Recently, I read an article that a colleague shared with me. While the article outlined specific efforts of a school in London, in many ways it represents a key quality of an Advent education. The title of the article was “Why the Art of Speaking Should Be Taught Alongside Math and Literacy” and was written by the editors of Mind Shift. The first paragraph reads “Classrooms in the US often focus most attention on literacy and math, largely because those skills are considered foundational and are tested. However, most people will also need to communicate their thoughts and ideas to other people through oral language, and yet effective communication strategies are often not taught with the same precision and structure as other parts of the curriculum.”

We know that most people, students in particular, do not like to speak in public. We also know that in today’s world of instant news and online everything, oracy can be lost. In the event you may need help with oracy’s meaning as I did, the term was coined by Andrew Wilkinson, a British researcher and educator, in the 1960s. His purpose was to draw attention to the neglect of oral skills in education. Definitions include the ability to express oneself in and understand speech and proficiency in oral expression, comprehension, and communication.  While it may be naturally uncomfortable for our students to speak in public, or other similar skills, one of Advent’s core features is to help build strong oral communicators.

Oracy is something that Advent is intentional about. Without intentionalism, critical elements like character development and oracy, along with many other things, would likely not get addressed. As noted in the quoted statement one reason why oracy has lost its place in most schools is likely standardized testing and using testing to drive curriculum. The phrase “what gets measured gets done” certainly has a place in any organization, schools included. It is important that certain metrics be applied to a lot of what we do. However, metrics cannot drive the heart of what we do at Advent. Each year, and again this year, all will be cautioned not to use only measurable tools to assess success, a primary example being standardized tests. Not for one minute do I believe that any educator, public or private, decided one day that the art of conversation, public speaking, or oracy was not important. Most likely, it could not be measured, so it became less intentional and over time became less important.

As we embark upon implementation of goals from our recent accreditation visit, an integral part will be a continued emphasis on oracy. In addition to poetry reading, project and group based learning, oral reports, chapel readings, plays, and organizations like JUNA, Advent will continue to seek ways to differentiate our students from the norm in this and several other distinctively Advent areas. We know that media, from the news to Facebook, no longer provides examples of how to engage in constructive conversation. Advent wants to be an institution that still appreciates the importance of being able to articulate thoughts effectively and civilly in both written and oral form.

Advent’s explicit desire to help students master oral communication is something that sets us apart from other schools. The confidence it instills in our graduates is something that has set our alumni apart throughout our history and will continue to set our graduates apart going forward.

Whether it includes simple concepts such as wanting our students to talk with each other during school hours instead of cell phone use, or more complex initiatives like an evolving capstone project for future graduates that will encompass an oral component, Advent will stay vigilant and intentional in our preparation for what we believe will be our leaders of tomorrow.

Palmer Kennedy

*To learn more about Advent Episcopal School, please visit our website: http://www.adventepiscopalschool.org