Some love them and some hate them. They can be an ordeal or they can be the highlight of the day but they are the lifeblood of the school and a ‘must-have’.
Assemblies are essential because they bring the whole school community together. They are an opportunity to be reflective and have fun….sometimes that is.
Assemblies come in all shapes and sizes but those without a theme, concept or message are pedestrian, mindless and monotonous. You might get together to make a few announcements and give out some ‘tellings-off’ but if there is nothing else in your assembly basket then pupils are being robbed of opportunities to explore ideas, think and reflect.
There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ assembly but there are some great ones.
As a bare minimum they have to pack a punch and make an impression. Pupils and staff don’t need to leave the hall buzzing but they do need to leave having learned something that will stay with them.
Assemblies are all about rapport so they need to woo, wow, set minds in motion and be memorable. If they aren’t relevant and interactive then assemblies soon become ‘boring’.
Your assemblies don’t have to be show-stoppers or rousing speeches like Martin Luther King but they do need to dream-big, aim high and be well-executed.
An assembly is like any lesson – it needs to be well-planned and ‘winging-it’ is only for the brave and foolhardy. Assemblies are essentially a ‘performance’ and a school audience is a ‘tough gig’ with one or two hecklers ready to pounce so covering all bases is part of considered planning.
You might not feel comfortable with the idea of an assembly being ‘entertaining’ and clearly some topics and issues are too sensitive for that but they do have to capture attention and hold it so engagement is key; they are the ultimate ‘stand-up’ experience for any teacher and a curious mix of keynote, lesson, sermon, speech, meditation, speaker’s corner and show.
Assemblies are hugely rewarding and a real privilege to lead but you do need to tread carefully or the assembly experience and you will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
7 top tips and pointers
Make it age appropriate
Target your presentation and message to the target audience and tailor your language accordingly. Be especially careful with the use of humour. Chances are you’ll be speaking to the whole-school so aim to include a healthy range of materials and ideas that speak to everyone.
Make it visual
All eyes will be on you but you are not enough. Choose a visual focus that will grab children’s attention like a Venus fly-trap. Select props and objects that will help tell your story or illustrate a point. Whether this is a picture, video, an unusual artefact or a real-life barn owl, consider what value it really adds and what impact it makes. Aim for a range of stimuli for ‘stickability’.
Make it sing
An assembly without music is like a bird without wings. Music can help lift and shift a mood, shape thinking and add let spirits soar. Playing music as children enter and leave an assembly expands their experience and when used within the assembly, music can stir feelings and emotions and embrace everyone.
Make it reflective
A critical point in an assembly is when children are invited to ponder and puzzle over your message. This shouldn’t be reserved for the end either – try to punctuate and build in reflective moments as you go along for extra effect but avoid rhetorical question overload.
Make it interactive
Children spend a lot of time sitting and you can’t have everyone jumping around but an assembly needs to be two-way with plenty of participation. Use games when appropriate and involve children as the audience as well as inviting some children ‘on stage’ so they can be part and parcel of the message. An assembly has to be action-packed.
Make it heard
Teachers never normally have a problem making themselves heard but the acoustics in a hall can be problematic and you don’t want to strain your vocal chords. Rather than raise your voice keep it at a conversational level by using an amplification system that distributes the sound evenly throughout the room. Messages are useless if they can’t be heard.
Make it short
Assemblies need to be pithy not lengthy affairs that eat into lesson time; a maximum of 20 minutes but shorter if possible. Make the time count. Anything too long will lead to fidgeting, a loss of concentration and the message will be lost. Less is more.
It’s good when children look forward to your assemblies because you know that you are doing something right but be careful with that ‘ego’.
Having children on the edge of their seats and hanging on your every word is precious but this isn’t the ‘you show’ - the real business is the message and what you have to say.
Assemblies have personalities of their own and they are shaped by the person leading it so your presence, body language, tone and mojo are everything but the star of the show is the content.
About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is eTeach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.