My single favourite experience of teaching so far has been co-ordinating and coaching my own debating team as well as organising and coaching students for public speaking competitions. Parramatta Marist High School is involved in several different competitions in the Sydney area including the Catholic Schools Debating Association (CSDA) Public Speaking Competition, the CSDA Debating Competition and the Marist Oratory. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the coaching and adjudication of these for the past two years.
Being involved in extra curricular activities gives teachers the opportunity to get to know students in a different environment outside of the classroom and develop a unique rapport with some very talented and intelligent young people. I know that my small debating team who I’ve coached in Year 8 and Year 9 have become almost like a little family. It has been wonderful to see the boys develop their communication and teamwork skills over the years and develop their own distinctive strategies when approaching the debate.
During the debating season we meet 2-3 times a week for coaching sessions. Every year group is allocated a different teacher as their coach and we also meet as a whole school team once a week. These sessions involve detailed brainstorming, research and critical discussion of that week’s topic in preparation for the debate on Friday evening.
We utilise many online platforms including Google Groups and Google Classroom to share and discuss our findings over the week and collaborate with teams from other year groups. This is a great way to break down the barriers of age between the students and encourage a level of autonomy where older year groups help to teach the younger students and vice versa.
Each CSDA debate is adjudicated according to three main criteria:
After our team coaching sessions where we discuss the ‘matter’ element of the debate, we sometimes run mock debates between different teams to give students the opportunity to practise their ‘manner’ and ‘method’ in a real debate situation. Often we will ask other debating students to take notes and make a judgement on the winning team along with detailed feedback on their performance- again, this encourages a level of autonomy and ownership among the students.
The students also enjoy when we ask ex-students from the school, affectionately known as ‘Old Boys’, to come in for guest coaching sessions. They offer a different perspective to the teams and their prior personal debating experiences give current students valuable insight into new strategies.
In 2016 the boys debated a range of interesting and complex topics including creativity, change and equality. At the beginning of the season these broad topic areas are released and we base our research and coaching on these areas; it isn’t until the Friday night debate that the specific debate topic is announced. Teams are then given one hour to prepare and plan their debate in a classroom with no access to technology- just a few whiteboard markers, palm cards and a dictionary. In 2016 my Year 9 team was undefeated until the fifth round and were unfortunately knocked out of the competition in the Elimination Round. But a combination of their points and the Year 7,8 and 10 teams meant that our school won the 2016 Junior Aggregate Shield and our Year 7 team made it to the Grand Final round.
As a coach and teacher of these boys I am incredibly proud of their achievements and the way they work together to achieve a common goal (while having a lot of fun in the process!).