Be an advocate for the teachers in your school by presenting an in-service on vocal health!

Part 1. A Healthy Voice overview
First, pat yourself on the back for being an advocate for improved vocal health in the teaching profession. It's an unfortunate fact that teachers have more voice problems than other professionals, yet just a little knowledge could allow teachers to self-manage or prevent many voice disorders.

This plan was developed for you, the school-based SLP's or other advocate, to make this service outreach as easy as possible.

Over-arching session goal: to raise teacher awareness of a self-directed, no-cost educational program to promote vocal health, and to:

  • underscore the need for vocal health information among teachers
  • identify the existence of and articulate the purpose of the Voice Academy website
  • create motivation to interact with the website, beginning with self-assessment
  • recommend website to others

Audience: Teachers — all grade levels and disciplines
Presenter: School-based speech-language pathologist/other advocate
When: Workshop or early release days
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Presentation length: 50 minutes

Preparation Checklist:
1. Request time on school meeting/in-service calendar.

2. Reserve a meeting room large enough for all attendees to stand and comfortably move for brief voice-friendly exercises.

3. Review the prepared script (see below).

4. Arrange for computer projector to ensure that the Voice Academy website (http://www.uiowa.edu/voice-academy) is easily visible to your audience members.

5. Review your existing knowledge about voice production and learn more about the Voice Academy website by skimming through  Frequently Asked Questions. Another resource is Taking Care of your Voice, on the website of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Part 2. A Healthy Voice presentation

Presenters: Please feel free to use the following or substitute your own words.

Introduction and problem identification

The voice is the primary tool of trade for the teaching profession. But the voice also reveals much about us: aspects of health, age, emotion and mood.

What we know about the voice comes from many disciplines:

  • speech-language pathology;
  • medicine;
  • science (mention a science teacher in your school);
  • vocal music (name the choir director in your school);
  • acting and theatre. (A teacher in Denver recently defined a teacher as, "... an actor — without the benefit of voice training".)

Let's take a little time now to do just that!

Statistics
It is believed that 7.5 million people have diseases or disorders of the voice.

Teachers — are you ready for this — are a whopping 32 times more likely to report voice difficulties than people in other professions. This is according to a recent study. Isn't this unfortunate in a profession where communication between you and your students is absolutely key?

Another study showed that as many as one-half of all teachers experienced a voice disorder at some time in their professional lives (compared to 4-6 percent of the general population).

There are many reasons why teachers are at vocal risk. I suspect some of these will be no surprise to you.

TEACHERS
…use their voices more each day than most other professionals

…have little time to recover from their vigorous daily voice use

…are exposed to germs, viruses and upper respiratory infections

…increase their vocal volume to accommodate their students' need to hear

…are exposed to environmental factors like: chalk dust, dusty ventilation systems, low humidity, molds, and chemicals (from chemistry, art, and shop classes)

…work in rooms with poor acoustic conditions that are filled with competing sound reflections and background noise

…knowing that children have less language experience (as compared to adults) may increase their volume so that their students hear every word.

…may not have been trained in healthy methods of speaking (few people are). So, when teachers have a voice problem, they may be unsure how to seek help.

Is it surprising that many teachers' vocal systems cannot withstand this demand?

Help has arrived
However, scientists are making great strides in understanding the voice. With the correct knowledge at hand, we estimate that 75 % of teachers' voice problems can be prevented or self-rehabilitated.

A website, called the Voice Academy, builds the bridge between the latest scientific findings about voice and professional voice users who need this information on a daily basis, such as teachers.

Website tour and demonstration
My job, within the next 30 minutes or so, is to introduce you to and guide you through this website — much like a tour guide at a museum. And let's face it, a teacher without a well-functioning, easy-to-hear voice is like an artist without a paint brush!

1. We will begin by logging onto www.uiowa.edu/voice-academy to view the homepage. Take a moment to look at the choices.

2. You may wish to start with a quiz that gives you feedback about your current state of vocal health. In addition, it suggests a path around the virtual school, taking you first to information you likely need most.

3. If you return to the homepage, you may select the "FAQ" link. This is an easy way to get an idea of what the website is all about. Let's select a question or two with their answers.

Let's explore one of the rooms in the Voice Academy: the Gymnasium. Here you explore the concept that teachers are vocal athletes and taking good care of your body keeps your voice in tiptop shape. You will notice that several subtopics can be navigated, such as The Fluid Factor.

This brief tour thus far has shown us: 1) the homepage; 2) Frequently Asked Questions and their answers; and 3) a quick tour of the Gymnasium. Are you beginning to capture the flavor of what the Voice Academy is all about?

Are you interested in the other rooms of the Voice Academy?

Here is an overview:

The Nurse's Office contains information about voice disorders and helps teachers sort out when they should seek out one-on-one medical care and when to try to work through voice problems on their own.

The Media Center describes amplification systems. For many teachers, a portable or wireless system gives their voice just the vocal boost it needs to get them through the day. Advancing technology makes these systems portable, easy to use and increasingly economical.

In the Auditorium, we delve into the field of theatre voice. Here, you can learn how stage actors warm up and effectively project their voices all the way to the last row of the theatre. A teacher can use these same methods in the classroom.

You will learn about vocal fatigue in — where else — the Teachers' Lounge. Very recent research about the occupational voice demands of teaching is presented here.

The Acoustically Friendly and Unfriendly Classrooms give you quick messages about how the physical features of a classroom either ease or add to the teacher's vocal burden.

Building these imaginary walls around voice information will help you through the material in a series of sessions. We know teachers are busy people who may appreciate having information broken down into manageable pieces.

Now, are you ready for a change of pace? Let's stand and try an exercise presented in Voice Academy. This one is designed to eliminate stress in your upper body. Stress is an enemy of healthful voice production.

This is called a spine tingler: First, align your body: stand with your legs about hip distance apart, with your weight balanced equally. Intertwine your fingers of both hands. Place them on the back of your skull just above the neck. Without tensing your shoulders or holding your breath, equally pull forward with your arms and push backward with your head steadily for 10-20 seconds. Release, and take a deep breath. You can do this several times each day to release tension for easy, well-supported voicing.

While you are standing, how about trying an easy vocal warm-up that stage actors use before a performance? Simply take a deep breath through the nose to warm and moisten it. Do you feel your diaphragm drop and your lungs expand? If you are taking in a full breath, your chest and shoulders should not rise.

Now gently hum on an easy middle pitch as you breathe out. The hum should make an "mmmm" sound, as if you are thinking of a tasty food. Allow the hum to "float" on your expired air.

Take another breath, and gently glide your hum up in pitch. Breathe, hum at middle pitch, then glide your hum to your lowest pitch.

Actors use this simple exercise to warm up and cool down their voices after a heavy vocal workout. Teachers can do the same at the beginning and end of their school days.

Part 3. Conclusion and motivation

Although today you got just a brief tour of the Voice Academy, the website is rich in information. You will want to return for a second and perhaps third or fourth visit. This is where I leave off and you begin your journey to better vocal health. It is my hope that you will take full advantage of the site, bookmark it, and return to it as often as necessary.

And, as with all things worthwhile, we hope you will share this opportunity with your colleagues who are also interested in improving their vocal health.

But, while we have this unique opportunity today, do you have any questions that I may be able to answer? (Answers questions as time allows.)

In conclusion, I encourage you to be proactive in your pursuit of vocal health. In that vein, I encourage you to use the Voice Academy site. Thank you for your time and interest today.

Part 4. Evaluation

Presenters: We hope that you will take a few minutes after the presentation to let us know how the session went for you. Did the in-service tools adequately prepare you for the presentation? Was the material immediately engaging to the audience? What do you perceive to be the level of motivation of the teachers to visit the website on their own?

Please Email answers to these questions or any other additional comments and suggestions to julie-ostrem@uiowa.edu. Let us know how we can better serve the hardworking voices of teachers.