Sheffield Girls’ ‘stand-up to stand-out’

At Sheffield Girls’, our students set themselves apart, not just by their incredible academic and co-curricular achievements, but also by their diverse skill set and depth of character. In keeping with our mission to develop our students holistically, in September 2019, we introduced comedy classes as part of our enrichment programme in the Senior School.

Our ‘Stand-up to Stand-out’ comedy course encourages students to see humour in everyday situations and not to take themselves too seriously; this is so important for positive mental health. But comedy also helps them practice communication, confidence, bravery, how to process challenges, how to survive failure, how to get up there without a script – pretty much everything we try to teach girls.

In recognising that not all students are attracted to traditional styles of rhetoric and argument, the classes are enhancing girls’ articulacy and giving them the confidence to bring out their individual character.

Head, Mrs Nina Gunson, has designed and implemented the classes herself. In an interview given to The Times, she said: “We have many types of girls at the school. You’ve got to find different ways to develop skills, so they can find their own confidence, their own ways to push themselves forward. Lots of our girls do things like debating and public speaking but those things aren’t for everybody. They put off as many girls as they attract as they require a certain skill-set and personality type.”

Mrs Gunson explains, “as a Biology teacher myself, I’m interested in how laughter benefits us physiologically, and we talk about this as part of the course, as well as understanding what happens to our bodies in a panic situation and how we can deal with it.’

She continues, “the top skills learned from studying stand-up comedy include public speaking in its purest sense, negotiating and thinking on your feet, dealing with difficult conversations. Being able to have confidence in what you’re saying, being able to present your point clearly, being yourself and not taking things personally are also such vital valuable skills for your own mental wellbeing and your own resilience.”

During the course, girls are also producing some of their own materials, scripted and improvised. We have already seen a huge change in some girls, to whom public speaking was a daunting challenge but who now have the tools to bring about laughter with just a few words.

Whether in a demanding interview or a challenging board meeting, women need the steel and self-belief to face down hecklers and respond to silence. The spontaneity and mental fortitude required for comedy is the perfect preparation for our girls as they go onto the next stages of their lives.