If I asked you to pick one person you thought has made a positive impact on the world or even in your life, who would it be and why?

Perhaps it would be your parent, grandparent, sibling, uncle or aunt, cousin, friend, or teacher. Maybe it would be an athlete, actor, musician, or politician. Maybe it would be someone who doesn’t normally receive the recognition he or she deserves. We admire people for different reasons: their talents and skills, challenges they face or overcome, their way with words or their perseverance. These people make us feel alive and give us hope.

I feel so much hope and optimism for the future every time I see our students perform in the Grade 5 Wax Museum. During the How We Organise Ourselves unit, our students are asked to pick a leader they think has made a positive impact on society. After they research their chosen leader, they write a short speech, edit it, rehearse and then perform the speech pretending to be that person. When it’s time to present, students from other Grade 5 classes, parents and a younger grade level are invited to watch them perform. Students must begin their speech in a frozen position. Thanks to last year’s ‘Mannequin Challenge’ phenomenon, students were quite keen to stand still. (As an aside, I don’t think I have seen students this excited to stand still since the 1980’s when “freeze dance” used to be a popular game in the classroom.)

When the teacher raises his/her hand, the audience is instructed to say “beep!” as if they have just activated a button for the student to speak as their leader. Year after year, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, Malala Yousafzai, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Terry Fox continue to be the most popular leaders impersonated. Some students choose lesser known leaders or family members whom they admire. Some of their costumes are elaborate, while others choose to wear a colour that represents their leader’s personality. Throughout this unit I invite students to be passionate, to take risks and to practise their communication skills. They are encouraged to pay attention to their tone of voice and body language when they speak in front of an audience.

Students are made aware that this unit allows them the opportunity to develop their confidence and public speaking skills. Are many students nervous? Yes. Do some of their hands shake or faces turn red when they speak? Yes. However, if they are not given the opportunity to develop their public speaking skills, some may always feel discouraged or think they can never be good at speaking in front of others.

Given the number of moving speeches I heard during the Wax Museum unit, I’m pretty optimistic that one day, future generations may impersonate some of our current students, who will have developed into inspirational leaders.

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