Organising School Debating

Once again it is that time of year when school debating teams start to pass the zone level and compete for Regional and State titles.  This also makes it the time of year when debating coaches like myself need all the support from staff they can get, but unfortunately seem to have used up all their favours just getting the zone rounds done.

I think that debating is such a worthwhile activity for students to be involved in – both competitively, and in the more relaxed environment of in-class debating.  However, I think that schools that are entering teams into debating competitions need to understand the full range an amount of resources that are needed to support the teams.  Here are my first thoughts on what a school needs to plan for – can you add more?

  • Each team will participate in at least three zone-level ’round robin’ debates.  This means cover of some kind for at least three half days for each teacher taking a team.
  • If a team wins their zone, they go on to play schools that are progressively further away.  This usually means close to a full day of cover is needed for each debate beyond inter-zone finals.
  • If my Year 11 team make it to the State Final they will have been in around nine debates.  This means up to nine days away from most classes!
  • Debaters need lots of coaching to do well.  Weak debaters need coaching so they feel comfortable in the competition; strong debaters need coaching if you want them to go as far as possible in the comp.  This could mean losing around one lunchtime per fortnight, or missing more classes –  you will probably try to use your ‘free’ periods, meaning the kids will always be out of the same classes.
  • Do they have clean shirts, ties, blazers etc.?  Or will “someone” i.e. the coach have to organise this?  The school may need to develop a system for borrowing formal uniform items.
  • Debates have associated equipment – bell, stopwatch, palm cards, chairperson forms, glasses for water on the tables…  You will need a designated storage space so these things are easy to find, especially in schools with more than one teacher coaching the teams.

I’m hoping to work out a real ‘budget’ – both for funding and staff support – for debating in my school.  We’re always going to want more than we can have, but schools need to at least be realistic about what they are signing on for, I think.

  1. #1 by Luke Symonds on August 11, 2008 - 8:44 pm

    Your preaching to the choir. Unfortunately the phrase ‘the school doesnt have the money’ is a phrase you will always come up against.
    I took my year 11 team to the state semi-finals a few years ago and then I was able to get SOME money. Here are a few things I have found.
    1. Principals want results before they give you money.
    2. Some principals do not care about debating/public speaking. Watch out cause they can make your life very, very difficult.
    3. Some principals love debating (especially in North Sydney Region) and give huge unbelievable budgets. Casuals for each debate, coaching budget, 2-4 periods a fortnight. Of course the problem then becomes that these teachers never let it go and become lazy.
    4. Trust noone-Teachers are always happy to volunteer to help out but in the real teaching world it is impossible to help every time. I have found that some teachers will complain about the time off and why you get so much ‘time off’.
    5. Clothing is not an issue as there are ways around it. Beg,borrow or steal
    Basically there is no way around the real every-day problems in a school. You try and survive the best you can. Debating is a wonderful activity and is really rewarding but dont go nuts and demand silly things as it only upsets the executive. Also be aware that it will never be as important as drama etc.
    The only piece of advice I can really give is put in a budget for $10,000 and 10 free periods a fortnight. You wont get it but its a nice starting point.

  2. #2 by Amy on August 11, 2008 - 10:41 pm

    Having been educated in a Public High School myself, I was pretty amazed at the Debating Comps that run in the Private System in which I now work. Debating, for me, occurs on Friday nights – which in itself requires a lot of commitment from students and parents. However, it is a one woman show – meaning I generally don’t have to rely on the generosity of other staff members. It also means that it does not interfere with my classes, just my social life 🙂
    What do you think about Public School Debating comps held in the evenings? Do you think it could be feasible?

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