Upper School Notes from Evan Robb ’80 – Public Speaking – A Life Skill

Published On: January 5th, 2023 | Categories: Food for Thought |


Public Speaking – A Life Skill

by Evan Robb ’80

Rejoining the Powhatan community this school year has provided ample opportunity for personal reflection and introspection. When I began the interview process, I spent considerable time researching and exploring its recent history, especially the past few years. It did not take long to get a sense of the current culture of the school. I saw familiar traditions and experiences that brought back a flood of memories from my formative years.

As an educator, I was pleased to see the rich history of excellence in language arts continuing to thrive across all grade levels, but I was equally impressed to see the emphasis on real-world experiences and fostering a culture of lifelong learning. Within that context, I stumbled across a video on the school’s YouTube page, from the height of the pandemic, that spoke volumes to me about what Powhatan values and the innovative spirit of our faculty.

The pandemic forced schools to reevaluate every aspect of the learning experience. While there’s no doubt that researchers will be exploring the effects of the pandemic on all aspects of learning for the next couple of decades, one aspect of immediacy was that it required schools to prioritize content and skills within the curriculum. That review process itself became a lens into defining what a school really values – and I could immediately see that Powhatan School values communication skills, especially public speaking.

I was enamored with the pedagogy and process involved in bringing Chapel Talks to life during the pandemic. During follow-up discussions, it quickly became clear that our faculty appreciate that public speaking is a real-world skill that prepares our students for life. It was interesting to learn how our team leaned into technology to overcome the hurdles presented by guidelines and protocols of the pandemic. While I was intrigued by the innovation and problem-solving shown by students and faculty alike, I was most impressed with the concept that faculty articulated that Chapel Talks were non-negotiable – that public speaking is a core component of the ethos here at Powhatan – and that they were committed to continuing this tradition even in the most challenging of times.

Every school says it values public speaking and communication, but few actually implicitly teach it. Chapel Talks are the culmination of years of a student-centered approach to cultivate core communication skills. These 7-10 minute presentations given in front of the entire school are looked at as a capstone experience for each eighth grader. The act of public speaking is not one that comes naturally to students. Thus, we teach children to communicate clearly across multiple media formats, with a vast range of styles and competencies. The Chapel Talk itself is a final public exhibition of mastery, and a way to provide an opportunity for students to develop their distinct voice in an overwhelmingly busy world.

As I reflect on my own personal journey in education, I recognize how important communication skills are to success in life. More importantly, I recognize the critical need for educators to provide opportunities for students to learn and develop these life-long skills. I am grateful to work in a school that sees the value of teaching real-world skills – as we learn not for school, but for LIFE.

The Class of 2023 will begin their Chapel Talks at the end of this week. I want to extend my sincere admiration to Mrs. Ann Robb, our eighth grade language arts teacher and coordinator of our Chapel Talks, for her unwavering efforts to teach and mold our young people. I am truly excited to see each and every eighth grader stand tall and deliver.