Talking, listening, reading and writing – our tools for survival as sane and compassionate human beings

This title is a quote from a new blog I am very much enjoying reading – not just because the author (a former English teacher and school leader) is an old friend, but because the ideas are pithy, clear and immensely practical. The blogs – which can be found at – are addressed directly at thoughtful teenagers (and younger students); if you know any teenagers with slightly more latent thoughtfulness, it would be perfectly legitimate to read the ideas on their behalf and then pass them on, because if we could all, gently, adopt some of the ideas contained therein, I suspect that our self-awareness, our awareness of the world, and our connections with others will all subtly improve … and wouldn’t that be a great outcome to emerge from this Covid-19 time?

One of the signposts the author plants is to materials recently uploaded by the Director of the Speak Up Scotland programme developed by ESU Scotland, and these are definitely worth a look. I do declare an interest – it is another of the charities I chair, because I consider its goals incredibly worthwhile. Debating is a means of exploring and articulating ideas, and is an enjoyable and satisfying skill to acquire. It is also a means to be able to contribute to society and make one’s way within it – on equal terms with others, regardless of background. No Prime Minister ever became Prime Minister without a strong grasp of the practice of debating. Speak Up Scotland, therefore, is aimed at bringing debating – which thrives in the independent school sector – to state schools across the country, and by doing so, is a way to lessen the poverty-related attainment gap which we must still  tackle.

The materials are aimed both at teachers – a detailed set of proposals, for instance, on how to debate during lockdown – and at eager student debaters, who will find that ‘Intuitions, Examples and Analogies’ sharpens their skills. More are to follow, I am promised, so bookmark the page. The important message for us all is that communication really, really matters, and we should be practising it now, more than ever. Human beings are infinitely creative in their ability to circumvent – and even thrive more successfully in – whatever restrictive circumstances they encounter, and we have seen a myriad of examples of this over the past few months, as Covid-19 has spread across the world. Let’s be emboldened by this; we know already that we can connect through multiple forms of communication … why not spend some time deepening these? Moving forward into our brave new world as better, more authentic, more effective communicators … now, that feels like a suitably uplifting goal.

Enjoy the journey …

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