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Coach uses a ‘strong voice’ to get and hold attention

2013 August 22
by HISD Communications

Tal Gribbins

The strongest voice in a room isn’t necessarily the loudest, the biggest, the deepest, or even the meanest-sounding. Usually, it’s the smartest—and sometimes the most quiet.

That’s the lesson that coach and drama teacher Tal Gribbins learned after using the “Strong Voice” strategy from Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion book in his classroom at Grady Middle School.

“When you’re training to be a teacher, the one thing they really drive home is how important (and difficult) classroom management is,” said Gribbins. “Despite our best efforts, there are times when the students will start talking when we don’t want them to.  Raising your voice to be heard over the din is only going to force the volume up so they can hear each other over you. But that’s what they’re accustomed to— it’s a standard adult response. If you try to compete with them for vocal dominance, you’ve joined the group and are no longer the leader. So don’t talk over students. Ever.”

“Now, I just use Strong Voice,” said Gribbins. “To get the room’s attention, I give them strong, well-projected, concise instructions. If the sound of my voice doesn’t stop them in their tracks, I just stop speaking, and square up my body so that it faces the group directly. Your body language will speak volumes for you. So will direct eye contact. After a few seconds, I’ll start to speak again. If the whole group doesn’t stop and listen, I stop again.”

Gribbins says he knows the idea sounds ridiculous, “but I’m telling you, it works beautifully. It may take awhile to establish this procedure as a norm, but the magical thing about Strong Voice is that the students end up doing the work for you. Now, by the second time I stop mid-sentence, there’s a ripple of “Shhhs!” and “Quiet, guys!” that runs through the room. The class begins to monitor and correct itself. Strong Voice keeps you firmly established as the authority figure in the room.”

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