Students Find Their Voices through Motivational Speeches
How was school today? —Good. How did your test go? —Fine.
The above exchange is a common refrain between teenagers and their parents or guardians. Garnering a one-word response from teens is so prevalent that a quick internet search yields 9.4 million results, with hundreds of articles using SEO-strategic titles like “Getting Past One-Word Answers with Your Teens.” While such columns suggest that this age group is reluctant to talk about sensitive issues, ninth grade students in Emma Gibson’s public speaking classes are showing that they do, in fact, have quite a bit to share.
Calming rhythms of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson fill the classroom as students respond to reflection questions like “Who are you not”?. Rather than ask students to pinpoint something interesting about themselves and write about it, Ms. Gibson has found that they often find it easier to identify traits that don’t apply to them. “It can really take the pressure off and help them open up.”
Coaching students on their path to personal discovery is an essential part of The Shipley School’s multi-pronged approach to building individual and collective well-being, but ensuring that students fully engage with the process can pose challenges. Encouraging ninth graders to jot down thoughts in a private journal is one hurdle; convincing them to share personal stories in front of their peers presents a new layer of trepidation for many. For their recent motivational speech writing assignment, Ms. Gibson asked her students two simple questions—What do you care about? How does telling that story become a gift to your audience?
“They really dug in, and the end results are quite extraordinary. I’m so proud of them all,” Ms. Gibson remarked. Their speeches recounted personal stories of overcoming obstacles with perseverance. Those who are new to Shipley bravely shared stories of past struggles, and in so doing, found common ground with their new classmates. Another powerful takeaway was the degree of compassion these young teenagers extended toward one another as they took the floor and exposed their vulnerabilities. After living in a world of social distancing, mask-wearing, and at times, complete isolation from their peers, this exercise provided an opportunity for them to connect with classmates on a level that they haven’t experienced much in the past year. Since they are sharing these moments with individuals outside of their normal social circles, they are also broadening their own perspectives.
Students who take Public Speaking will leave the course with a proverbial toolkit, equipped to handle a multitude of scenarios: persuasive, elevator, and inspirational speeches, as well as sales pitches and interviews. When they begin the process of preparing college applications in a few years from now, they’ll be able to rifle through that toolkit when asked: “Tell us about yourself…” Without a doubt, they will have a compelling personal story to share.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.