Statistically, public speaking remains one of people's top five fears, right there alongside fear of spiders, death, and heights. Teaching students to overcome this fear is a complicated process, but one that Proctor embraces across its academic departments.
Experts offer various rationale for why speaking in public strikes fear in so many individuals, however, a common theme emerges in research addressing this fear: preparation and practice. The English and Social Science departments both seek to teach the value of these two traits by incorporating public speaking into the curriculum from the beginning of ninth grade.
As sophomores, students take part in the annual Hay's Speaking Prize during the Winter Term. This public speaking contest was first established as a way to emphasize the importance of learning how to effectively speak to an audience. The emphasis remains on the process and not the final outcome. Listen to last year's winner here, or watch Sylvie's Hay's speech from last winter below.
During their junior year, students have the opportunity to run for the Student Leader position, standing before the entire community during morning assembly and speaking to the work they would seek to accomplish as the school leader during the following year. Each year, student leader speeches vary, but throughout the process students are forced to prepare, rehearse, and orally present their thoughts to their peers. Watch the following video of last year's student leader speeches.
Last spring, English teacher Peter Southworth launched the inaugural Senior Speaker Series. Five students chose to partake in this open offer to present a speech to the community during assembly. Chuck Will highlights Zada's phenomenal speech given last year. Below Yasmine offers thoughts about her experiences at Proctor to the community.
When Ian Hamlet sent an email last week connecting me to his former advisee's mother, Julie Hull (P'11), regarding Maggie's ('11) recent accomplishments at University of Colorado - Boulder, a testimony to Proctor's development of confident public speakers emerged. Maggie's journey to a public speaking course at Boulder began nearly five years ago as a quiet ninth grader from Seattle, WA who was anxious about what 'school' would look like after a frustrating school experience at her past school.
As a sophomore, Maggie participated in the Hay's Speaking prize and as a junior, her Student Leader Speech helped her earn the support of her peers as Student Leader during her senior year. Fittingly, she capped her senior year by volunteering to participate in the Senior Speaker Series. Julie was pleased to inform us that Maggie's speech in her public speaking course this fall was just chosen as one of four (in a class of 314 students) to be presented in front of the entire lecture. Her topic: banning bottled water at her high school.
Julie commented with amazement at the growth her daughter underwent as a student at Proctor. "Maggie did not have this in her when she started at Proctor, but Ian is right, it all started with the Hay's Speaking prize. She rushed through that delivery, but gained so much confidence from that experience."
Julie added, "Just over a year later, I was blown away by the confidence she exhibited and her apparent comfort in front of the student body during her student leader speech. I honestly never thought she had the growth potential she demonstrated. What happened to her at Proctor was more than we could have ever asked for."
The development Julie speaks of is representative of so many students who are guided by Proctor's faculty through significant challenges during their high school experience and in turn find success in a former area of weakness later in their educational journey.
As high school educators, we only see a portion of our students' educational development. Perhaps we believe students have been transformed while at Proctor, but the lasting impact a Proctor education has on its graduates is often not seen for years and we thank Alex Estin for all of her efforts in keeping alumni connected so we are able to see this growth from a distance.
Maggie's journey from the west coast to Proctor and now to Boulder is one of encouragement, not only for us, as teachers, but for current Proctor students as well. Placing students in a position to safely test their fears proves to be a valuable process and one that is central to Proctor's educational philosophy.
While three students have the opportunity to address the school community at each year's commencement ceremony, the practice of encouraging public speaking begins much earlier in each student's Proctor career.
Peter Southworth's efforts, both with sophomores in the Hay's Speaking Prize contest and with the recently launched Senior Speaker Series helps bring public speaking opportunities to the greater community.
Whether it is student leader speeches offered to the community each spring...
...or students stepping out of their comfort zone during the Hay's Speaking prize...
...some students truly shine when given the opportunity to speak in a formal setting.
More informal settings, like assembly announcements and student panels during admission open houses, offer ample opportunities to encourage proper public speaking techniques...