Are You Underestimating Your Debater?

Updated: Jun 20

Students have the capacity to surprise us if we're open-minded! Some students have hidden talents...

One of the things I've learned as a debate coach over the years is to not underestimate what children are capable of. This sounds really simple, but takes a lot of effort to put into practice.

Time and time again in our debating programs, we've seen ourselves proven wrong when we make assumptions about students.

I remember one year 5 student I taught who was so quiet. In class, she hardly said a word. In games and exercises, it was hard to hear her. Of course, I was encouraging when I spoke to her, but I felt deep down that when it came to her debate, the adjudicator may not hear her and that perhaps she'd be terrified. The night of the debate came and this child stood up confidently and delivered her speech without using any palm cards. She spoke loudly and strongly and with so much passion and expression. She was amazing and she received a Standout Debater award from the adjudicator too. I'd had no idea she had that in her! I learnt a valuable lesson from that student and after that I was much more careful not to leap to conclusions without exploring what students are really capable and giving them all kinds of different opportunities to shine. I've seen students who had me tearing my hair out with their lack of preparation and disorganisation deliver elegant and beautifully cohesive talks on the night. I've seen students with literacy difficulties flourish. I've seen students who are usually thought of as problems absolutely charm the pants off an audience with a masterful performance. Debate coach Lesli Grant also tells about one student she underestimated. "My memory is of a quiet, sports-passionate young man. He seemed uninterested in the whole debate idea and I initially thought he'd struggle with his debate. However, I took the time to talk to him about his interests and the way that sports connected to this topic, and once engaged thinking about something he loved, he wrote his debate in record time. If you can help every student find something they're excited about with a topic, they will amaze you with how well they can engage." At Rise & Shine, we have hundreds of similar stories - and whether your a parent or a teacher, take a look at your young debater/s and try to dig a little deeper to find their hidden talents and untapped potential. You might be surprised by what you find!