It is this gratitude that puts additional value to your willingness to speak.
- We always assume that we are speaking out to an echo chamber, but I have never spoken to a group of people where there wasn’t at least one person afterwards there to tell me something that resonated with them. In the same way, I’ve never sat to listen to someone speak and not taken something away to inform what I do.
I hate speaking now when I don’t know what it is I want to say, but when I know that what I do say will be the building bricks of someone else’s conversation, I feel heartened by it.