Everyone shouts in my school

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Everyone shouts in my school - from pupils to senior managers. It's part of the culture. How can we introduce non-shouting policies?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice -or offer some of your own

Ted says

Cities have become noisy places. We once had an African student with a quiet voice. When his tutor asked him to speak louder, he replied: "I don't have to shout where I live." We assumed we talked moderately. Noisy cities can breed noisy schools, even when high volume is unnecessary.

Take a close look at the whole environment. I bet the dining room, the playground, the corridors are all noisy, so there's no point in trying to reduce noise in just one place. Professor Jerry Freiberg of Houston University helped reduce the frequency of fighting and jostling in a rumbustious school in Texas. He began by looking at the dining room.

Children threw dirty plates and cutlery into large metal containers, tables were too close together, so people inevitably made physical contact when they stood up. Pupils were asked to analyse the problem. Noise was reduced by carpeting, alternative ways of returning dishes, a better arrangement of tables, and an emphasis on politeness and respect for each other. The frequency of fights and quarrels fell to near zero. Excessive noise can inflame aggression.

Try discussing noise and aggression in a staff meeting. If teachers can be persuaded to set an example, pupils will have fewer excuses for shouting.

As experienced teachers know, shouting above noise legitimises it; talking softly often gains attention. Involve pupils in the search for solutions.

Try the fun approach as well. Have a quiet day, with forfeits (decent ones) for pupils and staff who still shout, so everyone can see how civilised it is when things are quieter. Look at the noisiest places and see how the environment can be improved. Congratulate children who don't shout, even when provoked.

You say

You must be joking

A school policy on noise? Come again? On first hearing it sounds implausible and even rather precious. A school policy on, say, bullying is fine and commendable. But noise? What next - a policy on runny noses?

But noise is a nuisance and should be eliminated. That's not to say children (not to mention staff) should take a vow of silence. After all, there should be a "buzz"; a school is not a mausoleum. But a policy is going to be hard to agree, difficult to implement and, perhaps, impossible to police.

I Hayward, West Sussex Speak in many voices In our classrooms we have "noise level" posters; "partner voices", which can't be heard by anyone except the person sitting next to you; "group voices" for working in groups; "a classroom voice" - there is only one of these at one time and it is loud enough for the whole class to hear; and "playground voices", which are left outside. We teach the levels and tell the pupils which noise level is appropriate for the task they are completing. We practise them and reward pupils for using the appropriate level. It takes some getting used to, but it works most of the time.

I can't offer you any advice about senior managers who constantly shout, but maybe you can create an oasis of quietness in your classroom that you can retreat to when it all gets too loud.

Alyse Strachan, by email

Go it alone

It seems from your question that you are not part of the senior management team. It makes your task more difficult if this frequent shouting is implicitly condoned from the top.

Why not start with your own no-shouting policy? In your classes make it clear that shouting is not an option for your pupils or yourself. Extend this policy as you move around the school. You may find other teachers agree with your approach and senior managers may show an interest.

Changing the culture of a school is always difficult, but it is possible.

Remember the words of the Chinese proverb: "A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."

Tim Parkes, Birmingham

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