Speak Truth

How can we hope for a better future if our children aren’t learning how to talk to each other?

Young people need to learn how to engage across differences with curiosity and respect. School can, and should, be the place where this happens. 

Through student-led conversations, Speak Truth participants learn to productively and respectfully discuss current, controversial topics. These thought-provoking conversations teach students to defend their stances on a myriad of issues and help them develop and recognize the power of their voices. As a national model for civic discourse and dialogue among young people, Speak Truth seminars have the power to shape a generation of socially conscious future leaders and citizens who will be responsible for building a better future for us all.

During the 2023-2024 school year, Inspired Teaching held multiple Speak Truth seminars each month — online for students everywhere and in libraries and classrooms across Washington, DC for local high school students. Hundreds of students tackled current, complex, and controversial topics, such as lowering the voting age, school safety, criminal justice reform, and student well-being, with curiosity and respect for one another.

Read the issues of Hooray For Monday below for more insight into recent Speak Truth sessions and how, as a model of the Inspired Teaching Approach in action, the program addresses each of the 5 Core Elements.

Speaking of Mutual Respect

Speaking of Students as Experts

Speaking of Purpose, Persistence, and Action

Speaking of Joy

Speaking of Wide-Ranging Evidence of Learning

Speak Truth: The Morality of Wealth

Speak Truth students analyze wealth inequalities in the modern age, as seen through the lens of A Christmas Carol.

Speak Truth: Gentrification

How has gentrification impacted you? Many students at this Speak Truth session spoke of the impacts on the communities they call home.

Speak Truth: Cancel Culture

Students debated the efficacy of cancel culture in this recent Speak Truth discussion, noting its particular implications for their generation.

Speak Truth: Want Student Engagement? Be Current.

On Thursday, November 5, students from throughout the greater Washington, DC area gathered to discuss the topic, “COVID and Voter Suppression.”

Speak Truth: The Dehumanization of Black Women

“I think it’s so important that we don’t bubble wrap things for teenagers. We deserve the provocative.” – Adena, Elizabeth Seton High School, 12th Grade

Speak Truth: Destigmatizing Mental Health 

What do young people think about the state of mental health in the United States? In our latest Speak Truth seminar we found out.

Speak Truth offers a first-hand look at learning centered on student voice and expertise. Adults are invited to observe and learn. These posts offer additional insight into what you can expect at a Speak Truth session.

Teachers: Bring Speak Truth to Your School

Young people care about issues affecting them and the world around them. Their concerns don’t always line up with the curriculum, and teachers don’t always have the time, tools, or resources to explore their students’ interests. Yet we know elevating youth voices is critically important not only for students’ well-being but for their development as problem-solvers and future leaders. The Speak Truth model presented in this Guide offers a way to bring meaningful student-led conversations into the classroom. Whether you host a Speak Truth session once a quarter, once a week, or every day, you will be creating a valuable space for learning where young voices and curiosity can grow. Click the image to view and download!

the speaktruth guidebook cover, which is the words "Speak Truth" spelled with letters that double as image collages

Standards Addressed

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

Dimension 1: Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries Dimension 2: Applying Disciplinary Tools and Concepts Dimension 3: Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence Dimension 4: Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action
Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries Civics Gathering and Evaluating Sources Communicating and Critiquing Conclusions
Geography Developing Claims and Using Evidence Taking Informed Action

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Competencies

Self-Awareness: The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.

Self-management: The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.

Social awareness: The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Responsible decision-making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.

Relationship skills: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.

OSSE 2024-2025 Updated SEL Standards

Competency 3: Social and Cultural Awareness

SCA.9-11.1 Recognizes the effects of words and actions on others’ emotions, including how
one’s own words and actions affect others’ words and actions
SCA.9-11.3 Demonstrates more than one positive way to express understanding of differing
SCA.9-11.4 Articulates verbally or in writing an experience that demonstrates the
importance of valuing and learning from the perspective of others
SCA.9-11.8 Engages in different settings with appropriate norms that show sensitivity to and
appreciation of the culture, values and identities of others
SCA.9-11.9 Reflects on one’s own beliefs relative to different familial and societal norms

Competency 4: Relationship Skills
RS.9-11.1 Models appropriate communication skills (e.g., empathic listening, compassion,
reflective language) that honor cultural competency, relationships and safety
RS.9-11.9 Demonstrates listening and speaking skills to help prevent and resolve conflicts

Competency 5: Decision-Making and Agency
DMA.9-11.1 Demonstrates curiosity and openmindedness

Past Seminars

June 21, 2023: The First Step: Film Screening & Discussion

Students gathered at MLK Library in Washington, DC, to watch “The First Step,” a film exploring the behind-the-scenes machinations of passing a criminal justice reform bill in 2018. Student participants facilitated conversations on community, politics, and understanding, alongside an engaging Q&A with the film’s director and producer. 

June 1, 2023 at E.L. Haynes High School

Students participated in lively, respectful discussion on the below topics, which they chose.

Raise your standards, ladies. This topic will discuss the pros and cons of setting standards for relationships in high school, especially from the young woman’s perspective.

Student-Teacher boundaries. This topic will examine the boundaries that exist or should exist in a healthy teacher-student relationship and what happens when these boundaries are violated.

Should kids vote? This discussion will examine the pros and cons of lowering the voting age to 16 and what that would mean for our laws and democracy.

School shootings. We will examine how the topic of school shootings affects our community and what we can do to avoid damage that results when someone is killed by guns at school.

May & June 2023: The Future of School Virtual Series

High school students from the DC area and across the nation participated in a series of virtual Speak Truth events focused on the rise of artifical intelligence and what the future of school may look like. The series was held Thursdays, May 25, June 1, 8, and 15.

January 2023: Talking Across Dividing Lines

In January, we hosted an online session featuring guest speaker Helanius J. Wilkins, choreographer, performance artist, and changemaker. The session focused on how and why to engage with people whose experiences, perspectives, and opinions differ from our own and included a deep exploration of the relationship between community and belonging. Watch a clip of that discussion here.

May 31, 2022 at EL Haynes High School

Dozens of students participated in this in-person event, which focused on four topics: Don’t Touch My Hair; Immigration & Deportation; Gotta Catch Em’ All; and Violence in School. The sessions were held in partnership with the school’s Intro to Black Law and LULAC after-school clubs. During the Violence in School discussion, student-facilitators led with questions such as: What does solidarity look like to you? Why do we think there is racial tension in school? How do we relate to each other as students of color?

May 17, 2022 Virtual Seminar

The Pros and Cons of the High School Community Service Requirement

September 2, 2021 Virtual Seminar

The Purpose of Higher Education
How to Find Your Path After School

September 23, 2021 Virtual Seminar

Strengthening the Speak Truth Program

June 17, 2021 Virtual Seminar

America’s Modern-Day Slavery: The For-Profit Prison System

May 20, 2021 Virtual Seminar
October 3, 2021 Virtual Seminar

Society’s Deleterious Impact on Some African Americans’ Intracultural Behavior

April 15, 2021 Virtual Seminar

Our Future with Climate Change
Kyoto Protocol Fast Facts
Paris Agreement vs Kyoto Protocol [Comparison Chart]

WTF: Why The (pro-)Fanity? A Discussion on Everyday Profanity
Swearing: A Long And #%@&$ History

May 6, 2021 Virtual Seminar

Necessary Sacrifices in partnership with Ford’s Theatre
Necessary Sacrifices – A Radio Play

March 18, 2021 Virtual Seminar

Science versus Religious Belief

June 3, 2021 Virtual Seminar

No Means No: A Conversation Defining Consent in the Modern World
Consent And Communication
Ruling On Tight Jeans and Rape Sets Off Anger In Italy

Learning Disabilities in the Classroom
Bella Thorne Dyslexia Story

Glee Ryder finds out he has dyslexia

March 4, 2021 Virtual Seminar

The Normalization of Diet Culture
What is Diet Culture and Why Should We Challenge it?

Bridging the Abortion Divide: A Conversation on Reproductive Rights
The Redirect: Why facts matter on both sides of abortion debate

February 18, 2021 Virtual Seminar
February 4, 2021 Virtual Seminar

Human Trafficking
What is Human Trafficking


December 17, 2020 Virtual Seminar

A Christmas Carol and Wealth Inequality – in partnership with Ford’s Theatre
A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play

January 7, 2021 Virtual Seminar

Modern protest in a nutshell

November 19, 2020 Virtual Seminar
December 10, 2020 Virtual Seminar

Gentrification and the Lower and Middle Class
The Effects of Gentrification on Lower- and Middle-Class Minorities’

November 5, 2020 Virtual Seminar
September 17, 2020 Virtual Seminar

What is Consent?

January 21, 2021 Virtual Seminar
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
June 18, 2020 Virtual Seminar

Are local and federal governments going about police reform effectively??
Justice in Policing Act
Justice in America Episode 21: Police Accountability

October 15, 2020 Virtual Seminar
September 3, 2020 Virtual Seminar

Police in Schools and the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Police Training and Funding
Police Regulation, Legislation and Balances

October 1, 2020 Virtual Seminar
The Impact of Trauma on Mental Health
First Responders and Mental Health
April 16, 2020 Virtual Seminar

How should school systems, colleges, and universities value this academic year?
The School Year Is Far From Lost

May 7, 2020 Virtual Seminar

Should Billionaires Exist? A Discussion About Extreme Wealth Inequality.
Is Taxing The Ultra-Wealthy ‘Punishing Success?

June 4, 2020 Virtual Seminar
May 21, 2020 Virtual Seminar

Should A Constitutional Convention Be Held to Amend the Constitution?
How to Amend the Constitution

April 2, 2020 Virtual Seminar
Is The Novel Coronavirus Exacerbating Inequalities?
Inequality Is Immune to the Coronavirus
March 19, 2020 Virtual Seminar
November 21, 2019 Seminar at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School
February 13, 2020 Seminar at EL Haynes Public Charter School
September 26, 2019 Seminar at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School
The Impact of School Shootings on Mental Health
The Psychological Aftermath of Surviving School Shootings

The N-Word in the Classroom
Too Taboo for Class?
Good Teachers Use the N-Word

December 19, 2019 Seminar at Georgetown Day School
January 16, 2020 Seminar at Anacostia High School
June 12, 2019 Seminar at George Washington University (National History Day Speak Truth on the Mall)
October 17, 2019 Seminar at National Cathedral School
Who Owns What?: The Idea of Cultural Property
Are Dreadlocks Cultural Appropriation?

21st Century Beauty Standards: Is It Preference or Discrimination?
Is It Racist to Have A Racial Dating Preference?

Dress Code Discrimination: Are Dress Codes Racially Discriminatory?
‘It’s About Power’: D.C. Students Seek To Remove Bias In School Dress Codes
Black Girls Can’t Dress Their Way Out Of Racist or Sexist Policies

Globalization & Culture: Do They Conflict or Coincide?
Protesting Climate Change, Young People Take to Streets in a Global Strike

May 16, 2019 Seminar at Georgetown Day School
March 27, 2019 Virtual Seminar
January 30th, 2019 Virtual Seminar
February 28, 2019 Seminar at Wilson High School

Mandatory Black History and Ethnic Studies in Schools
     • Black History Month in Schools—Retire or Reboot?

 Who Helps Schools More: Counselors or Security
     • Counselors Versus Cops
     • More social workers, not officers, in schools

Strike One and You’re Out!  End Zero Tolerance Policies
     • ‘Zero tolerance’ policies disproportionately punish black girls, professor says
     • How Zero-Tolerance Policies Hurt Kids
     • Betsy DeVos Revokes Obama Discipline Guidance Designed to Protect Students of Color

Hire More Black Teachers
     • Hire More Black Teachers Now!
     • Study: Having Just One Black Teacher Can Up Black Students’ Chances of Going to College

How Do We Use Social Media Healthily?

    • Excerpt from Jean Twenge’s iGen

Living in Color: Colorism in Professional Environments
     • Schools’ Discipline for Girls Differs by Race and Hue
     • Darker-skinned Black Job Applicants Hit More Obstacles

Do Standardized Tests Impact the Demographics of DC Schools?
D.C. had a plan to diversify one of its most selective high schools

December 20, 2018 Virtual Seminar
November 24, 2018 Virtual Seminar

September 20, 2018 at Cesar Chavez Public School (Capitol Hill Campus)


October 18, 2018 at Georgetown Day School


 See discussion topics and readings from last year here.

Education needs to cover EVERYTHING. Leaving out things bc of discomfort is doing a disservice to youth.

— Student, Speak Truth