Giving Great Assemblies: 15 Top Tips
Assemblies are part of the fabric of school life and are a valuable and valued experience for all members of a school community whatever their backgrounds and beliefs.
When it comes to doing an assembly some teachers step up to the plate and really deliver the goods. They seem to have the knack and have everyone in the palm of their hand hanging on their every word. Witty, entertaining, informative and with insane levels of confidence, these teachers are annoying because they make assemblies look smooth and effortless.
But lots of teachers hate assemblies – not watching them but doing them. When the rota is drawn up and you know it’s your turn soon then it can keep you awake at night, especially if it’s a whole school job with every member of staff present.
I spent the first five years of my teaching career trying to get out of doing assemblies because these felt like doing 20 minutes stand-up at the Hammersmith Apollo. Children are a tough crowd and the so are the adults with their arms folded sat along the perimeter of the hall policing them.
But the more you do the better you get. When I eventually learned how to run towards my fears and got a few assemblies under my belt I couldn’t get enough of them. I then spent the next ten years volunteering to ‘do an assembly’.
Time for assembly
Assemblies are an important part of school life and taking one is a genuine privilege. These are precious moments to gather and engage in an act of community as a school to think about and discuss a range of topics and issues. It’s a time to educate, reflect and grow as a school rather than just make a few announcements.
Assemblies are a golden reflection time for promoting spiritual, moral and cultural development and reinforcing the school’s values and shared identity. They also connect the school to their wider community, contribute to personal development and enhance awareness of global citizenship.
Leading an assembly is the time when all eyes are on you and you have a captive audience so the responsibility is in your face and pretty awesome.
Although it is possible to organise an assembly last minute perhaps to cover for absent colleague, assemblies need very careful planning and aren’t something to do off the cuff. If you expect to wing an assembly then this is playing with fire as you can soon fall flat on your face.
Assemblies That Shine: 15 Top Tips
What you decide to ‘cover’ in an assembly will depend on a whole host of factors. You may decide to react to a news event or devote the time to a special day in the calendar or school event. It could be a one-off or a mini-series linked to a theme. You may also consider
- responding to a challenge and sharing each other’s joys
- sharing and celebrating each other’s experiences and talents
- fostering respect and deepening awareness of the school’s ethos
- thinking about citizenship, human rights and British values
- expressing praise and thanksgiving to each other
- reflecting on the meaning of life
- pondering big ‘ultimate’ questions
- developing a sense of transcendence
- looking at universal values such as courage, compassion, justice and peace
- exploring universal experiences such as awe, mystery, transience, suffering, grief, forgiveness, love and joy
- learning about the insights, beliefs, and practices of fellow pupils, staff and members of the wider community
- being still and reflective
Content has to be relevant, age-appropriate, interesting and exciting so that children are still talking about it by the end of the day. Be innovative and experiment and aim to develop their thinking, empathy, positivity and creativity through one clear focus and one clear message.
This is the biggest mixed-ability class you will teach all day so don’t be hard on yourself if things don’t work entirely to plan.
How children enter the hall sets the tone for the whole assembly so make sure everyone comes in without talking. You might decide to play a piece of music as they come in but select something suitable. The Macarena isn’t a good choice for getting off to a settled start. Set the scene carefully and perhaps use a photo or message on the projector to get everyone thinking.
Assemblies are a collective experience and this means they are a social one. An assembly shouldn’t be about one person speaking whilst everyone else sits fidgeting and playing with the hair of the person in front of them. There has to be a sensible and practical level of participation that involves and engages. Children need to be personally involved but remember to choose ‘volunteers’ wisely. Remember to listen actively, value their opinions and honour their individuality.
A variety of styles, active and interactive methods need to be used in assemblies so that they never become predictable, humdrum and dreary. Use novel seating arrangements so that it alters children’s expectations and perspective.
Always a tricky one, but what you take into an assembly can make or break it. Artefacts, resources and props are useful if they help to illustrate a point or build understanding; if they don’t then leave them out. If you want to dress-up then make sure that your fashion choice doesn’t steal the show.
Singing assemblies are a rare thing these days which is a huge shame as they used to be woven into the life of the school.
A survey by UK record labels association the British Phonographic Industry reveals that many primary teachers don’t sing with their classes. This is where assemblies can step in.
Singing is invaluable for building personal and musical skills and confidence and can add colour, vibrancy and diversity to an assembly. You don’t have to be an expert either as some musical resources are available as DVDs that play the music with words on screen for children to follow karaoke style.
Speaking in a hall is far different from speaking in class so think carefully about how to project your voice, think about pace, intonation and non-verbal communication.
Doing an assembly is a performance art and relies on ‘working the crowd’. This doesn’t necessarily mean putting on a show but it does mean pouring loads of energy into what you are doing to engage and capture everyone. Be theatrical and off the wall if you like but don’t go over the top or the message will be lost. You need to act but also speak from the heart, be genuine and also act.
Crucially what matters is ‘tuning in’ to children’s reactions and responses so you adapt the content accordingly.
Some teachers treat an assembly like some sort of CPD event and drown children in slides from a PowerPoint presentation. The odd slide here and there containing an image, quote or video clip is fine but remember this is not a staff meeting.
Some assemblies are mammoth and can go on for too long. These turn an engaged and respectful audience into a restless and bored one. To make an impact, assemblies need good time management and kept short. You can say what you need to say in less than 20 minutes.
Assemblies are the ideal opportunity to make rich connections across the curriculum and to join thinking and experiences together so that children appreciate links between ideas, events and experiences. Every assembly is a cross-curricular opportunity to broaden horizons.
10. Make it challenging
Assemblies have to prod and poke thinking so that children are intellectually pushed and pulled. Get them thinking outside the box, wow them and aim to deliver a new experience for them to draw on.
The most significant aspect of assembly time is the concept of wholeness so that everyone in the school feels valued, cared for and respected. The school acts as a supportive family and an assembly is the time to strengthen those bonds and contribute to developing children’s emotional wellbeing and happiness and boosting the overall health of the school community.
Some assemblies will require an air of solemnity but even within the more serious topics there’s one thing we need to do: smile. Smiling is important because it establishes warmth and trust. Sometimes teachers forget the power of a smile as a way of establishing rapport. It’s also reciprocal and readily mirrored – there’s nothing better than seeing a few hundred people smiling back at you.
Announcements can be a bit like AOB, a bit superfluous and they eat into your time. If you have something to share that is of whole-school relevance and importance then is your assembly the time to do it. If you do have something to share then keep it brief and save until the end so messages don’t end up hijacking your time.
Any low-level disruption that goes unchecked will just mutate and get bigger so don’t allow any silly behaviour, chat or heckles get the better of you. If staff are sat in on your assembly this removes the problem but if you are on your own then be tough on anyone who upsets your plans. You are in control, not the children so have confidence and say what you mean and mean what you say.
15. Get feedback
If your colleagues were present in your assembly then ask them for their honest feedback about what they thought went well and what you perhaps do differently. Children will readily tell you what they thought and listen to the school grapevine as well.
One more thing…..
Assemblies should be fun and enjoyable. They can’t all be upbeat, magical and life-changing but they can all be something children look forward as exciting events that are never the same.