Every now and then a speech comes along that reminds me why public speaking is still essential and why I said back in 2003 that the only reason to give a speech is to change the world.
Today, Mike Johnston is a state senator from Colorado, but his passion is education, and it was ignited as a Teach for America teacher in the Mississippi delta in 1997. From that came a searing book, In the Deep Heart’s Core, about the terrible challenges facing teachers and learning in that state. Johnston moved on to become the principal of a school for challenged kids in Colorado.
The graduation rate was 50% when Johnston took over as principal. He managed to hit 100% — with all admitted to college – in the first year. The speech reveals how he did it.
But the speech does a great deal more than that. It is beautifully constructed around 2 stories – the first one illustrating what is possible, and the second what is next, as Johnston says. His real themes are truth and hope. He says children need both from the adults around them – and then kids can do anything. Johnston delivers the speech with passion and real feeling, even choking up at one point as he talks about his kids.
I had tears in my eyes by the end of the speech, and you will too. Johnston’s dedication to education and the real progress he has been able to make deserve to be celebrated. Watch the speech and reaffirm your faith in teaching and teachers – and most of all students.
Does Johnston make mistakes as a speaker? A few. We all do. In his case, he is trapped by the podium into too monotonously moving left-right-left-right to reach his audience. He overuses the jabbing forefinger, not a great gesture. He needs to broaden his repertoire of hand motions. And he has a bad habit of dropping his voice in volume at the end of each phrase. That device is great to build drama occasionally, but he overuses it. And the real trick is not to drop the energy when you lower your voice, but to keep the energy strong. That creates much more drama.
Caveats aside, this speech will have you standing up and cheering for education by the end. It’s 21 minutes that are worth spending on the future of our children. Watch it, and tell everyone you know about it. And thanks, Mike, for your service to education.
(Thanks also to Nate Snow of TFA-CT for sending the video to me.)