Assemblies are powerful platforms.
However, often young people describe them as: boring, long and cringey.
What’s going wrong?
Some ideas : – powerpoint presentations
– ‘motivational’ videos (usually in poor quality)
– teachers speaking about issues they know little about.
I once witnessed an assembly by a member of senior leadership that “celebrated Nelson Mandela,” in an all-boys’ school. As the students walked in ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ was playing on the sound-system and some of the boys started dancing – understandably, it’s a catchy tune. They were quickly told to stop and quieten down – why? The music had got to them, whether they understood the meaning or not would have been a great starting point from which to take the energy the boys had already felt inspired to share.
Instead, after the kerfuffle was controlled, the SLT member armed with endless powerpoint slides, began by telling the students: “Nelson Mandela was very inspiring to lots of people, and I hope you find him inspiring too.”
Speak to any public speaker – comedians, politicians, activists -the first line is important, it has to be gripping, it sets the tone. This beginning rather gave away the end – the comedian doesn’t begin with “I hope you’re going to find this set funny” – because it risks setting them up for a fall.
The SLT member spent most of the rest of the assembly (20mins) reading off well researched notes with generalised, wide ranging points about Mandela, his accomplishments and his life. It was clear that whilst the SLT member clearly respected what Mandela had done, he wasn’t personally inspired by him – which of course is fine, we all are motivated and inspired by different people – however it made the assembly dry and inauthentic (or boring, long and cringey). As a watching visitor, I felt frustrated as a man who, in my opinion, has achieved incredibly inspirational things and motivates me highly, was reduced to the kind of “oh yes, didn’t they mention him in school?” type of figure.
I do not blame the SLT member for any this. In that uneviable middle-management, overworked position there is little time to create truly inspiring assemblies – especially if public speaking is not a skill that particularly comes naturally to you.
So how can schools improve this? How can we actually motivate and inspire our pupils when we get this out-of-the-classroom opportunity?
Bring in people who care about the topic.
Firstly, look in school and advertise widely: is there a non-teaching member of staff who is passionate about recycling and climate change? A business manager who would be happy to share their knowledge and personal experience of Ramadan? A history teacher who could share their story of being arrested for protesting against fracking? A PE teacher who has a world record? A maths teacher who used to work for the FTSE 100?
Put the call out – we don’t know everything about our colleagues, and as Frederic Laloux, author of Re-inventing Organisations, says: “Extraordinary things begin to happen when we dare to bring all of who we are to work.”
Students can also be asked. I was once in a situation where I had had a request from students to do an assembly on Islamophobia. I am not a Muslim and don’t have that lived experience, neither did anyone in the staff (a common unhelpful truth in many South of England Schools – where staff team does not ethnically/religiously/racially reflect the students). I created a student working group, made up of Muslim and non-Muslim students. Some students of 16yrs said this was the first time they had been welcomed to talk about such issues as prayers, hijabs, Islamic beliefs in school. Also, that in their seventh year of being at that school, it was the first time they had learned that there was a prayer room available to all students.
Not everyone has to stand up.
I have created several assemblies where I felt I needed more knowledge from specialists, and yet they weren’t comfortable with public speaking – so I involved them in the making or offered them small segments to be involved in, whilst I led the majority of the assembly, for example:
A year 11 student made me an LGBT+ music mix tape *insert whatever the digi-whatsit word is for that now*, to play on the entrance to the LGBT+ History Month assembly. It consisted of music students would know, but would not necessarily know LGBT+ people were involved in making.
I interviewed a member of pastoral staff with a “hidden disability.” Whilst they felt unable to publicly share this, I was able to share their experiences anonymously, and have them check the other content of my Disability Awareness assembly beforehand.
It’s not only these big issues either. Leading an assembly on Shakespeare’s birthday, it was easy enough to find a fellow theatrical English Teacher to perform a small snippet of The Tempest with and share his own journey as a student with Shakespeare.
Finally, if there is no one in school who has a passion/experience on the topic you need, get people in.
There are fewer and fewer opportunities for pupils to interact with the community outside of the school walls – as school trips are cut and work experienced replaced with revision weeks – and if homelife is unable to provide much variety in this sense, for some students school will be the only chance they get to meet an astronaught/surgeon/trans woman/fire walker…
Children and teenagers can smells inauthenticity a mile off, and it’s not motivating.
No need to fake it.
The services I offer support students with Emotional Behaviour Difficulties and those who work with them; those who are perhaps struggling day-to-day with behaviour, or those who need a fresh vision to moving forward.
I offer practical, step-by-step actions that are doable and easy to implement.
I work with these students because I choose to; I know what it’s like to be on the front-line – and I enjoy it – which means I also love to help motivate others to do the best they can for these students too.
Three areas of services I offer:
or contact me if you have a request for something a little different...