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A group of smiling adults stand on the steps in front of the historic Ford's Theatre.
Photo courtesy Ford’s Theatre Education Staff.

National Oratory Fellows

Ford’s National Oratory Fellowship is a transformative journey that enables teachers to support the growth of critical thinkers who can navigate through the world within and beyond the classroom. This arts-integrated program encompasses theatre techniques, fosters civic discourse, discussions, debates, and promotes open classroom communication. The program is anchored in a yearlong partnership with a Ford’s Theatre teaching artist who will model, coach and provide support throughout the learning process. The outcomes are expansive, equipping both teachers and students with the tools to be effective advocates for themselves and others, shaping the next generation of engaged and active citizens.

National Oratory Fellows are a network of teachers who cultivate student voices in Grades 5-8 by making public speaking a part of the everyday classroom experience. Drawing on Abraham Lincoln’s legacy and example as a powerful orator, educators will:

  • Work closely with teaching artists and staff to learn the art and science behind compelling and effective public speaking.
  • Strengthen their skills to teach text analysis, speech writing and performance in the classroom.
  • Develop their own powerful and unique voice.

Fellows travel to Washington, D.C., in August and May of each year to participate in workshops, plan and share work. Airfare and accommodation are provided. With ongoing participation in the multi-year program, there will also be an opportunity for student delegates to accompany fellows to learn and perform on the stage of Ford’s Theatre.

Video conferencing is used to connect fellows and Ford’s staff and to create an online meeting space for active and collaborative conversations. You will need internet access and a webcam to participate in this fellowship.

Applications for the 2024-2025 school year are now closed.

“The program has made me a better, more confident teacher…I believe it to be the finest professional development experience of my career.”

– Dave McIntire, The Independent School

National Oratory Program Gallery

Fellow Spotlight

National Oratory Fellow: Lauren Baxter

Lauren is a middle-school English Language Arts teacher in a rural school district in south central Pennsylvania.

Teacher Impact

For Lauren, access to Ford’s education resources and the national network of Fellows have strengthened her approach to curriculum development. “Working with Ford’s definitely changed the way I lesson plan. I can pull resources from other teachers, ask for ideas, share videos and lesson plans. Because I have that wealth of knowledge from other Fellows, I know I can find something that I know will work with students. I’ve never had anything like that before. I never feel like I have to fend for myself.” The program also gives Lauren a framework to think about her own public speaking as well as that of her students. “I’m more focused on podium points and the structure of arguments. Not only am I aware of those things in my own speaking, I also give much better feedback and take feedback more thoroughly than I would have before. I have a language and a framework for thinking about speech as performance.”

Student Impact

Oratory education has impacted the quality of Lauren’s students’ work and their ability to engage with each other in a respectful manner in the classroom. “The quality of their speeches is so much more advanced, as is the kids’ ability to interact with each other and give positive and constructive feedback.” She credits the common vocabulary gleaned from Ford’s Theatre tools for her students’ improvement. For Lauren, many of the benefits of oratory come from its student-centered approach. She values the opportunity for students to speak about topics that matter to them. “I see oratory as a way for students to develop their voice, find their passion and build the ability to speak about that passion.” As they develop their voice, they also become more engaged in the classroom: “They buy in because they can see you actually want to hear what they care about. They’re able to take more ownership of their learning.” The benefits her students gain from oratory are useful in all areas of life. “Confident students perform well in any area. My main goal is that students have a voice and can express themselves.”

Creating a National Professional Learning Community

The National Oratory Fellows program changed Lauren’s perception of herself as an educator and her role in the profession. She feels empowered by being part of a collaborative advancing an instructional approach applicable across content areas and grade levels. “It allows for you to contribute to the community and give back to what has been given to you. We continue to build a common language. You think you can’t make it any better and we always do.” Lauren especially values the group brainstorming and problem solving in the Fellows network: “It is so refreshing to walk into a room or get on a video call with teachers who get you. They have the same goals for their students and want them to develop oratory skills they will need in a 21st century world.”

National Oratory Fellow: Joe Moneymaker

Joe is a fifth-grade Social Studies and Science teacher in rural Kentucky.

Teacher Impact

Joe credits the National Oratory Fellowship with improving his speaking skills and helping him apply them in the classroom. As part of their professional development, Fellows write an original speech and perform it for their peers, then receive feedback and coaching from the group and from a Teaching Artist. Joe found that the experience impacted not only his public speaking ability, but also his day to day classroom instruction. “Before, when I spoke to the kids, I might have my face down in a book making it hard for the kids to hear me well. Now, because I have Podium Points in mind, I am always thinking about how to make sure my message comes across clearly.”

Student Impact

Since he started teaching oratory, Joe sees three main impacts on his students: better writing, higher engagement and more rigorous classroom debate. He has found that student writing flows naturally from the speaking, in terms of both content and organization. “Once students learn how to make a strong argument, it is easier for them to put it down on paper. It is a natural bridge.” In the past, his students struggled with organizing their writing, but he finds the process of developing and honing a speech helps them stay on topic.: “Oratory helps them stick to an argument and use specific facts to back up their ideas.” Learning how to make a better argument makes his students more willing and confident to engage in class: “I notice the students are becoming more willing to share how they feel about certain topics, more willing to ask questions.” He marvels that is often the quietest students who become passionate orators when armed with the right tools. Lastly, Joe finds that the quality of classroom debate is elevated. Students are committed to the norms and structures of civil discourse and focused on backing up their opinions with facts. Joe sees this as critical to preparing his students to be engaged, effective citizens: “Oratory helps my students to become better citizens by teaching them to support their opinions with facts. It also teaches them to value other people’s opinions and disagree respectfully with other points of view. They learn to say ‘I don’t agree with that because…’ It really is critical thinking, not a simple yes or no.”

Creating a National Professional Learning Community

For Joe, a critical moment of growth was when he volunteered to share student work during a monthly online group check-in. In these sessions the Fellows discuss a lesson, share student work and brainstorm how the lesson could be strengthened going forward. This kind of process requires teachers to be vulnerable, even within a supportive professional learning community. “I was really worried about what people might think about the student work and whether I teach the concept correctly.” After the session, he was glad he shared. “I got great, specific suggestions to improve my teaching. That’s what I like so much about the program — it is a collaborative process that allows us to bounce ideas off one another.”

National Oratory Fellow: Amber Obert

Amber Obert is a middle school social studies teacher in a small but rapidly growing town in Idaho.

Teacher Impact

For Amber, the most valuable aspect of the National Oratory Fellowship has been developing a shared language with her students about what effective speaking looks like. “I am able to give much more varied and individualized feedback on student speeches and presentations. Before, I would just say ‘You need to talk louder and slow down or speed up.’ Now, I have so much more to offer them and I am really thinking about the performance not just the words.” Although on the surface it might seem that oratory as all about speaking, Amber finds the approach equally valuable for creating a culture of listening and responding. She is much more comfortable running student discussions. Oratory strategies have helped her create discussion norms that “get students to talk to each other and actually listen and respond instead of just saying their piece.”

Student Impact

The biggest impact that Amber sees in her students from oratory education is increased confidence. She finds that students are better able to structure their arguments and “have a coherent thing to say when they speak. They can you get their points across and have people understand what they are trying to say without confusion in their thought process.” Amber has also found that developing these speaking skills greatly improves student writing. Performing speeches “gives students a reason to write on a topic that they care about and a better understanding of the structure of an argument.” Amber emphasizes that the benefits of oratory education go way beyond academic standards. “The core idea is always giving kids a voice.” Many of her former students still use their speaking skills as part of student government or other leadership roles, from church to community organizations. In high school, students are faced with many situations where they must speak in front of people and Amber has noticed that students who have had the opportunity to practice speaking skills in middle school are more successful and willing to take on those opportunities.

Creating a National Professional Learning Community

Amber values being a part of a national professional learning community. She sometimes feels isolated as a history teacher and has a limited network of people to talk with about her content area. The National Oratory Fellowship allows her to “explore different classroom strategies and think through best practices for facilitating difficult conversations that come up in history classrooms. Talking to other teachers who are passionate about the same topics and subjects as you are is super energizing. I feel really connected to this group and I love seeing what they are doing in their classrooms. I love knowing that all across the country we are fighting the same fight, working towards the same goals.”

Help Empower Teachers

Support our National Oratory Fellows with a donation today.

“[The program provides] extended, in-depth learning, hands-on resources and support for classroom change, and a national professional learning community.”

Catherine Nelson, Ph.D., Independent Scholar

Past Fellows