Communication is how we express who we are, speak up for what we care about, and connect with others. Sometimes, we are fortunate to have access to the education we need to improve our message and a community of people who still care about us when we don’t quite come off the way we intended. Other times, we are left to figure it out on our own. We spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours communicating with others, yet most people don’t feel like their voices are heard or they feel like they are regularly misunderstood.
If you can afford intensive training and education, the path to improvement is often possible. It is a huge problem, however, when only the most well-resourced schools, individuals, and communities have the education needed to help people find and use their voice. Money isn’t the only issue. We live in a culture that values aggressive talk, but shames women and girls when they develop strong voices. We have classrooms where students with disabilities are explicitly told not to speak up because they will embarrass themselves. And we hold political meetings where if English isn’t your first language, you keep silent because it isn’t okay to make a mistake. At the end of the day, when only some people feel able to participate in important conversations and opportunities, the ripple effects are endless and we all lose.
While the quest for equity is one reason we created The Practice Space, the other is much simpler: Fun. Throughout my years of coaching debate and studying project-based learning, I know what it looks like and feels like when people are free to be themselves. In those moments, it shows off the best of humanity — joy, humility, care, and creativity. It shouldn’t be scary to speak, but when it is, it is usually because we feel like we are venturing into the unfamiliar and unknown without any guidance or preparation. To make matters worse, our voice is one of our most powerful tools, but we usually only get a chance to use it in really high-stakes situations, like a job interview or a final presentation. Sharing ideas should be fun, not scary, but for this to take place, we need to change the culture of communication in communities and schools.
These are grand goals, and we are only just getting started. In the midst of developing curriculum, putting together our spring schedule, launching our website and intro video, and navigating the various tasks of starting a new business, we have incredible students who reinforce why The Practice Space needs to exist. As one high school student said in a recent discussion, “Part of finding a voice is owning up to what you really believe and acknowledging it is something important…if no one else is going to represent other opinions, I better do it and I better do it well, because otherwise, it’s never going to get said.”