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Professional development – Why teachers’ ‘tiny voices’ need to be heard

Photo of woman cupping hand around her mouth and shouting loudly

Your ‘professional voice’ may be small, but your insights are no less valuable than those of #edutwitter’s big beasts, says Toria Bono

Toria Bono
by Toria Bono
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Have you ever sat in a meeting and wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the courage to?

Have you ever shared an idea with someone further up the proverbial ladder, only to have that idea dismissed without discussion? Have you ever sat on social media, ready to tweet or post about something, only to delete it at the last minute for fear of the potential backlash?

If so, then you’re like countless other educators I speak to every day, who have become quiet, sometimes even silent in their schools. Sadly, we work in a profession where the loudest voices are often those of people who aren’t teaching every day, while the quieter voices – those of practising teachers and TAs – will frequently go unheard.

The same people

In 2020, I rejoined Twitter and tweeted a question. I waited and waited, but no one answered. I felt despondent. In January of that year, I’d committed myself to becoming an active member of the Twitter education community, after hearing great things about it – but how could I become ‘active’ if I was speaking into a void?

‘Tiny Voice Talks’ was born out of frustration. One February evening, I decided to create a Twitter thread for those quieter voices – a place where questions could be asked and answered, a Cheers-like place where ‘everybody knew your name’.

Yet very quickly, things became complicated. I’d created the Tuesday thread #TinyVoiceTuesdayUnites and the question hashtag #TinyVoiceTalks, and built up a group of people who could answer questions via the hashtag #TVTTagTeam – and then COVID hit.

On an average Tuesday in spring/summer that year, over 500 people were regularly joining the Tuesday thread, just to have their voice heard. This confirmed for me that I wasn’t the only frustrated teacher out there; that there were others who had questions and thoughts of their own, and just wanted to be listened to.

Around this time, I was also attending a lot of virtual educational events, and found it was often the same people speaking at them. It was interesting to me that many of these speakers weren’t actively teaching, and often hadn’t for a number of years. I wanted to counter this, by amplifying the voices of actual classroom teachers and educators with amazing ideas, who simply weren’t being heard.

Big ideas

Not long after this, I was approached with a proposal to start a podcast devoted to featuring the voices of quieter educators. ‘Tiny Voice Talks’ launched in August 2020, and has since gone on to highlight the voices of over 140 educators spanning early years to FE.

The podcast has seen discussions of core subjects, foundation subjects, wellbeing, SEND, inclusion, race, sexuality, gender, disability, empowerment, coaching – I could go on, but you get the idea. People want to talk, and others really do want to listen.

My guests are mostly not well known. They don’t have huge social media followings, but they do have big ideas and immense passion for giving their children, our young people, the very best start in life that they can.

As the podcast has rippled out, I’ve received messages from other teachers who have taken the step of speaking up in staff meeting and TAs who have voiced ideas to their teacher. They’ve felt empowered to use their voice because of Tiny Voice Talks.

In January 2021, I reverted to using the hashtag #TinyVoiceTalks for all of my Twitter activity. We still get together every Tuesday on the ever-lively #TinyVoiceTalks thread where, for the most part, everybody really does know everyone else by name.

Powerful messages

At the end of October 2022, Tiny Voices Talk was published. It’s a book filled with quieter voices and powerful messages, again ranging from EYFS practitioners to FE teachers, and covers myriad themes.

What I’ve discovered over the past two years, is that when a tiny voice speaks, three amazing things happen:

  1. They share surprising insights and ideas
  2. They realise they are not so tiny
  3. They empower other tiny voices to talk too

To all the readers out there – do you feel empowered to have your voice heard? What is it that you wish you could say? What do you want to change? What things are you unhappy with?

The first step is to write these thoughts down – they might be work-related, but may just as easily be about your wider world-view. You may be one of those rare people that has no trouble speaking up, but to everyone else – getting such thoughts down in writing lets you see everything you wish you could voice at a glance.

If I were coaching you, I’d ask you to rate the importance of those thoughts. Whichever one ends up at the top will be the one that you need to voice the most.

Changing the habit

What you want to say matters – it’s often just a case of figuring out how you want to say it. That’s why I undertook a coaching diploma and apprenticeship, after realising over the course of my podcast interviews just how many people needed help in getting their voices heard.

If you’ve rarely, or never spoken up before, changing the habit isn’t easy – especially for introverts. If you’re finding it hard to express what you want to say, I can’t recommend coaching enough.

The difference between louder voices and quieter voices is often not that the former have a better message or even know more – it’s that they’ve simply learnt how to use their voice and are confident in doing so. They know what they want to say, and have learnt how to articulate it in a way that compels other people to listen. Remember – your voice matters just as much as theirs does.

We can’t stop the bigger voices from talking, but nor should we want to. We just need to learn how to balance their louder voices with our own. Your voice matters, so use it!

If you’re feeling sufficiently brave, then get in touch. You could come on the Tiny Voice Talks podcast and have your voice heard – because we would love to listen.

4 tips for finding your voice

  1. On social media platforms, build up a community of like-minded quieter voices around you – others you can listen to, and who will listen to you. Talk about what matters most to them and to yourself.
  2. In school, practise using your voice by sharing your ideas with a trusted colleague who you know won’t be judgemental.
  3. Know what matters to you and raise your voice about that. Even if you only talk in staff meetings on topics that really matter to you personally, people will listen.
  4. Ask others to share their views with you, and when they’ve finished speaking, share yours with them. Actively listening to one another will help to develop a space in which people feel heard, and will actively want to listen to others.

Toria Bono (@Toriaclaire) is a class teacher, coach and the coaching lead in her school, as well as the host of the Tiny Voice Talks podcast and author of Tiny Voices Talk (£16.99, Crown House Publishing)

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