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The Five Voices of Teaching

The Toolbox Collection • March 2019

Part 1: Perspectives on Encouraging Student Engagement

The Five Voices of Teaching

In their book Make Presentations That Teach and Transform, Garmston and Wellman (1992) encourage teachers to consider several important questions that will guide and direct the nature of presentations:

»» Who are you? What is the role that you wish to assume and convey when you engage in teaching?

»» What do you care about? Do your message and values come through in your presentations?

»» How much do you dare? Are you willing to stretch the limits of presentations to make your point and communicate the message?

»» What are your intended outcomes? Can you and do you articulate the goals you have for each lesson?

Garmston and Wellman also cite the work of Margaret Bedrosian (1987), who proposed that any time we step in front of a group, we naturally assume one or more of the “Five Voices of Teaching.” Effective teachers will make use of these varied voices to communicate, to inspire, to challenge, and to motivate the learners with whom they are connecting during the instructional process.

Consider the following Five Voices (Bedrosian, 1987). Which would you identify as your primary way of communicating with students? Which would be your primary voice in times of stress or challenge?

»» A boss—This voice is based on the authority of your position. You communicate your ideas with the power that comes from the mission, vision, and history of the organization. Audience members responding to the boss voice often listen more to the position than the presentation.

»» An expert—The expert shares information from the position of one who knows about current issues and developments in the field of discussion. This method brings direct experiences to the teaching experience. To maintain credibility, the expert must remain abreast of recent discoveries and innovations.

»» A colleague—In the role of a colleague, the distance between the learner and the teacher is dramatically reduced as they work and make new discoveries alongside each other.

»» A sister/brother—The sister/brother voice communicates caring, concern, and warmth. From this position, the teacher can serve as a coach and encourager to students.

»» A novice—In the novice voice, the teacher communicates authentic enthusiasm and a sense of wonder about the field of investigation. Doing so communicates a willingness to teach while also savoring new discoveries and insights.

Although each of us may have a predominant voice, it is important that instructors develop a full range. Sometimes, the voice of a sister/brother or colleague will be completely appropriate to the situation. At other times, circumstances will call for the appearance of a boss or expert. As an instructor, it is important to be aware of the voice that is most appropriate for the situation, then engage with that voice in a natural and seamless way.

The Five Voices are tools. Proficient faculty will remain aware of the voice that is mostly highly suited to the given circumstance.

According to Garmston and Wellman (1992), “Elegant presenters have conscious access to ... personal values and deliver presentations that are unusually powerful because of the congruence of both their message and metamessages” (p. 3). The authors reinforce the importance of presenters (e.g., faculty, administrators, consultants) remaining aware of how they are feeling, the message they are communicating, and the feelings/responses of the audience. Each of these components has a tremendous impact on the presentation’s overall effectiveness.

This article was originally published in March 2005.

Who you are, not what you know, is the dominant message in any presentation. Who you are, in relation to what you know, is critically important self-knowledge that helps you make decisions about what’s important to communicate and how to communicate it. This self-knowledge gives your message congruence and credibility. -Robert J. Garmston and Bruce Wellman (1992)