I love teaching middle school students because they're the most underestimated people in the entire world. Most people just think they're awkward and that they smell. And, while those things may be true some of the time, they're way more than that. That's precisely why I've made it my mission to amplify their voices.
Right now my seventh graders are studying the oral tradition. I got what I felt was a brilliant last minute idea to create a presentation on their family's folklore (what gets passed down through generations). They were not amused.
In fact, they freaked out on me. The minute I said the word presentation, they lost it. I was asking for seven slides with one photo per slide, and they lost it. I need to figure out how to break that fear that's somehow become engrained in them.
Today they came with their slide decks ready to practice their presentations. I told them that I wanted three and only three things from them:
I decided to start small and asked them to think about one thing that was true about themselves. We went around the room and practiced saying these phrases with confidence, eye-contact, and enthusiasm.
I like soccer.
I am a triplet.
I am the youngest of five siblings.
I've played baseball for four years.
I loved hearing the voices go around the room as students shared about themselves. Yet, some students struggled with this. Some students ended their sentence with a giggle. Some students looked down at their desks while they spoke. Some students delivered their sentences as more of a question than a statement.
It reminded me of this gem from Taylor Mali:
Like Taylor Mali, I want my students to speak with authority. The world needs the things they have to say. Today I realized how much I need to tell them I believe in them and encourage them to believe in themselves and the messages they have to say.
We started practicing this speaking with authority by looking across the table and repeating phrases I offered up to them and focusing on confidence, eye-contact, and expression. We said things like...
I saw a unicorn last night.
It had a rainbow-colored horn.
My imaginary friend's name is ____
I often tell my students I want them to leave my class knowing how to lie confidently. Today was practice in that. We started with the ridiculous and gradually moved to the topic of their presentations:
My name is ____ and I'm going to tell you about the ____ family folklore.
From there we went outside, and I had them stand eighteen inches apart from the partner I assigned to them. I prompted them to talk through the presentations without the presentations themselves. Hands out of pockets. Looking at their partners. Arms uncrossed. Standing up confidently.
It was only then that I allowed them to grab their computers and begin practicing their presentations for real.
After they finished we came back in to debrief. We talked through last year's student council presentations and discussed what it was that made us remember certain students' speeches. Confidence. Eye contact. Expression.
This year our school theme is "Speak Life." We want to be people who speak life into those around us. Speaking with authority is a huge part of this. We talked about how complementing someone and ending with a giggle or phrasing it as a question makes it unbelievable, but intentional, authoritative complements have the power to change what a person believes about him or herself. It's my hope and prayer that students will feel this life spoken into them by me and that they'll speak life with authority to those around them.