Why communication is key in preparing pupils for life outside of school and help them make good behaviour choices, from Sarah Davies.

Time for a quick Q&A!

Firstly Sarah, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Of course! I’m an assistant headteacher for an academy in the North-West of England and the author of ‘Talking about oracy: Developing communication beyond the classroom’. Most importantly, I’m the mother of two amazing stubborn boys who keep me on my toes! Before I started teaching, I worked in roles like recruitment consultancy and outdoor coaching, so I gained experience in several different sectors before finding my passion.

Could you tell us more about your book and what inspired you to write it?

This book was a long time coming, but it was the 2020 UK lockdown that prompted me to put it onto the page. When writing it, I was fortunate that I had support and input from some fantastic contributors who shared their expertise with me. The reason behind it is simple: we need to ensure we are preparing young people for life outside school. No matter their academic ability, all students need exposure to oracy teaching and development so that they can communicate effectively with others.

The book provides helpful strategies and supporting research to encourage practitioners and establishments to raise awareness and understanding of oracy, to prepare our students for the next stage in their lives (and beyond!).

What are the key oracy skills children and young people need to develop?

Firstly, children and young people need to be aware of what oracy is. They need to understand what it means to effectively communicate with others. Too often, an implied understanding leads to an inability to listen properly, or a lack of understanding in how tone or posture could be interpreted and how this can affect message delivery. Children need to be aware of and able to recognise any miscommunication to develop better relationships with others.

What are your top tips for developing these skills?

As practitioners, firstly, we need to ensure that we are modelling them. As students’ key insight into life outside of the classroom, we need to allow them to understand how we communicate with others. This is supported through direct reference to these skills so that students are aware of why they’re so important. For example, when asking for an answer, you may ask them to include specific subject vocabulary. You may also make a direct reference to how students may use specific skills outside the classroom, e.g., when participating in an interview.

What kind of activities can educators provide for pupils to develop and practice oracy?

Outside of the classroom, extra-curricular clubs allow them to find their own voice, whether that’s learning the art of rhetoric in debate club, or expressing opinions in book club, or even leading peers in a sport-based club.

Sometimes, just giving students the opportunity to discuss their interpretations can have a huge effect on their confidence, particularly when writing responses or reflecting on what they’ve constructed.

From a practitioner perspective, understanding the importance of classroom oracy skills appears to have divided people. Although we all recognise the importance of ensuring that young people are equipped with the right skills to succeed outside of the classroom, we often feel constrained by those skills that produce more of a quantifiable result.

Whether or not your establishment has chosen to explicitly recognise the importance and the impact of embedding oracy skills into your curriculum is for another article. Right now, our focus needs to be on how an understanding of oracy can support us with behaviour management strategies, both inside and outside of the classroom.

How oracy can be used to support behaviour management

Let’s recap the key components of oracy and how these might be impacted in discussions around behaviour management.

Our physical behaviours

It’s important to recognise how a misinterpretation or lack of contextualisation of posture, facial expressions etc. can result in our intentions being lost and our efforts being potentially misconstrued. For example:

  • Standing with hands placed on the hips can be an indication that a person is ready and in control or it can be a sign of aggressiveness.
  • Clasping the hands behind the back might indicate that a person is feeling bored, anxious or even angry.
  • Rapidly tapping fingers or fidgeting can be a sign that a person is bored, impatient or frustrated.
  • Crossed legs can indicate that a person is feeling closed off or in need of privacy.

Our linguistic choices

Sometimes, messages can become lost or jumbled in a sea of long-winded explanations or irrelevant vocabulary choices. From a student’s perspective, this can lead to a lack of understanding. On the flipside, we can become frustrated when students make inappropriate vocabulary choices. In those circumstances, consider whether the student is actually aware of their choice and why it might not be the best option. Remember that vocabulary acquisition takes place from a young age across a wide range of environments, so one person’s perception of appropriate language might be entirely different from another’s.

Our cognitive skills

Let’s consider self-regulation and how often this may fail for even the calmest of individuals. Students and practitioners alike will never go through a day without events that may require some self-regulation. Done properly, an individual can gather their senses and regain focus. However, when this isn’t the case, we run the risk of entering a ‘red zone’ that we can’t get out of and this has a domino effect on other interactions until there is some form of subliminal resolution.

Our social and emotional awareness

Communication is affected by a series of factors. Whether it’s your confidence or your understanding of how to adapt your message to suit the audience, it’s important to consider these contributing factors so that our message is clear and concise.

How can we support behaviour through communication?

Let’s consider the times where problematic situations can be avoided:

  • Think about body language – Are they busying themselves and avoiding eye contact? Are their movements perhaps more animated and progressively louder?
  • Contextualise the situation – How would you react in a similar circumstance? What has happened and how might that make a person feel? What are the realistic emotions that one might demonstrate in these situations?
  • Consider their tone – Do they sound different to usual? Are they showing signs of being frustrated, angry, upset or confused?

But what happens if these signs are missed? In these circumstances, we need to de-escalate the situation.

  1. Don’t put on a show- More often than not, a situation can be exacerbated by spectators. Where possible, removing this from the situation can allow for a calm and reflective moment to take place.
  2. Be empathetic and non-judgemental – We often have situations that, on reflection, we know could have been handled differently – a different time, location or by another individual. It’s important that we remain as non-judgemental as possible. By listening to the other side of the issue, this could potentially allow us to resolve things in a quicker and more effective manner. This can be further supported by allowing pupils thinking time.
  3. Your tone and body language need to reflect calm –  Behaviours can often be mirrored – and calm can be contagious! At the same time, our tone and our body language can often act as an inadvertent catalyst to increasing tension.
  4. Set boundaries and expectations – Conversations, particularly restorative or de-escalating, should be purposeful and clear. Otherwise, they run the risk of becoming meaningless and just an opportunity to complain. By summarising the discussion and coming up with clear, measurable goals, it’s more likely that both parties will be able to step closer to effective communication.

Author

  • Sarah Davies

    "Sarah is the author of 'Talking about Oracy' which focusses on the development of effective communication beyond the parameters of the classroom. She is currently an assistant headteacher and ECT mentor at a secondary academy in the North-West of England."
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