'We must ensure pupils have a voice in the classroom so they are ready to be heard in the boardroom'

Posted on: 29 Nov 2016

Following news that an app is allowing nervous students to send anonymous text messages with queries to the front of the lecture hall, Suzie Longstaff, Headmistress at Putney High School, highlights the importance of helping pupils find their voice.

Innovative approaches to learning are essential as we equip the next generation to thrive in the fast paced digital world of their future.

An app for nervous university students to send anonymous text messages in the lecture hall, rather than having to identify themselves and ask questions out loud, seems to me to be misguided. Technology should be used as a tool to facilitate learning rather than as a substitute for fundamental people skills.

The app may give a shy student a brief respite in an intimidating lecture hall. But the real question is, how will this benefit students when they need to challenge a fellow colleague in a meeting or pitch their new invention to a potential investor. It is the role of learning institutions to prepare students for the world beyond our walls. Therefore, we must ensure that our pupils have a voice in the classroom so they are ready to be heard in the boardroom.

As a Headmistress, I want students to find their voice. As soon as girls start their school journey in Reception we value their input by actively listening and responding to them. By encouraging students to have an opinion and to be vocal we have a duty to respond to their comments as well as their complaints. This ethos is brought to life by student councils as pupils across the school are given a voice, engaging in discussions and decisions on day to day school life and their surroundings.

After a tumultuous year in world politics where strong opinions were loudly voiced on many sides, it is absolutely the role of educational institutions to teach our young people to be bold and ask questions when they don’t understand. To be inquisitive and academically curious should be a fundamental goal and a culture that enriches that is key. Debating is an important teaching technique for developing confidence, a capacity for independent critical judgement, an awareness of current affairs, and the maturity to appreciate that a single issue can be viewed from a range of equally valid standpoints. Whilst the debate club may be chosen by those keen to get their voice heard, students across Putney High School are encouraged to speak in public through TEDex talks, exchanging ideas at PIE, Model United Nations to name just a few.

Kaya Burgess’ article in the Times commented on a recent survey of phobias noting that a fear of public speaking was a more pressing concern than death and more so for women than for men. Thus it is absolutely our duty to provide students with opportunities to take risks in a safe and supported environment, to be comfortable in sometimes feeling uncomfortable. There are lots of ways in which we build confidence and encourage our students to think on their feet, including using improvised comedy. One to one technology such as iPads used as a self-reflective tool can also encourage students to find their own voice, allowing pupils to watch themselves in action, critique their own performance and gain confidence in doing so.

As educators, we need to ensure that technology is used to amplify and transform classroom practices as opposed to hindering the development of core social skills. Recently, Mrs Justice Cheema Grubb inspired our students with her speech, asking young people to anchor their lives in core truths. Her message would serve as a reminder to all: "Speak with integrity. Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes."

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About Suzie Longstaff

Suzie Longstaff is Headmistress at Putney High School, a girls' school in South West London.