Though it has been some years since I have coached any athletic teams, what I am feeling this morning is not unlike what I always felt in anticipation of the big game, race, or match back then. Gotta say that I am pretty darn anxious, excited to begin the kids’ presentations of their speeches today–finally. As many know, we have been working with these speeches for months, and while it was never my original intention to drag them out for so long, I am thankful that I did.
You see, it was my original intention for these speeches to be the kids’ best work this year, the capstone if you will. And that hasn’t changed–I still expect and want this to be their crowning moment. But what did change was my approach, and that, I believe, is why it has taken so long. I didn’t want the kids to do this to get something done; I wanted them to do this to make something great. I didn’t want this to be just another transaction for a grade. I wanted it to be something to which they had a deep personal connection, transcending compliance and discovering commitment. So I took a risk and concocted a formula for success, a recipe with two simple, key ingredients: deep connection and an authentic audience.
At the outset of our work, I told the kids they had to select an injustice topic, either global or personal, that created a fire in their belly. As we are becoming ever more aware of the importance of emotion in learning, if people do not feel a deep emotional connection to something, then they cannot think, they cannot learn deeply. For some, this connection was discovered and developed immediately, but for others it took many trial runs to discover “the one.” In fact, as late as last Friday, some kids changed topics again, intimating “the burn” had subsided, the emotional connection had waned. I, of course, granted permission, especially if they felt it would compel them to complete their best work. It’s not my fire. It’s not my belly. It’s not my choice.
Beyond connection, I created accountability through an authentic audience–a speech. This was not to be something for me to read and grade only. Never was. I wanted to make it real. Fear is real. Fear of public speaking is very real. And while I do not fancy scaring my kids, I do fancy challenging them. So, I added the public-speaking element. And the kids are afraid. But I don’t think they are afraid just because it’s public speaking. I think they are afraid because it matters–to them. Of course it does; they have an emotional connection to this, and now all, in their moments, will get to share that which matters deeply to them with the broader world. And I cannot wait.
Even now, as I write this, I am a little shaky. And while it may just be the coffee, I think it’s bigger than that. I think it’s simply that I get the honor, the privilege to see my stars shine in their moments. Wish I could record it all for the world to see, but that may be too big an audience for my rising stars.