Talking the Talk
We all know that public speaking is a vital skill to develop in students, right? Yet Chatham High School’s public speaking elective course could hardly generate any student interest in most years. Only one solitary student signed up for the course in the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 school years, for example. Other years weren’t much better.
Enter Christina McCabe, a veteran CHS English teacher who decided to propose a re-engineered course in public speaking, one based on the TED Talk model of honing a message and crafting an idea worth spreading. With the support of high school principal Darren Groh and ELA supervisor Heather Rocco, McCabe called the course “Talking the Talk” and registered as a TEDed advisor. She utilized curricular resources available through TED and she designed the course so that the culminating activity was for each student to create and deliver their own TED Talk. 53 students signed up for the course, and those students represented a full range of academic profiles.
Then things got interesting. Superintendent Mike LaSusa introduced McCabe to a couple of Chatham residents who had personal connections to the TED professional organization and network, and who had been involved in planning and organizing TED conferences. LaSusa applied for a grant from the Chatham Education Foundation to send McCabe and the district’s assistant superintendent, Karen Chase, to the TEDWomen conference held in Palm Springs in November 2018. The Foundation approved the grant and McCabe and Chase returned from the conference with the insight and inspiration needed to take Chatham’s program to the next level.
The pair teamed up with the two community members, representatives from the Education Foundation, and other district staff to organize a TEDxYouth event at Chatham. The event would feature some of the stand-out talks from the student course and also incorporate talks from a staff member and adults in the community. The planning committee for the event decided to build off of the theme “The Power of Connection,” and curated talks that would fit under that umbrella.
The course was a smashing success, with students reporting growth in not only their public speaking skills, but their confidence, self-efficacy, and self-awareness. A number of students even shared their testimonials at a public Board of Education meeting. That success paved the way for a full-on TEDxYouth@Chatham event, staged on a Friday night in June at the Chatham Performing Arts Center. The event sold out, and benefited from professional production courtesy of a New York City marketing agency. The eight talks delivered that evening were recorded and uploaded to both the TEDx website and the school district website.
The feedback from the event was as powerful as the feedback from the course, and the district has committed to running the event on an annual basis, as a capstone to the elective course, which, by the way, has an enrollment of 42 students for the current year! In addition, the district has parlayed the experience into a professional development model so that staff can create and share their own talks. Chatham is talking the talk!