Vocal health is a key factor for teachers

Janet Shell was a Head of Music before retraining as a classical singer. She now teaches singing both in schools and privately and maintains a performance profile. 

She set up Talking Voice over 10 years ago after realising how many teachers suffer vocally. Janet’s unique combination of skills and humour make for a popular training session with lasting impact. 

Away from teaching and singing, Janet researches her family ancestry and in 2013, when the remains of her WW1 great uncle were interred at a ceremony in France, there was global media interest that continues to this day. Janet has written two books The Sunlight Girl and Talking Teachers.

On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most), I’d like you to rate how your voice feels right now. Is it tired and scratchy? Is it feeling fresh and vibrant? Do you feel you could happily raise your voice to reach the back of a large hall? Are you spending more time recently clearing your throat?

My name is Janet Shell and I am a vocal specialist who works around the country with teachers on their voice and communication skills through Talking Voice which I set up 12 years ago. 

As a former classroom teacher, I am only too aware of how much we use the voice and my aim is to highlight to teachers the impact that teaching can have on this precious tool and to show how we can all increase the longevity, health and dynamic characteristics of this vital instrument.

The vocal cords are actually two muscles surrounded by cartilage and other muscles which do an amazing job every day without you having to think! Like all muscles, however, they can tire and we are just not great at tuning into those signals until the voice is particularly fatigued.

What can be done? Well, the voice is very habit forming so how you learnt to speak as a child and what you heard around you will have had an impact. As a teacher, your voice will influence how others think about you. The good news is you are in control of that.

Vocal health is a huge factor in communication skills so here are my 3 top tips for maintaining a healthy voice and beyond that, becoming aware of the small changes you can make each day that will improve your range and tone quality.

Vocal health tips

Preparation: All speech begins with preparation. Most of us launch into speaking without considering the fact that sound requires an out breath! 

For there to be enough ‘out’ breath there needs to have been an ‘in’ breath. Quite simply it is the fuel for the voice. 

Notice the difference in your voice when you have taken a conscious breath. Your sound will be more energised and engaging and you may find you can speak for longer before needing to breathe again.

Posture: Posture will affect the quality of speech in a couple of ways. Poor posture (slumped shoulders, slightly collapsed rib cage) affects your ability to breathe deeply enough for projected speech and, for a class looking at you, it will send a message of boredom and lack of engagement. 

It is worth realigning your body and asking a friend for an honest opinion about how upright you are! 

Most importantly of all, your throat needs a clear passage through to your nose; by lifting your chin or thrusting it forward, you already compromise that. 

Experiment with speaking while lifting your chin upwards and hear how the tone of voice thins out

Hydration: We all hear about hydration and how we don’t drink enough water, however, poor hydration affects so many aspects, so it is worth focusing on your own water intake for a day and taking notice of it. 

Talking in a ‘presenter way’ involves taking in much more air which can dehydrate the throat quite quickly, particularly in winter with central heating. 

If your voice becomes croaky or hoarse, try to drink some water as soon as possible. Keep a small bottle handy and sip as frequently as you can. 

Noticeably increase your hydration for one week and see if it makes a difference to your voice. (It may also have other benefits). 

People worry they may need the loo more often, but a dry throat is a sign of dehydration already, so the water is replacing what you have lost.

Read all about it

Janet’s book for teachers is Talking Teachers (available through her website and on Amazon) which brings together the vocal and presentation skills needed for great classroom management. “A well thought out and necessary resource that fills a gap”

Talking Voice runs inclusive cost CPD and half and full day sessions in schools and for teacher training courses all year round. Please contact Janet Shell Janet@talkingvoice.net and visit the website http://www.talkingvoice.net.

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