Joel Penton is one of the nation’s leading youth motivational speakers. His Stand Your Ground school assembly is designed to empower students to achieve success in life through a simple formula: do what you say you will do.

High school is the stepping stone to adulthood.

Learning goes beyond writing a paper or taking a test.  As a teacher, you are helping the future leaders decide who they will become and what role they will play in society.

Every one of your students has their own unique narrative and worldview, which are very different from your own. Reach each individual student with motivational speakers who use storytelling and positivity to inspire and engage students through relatability, humor, and sincerity.

Moving Beyond the Classroom

As high school teachers and administrators, you have up to four years to leave an impact on your students. Teachers have a more hands-on role, interacting with students during classes.  Administrators give advice and try to connect during assemblies and speeches but are often kept at a further distance, indirectly helping students.


classroom teacher


As someone who has dedicated their career to teaching, you want to help each student fulfill their potential.  A good educator knows that the job is more than the curriculum. Teachers have the opportunity to empower and change the lives of their students.

Educators are important role models and figures in students’ lives. You can provide encouragement and support that the students may not be receiving at home. A school environment should be a safe space, where young adults are able to explore who they are and be inspired to continue their hard work and education in their post-graduate life.

Limitations as Educators

It is impossible for each teacher to build a relationship with every single student. Some students who are quieter or harder to reach tend to receive less attention than a louder student who demands one-on-one attention. 


limitations as educators


You have the complicated job of preparing students for college and the workforce. This job often includes strict curriculum to keep the pupils on par with other schools in the area. 

While the students are test driving their personalities and discovering their potential, you have to make sure they learn the assigned material.

You may not have the time in your lesson plan to teach motivation and inspiration. Some teachers are able to carve out short tidbits of time before or after a lesson.

On a personal level, teachers can work to make the material fun, engaging, and relevant. You can push your students to do their best work and occasionally give them life advice and be motivating, but that is not what you are typically trained to do.

You want to help your students learn more than the books and tests, but don't always know how.

Lack of Motivation at Home

Motivation and inspiration are constructs studied deeply in psychology. Every student needs to be inspired and motivated to achieve their goals, but there are not often enough faculty members to provide mentorship to each and every student. Students may not be motivated or inspired at home.


lack motivation at home teen


Young adults have different role models in their lives. Some students lack a strong parental figure and have a home situation that is less than ideal. These students are not taught to have high self-esteem, drive, and are not told they can be successful if they apply themselves.

Students who have difficult home circumstances benefit from hearing the stories of motivational speakers whom they can relate to.

Motivational speakers talk from experience and connect with these students on a personal level. They may have similar backgrounds whether it is low-income, familial incarceration, or a single parent household.

You sympathize with your students from different backgrounds and tell them they can be successful, but these speakers are able to truly empathize and be an example.

Seeing a real physical person who has been in their shoes and risen above similar adversity is empowering.

The motivation speaker enlightens and shows a potential path that for the first time seems attainable. It is more impactful than reading a story or seeing a statistic.

The speaker can tell them what steps to take to live the life they want.

Programmed to Rebel

Dr. Deborah MacNamara, a clinical counselor and director of Kid’s Best Bet, finds that people are naturally resistant and rebel when they feel like they are being “controlled our coerced.” Immaturity leads to greater resistance, which makes high school students a particularly hard group to reach.  They are approaching adulthood, caught in the middle of being a child and an adult. 

Teenagers want to feel independent and make their own decisions, yet need guidance.


programmed to rebel


Have you ever heard the expression “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink?”

You can tell young adults not to do drugs, drink alcohol, and to do well in school, but it is often ineffective.  In order to reach your students, you must make them want to be better and make good choices.

Sitting in a classroom or auditorium, students need more than “don’t do this” or even “don’t do this because…”

The first battle is getting them to pay attention. The second battle is getting them to be open.

As soon as the students feel like they are being controlled, they stop listening and the defenses come up.  Successful motivational speakers know how to capture students’ interests and make them want to pay attention.

The Optimism Bias

Another difficult part of the developmental process of teens, in particular, is the optimism bias. Teenagers participate in risky behaviors such as smoking, unprotected sex, drugs, and alcohol because they feel invulnerable.  It “won’t happen to them.”  They are aware of the potential risks but “individuals assume more favorable outcomes for the self than others.”


joel penton speaking


The potential risks of harmful behaviors may seem farfetched, a statistic you used to scare them. Your students do not know anyone who openly tried a hard drug and became an addict.  None of their friends were victims of drinking and driving. When they partake in risky behaviors and nothing happens, it reinforces the optimism bias.

Motivational speakers share their experiences, using emotional appeal, human connection, and relatability to impact the students. They go beyond “just say no,” and show them what can really happen through their personal narrative. 

The speakers are regular people, standing in front of them, sharing intimate details of their lives in a moving way. 

Different Approaches to the Same Lesson

Approach 1: You read: If you turn a microwave on with metal in it, it can spark and cause a fire. Are you convinced? Is that enough for you to never try it? Do you need to try it and find out for yourself?

Result: You decide to try it, you put a fork in the microwave. You turn it on, and it creates a fire, damaging your microwave. You wish you had listened to what you had read, but it’s too late to take it back. The result is enough for you to never try it again, but the damage can’t be reversed. 


optimism bias mistake


Approach 2: Your friend tells you that they microwaved a fork, it sparked, and their microwave caught on fire.  They’re really bummed about having to replace it and wished they had removed the fork first.

Result: You don’t feel the need to test microwaving a fork.  You’re convinced it will lead to a fire and there’s a chance you will need to buy a new microwave.  It sounded scary and not something you want to deal with.  The secondhand experience has you convinced, but you aren’t super conscious about prevention.

Approach 3: You’re at a coffee shop and you hear someone telling an interesting story about how they weren’t paying attention and microwaved a plate that had metal in the design.

They had left the kitchen quickly, didn’t notice the spark, and went upstairs.  By the time they came downstairs, the kitchen was on fire. They had to spend $10,000 to fix the damage and their house almost burnt down. 

Result: You will be vigilant about avoiding any obvious metals like forks or spoons in the microwave and you will make sure there are no hidden metals in the plates or wrappings. The story was impactful and taught you a valuable lesson.  When you go to microwave something you’re unsure about, you think of that story and double check.

Preventing Drug and Alcohol Use

Your school likely has some sort of anti-drug and anti-alcohol programs that attempt to curb substance use and raise awareness about the dangers. Facts and figures aren’t always enough to sway your teenage students. According to, adolescents try and continue to use drugs to fit in, to feel good, to feel better, and to experiment. 

Students at a party may be offered drugs or alcohol. They see their peers doing it, nothing bad is happening, so they decide to try it. No one is dying right then, they didn't get struck down, what's the harm, right?


teen bottle


Laurence Steinberg described the teenage brain as “a car with a good accelerator, but a weak brake.” Teenagers are more vulnerable to peer pressure, negative influences, and often act without fully understanding the consequences.

A student decides to accept a ride home from someone who was drinking. They arrived home safe and sound, so the perceived risk was lowered.

The student has heard stories or seen a commercial of someone who was affected by drunk driving, but it’s not as personal. It hasn’t happened to their friends, it didn’t happen to them, so they are scared and apprehensive the next time.

The parts of the brain related to impulse control, long-term thinking and planning are not fully developed according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. They are often overruled by the emotional and reward-seeking parts of the brain. Teenagers see their peers partaking in risky behaviors without obvious consequences.

You can tell your students “don’t do drugs” and “don’t drink” until you are blue in the face, but it often doesn't work.

Motivational speakers use personal stories that highlight the dangers of these behaviors to bring students to their own conclusions. The emotional impact of these stories helps change the students’ perspectives. They are able to connect these behaviors to real-life consequences, in a different way than you are able to as an educator.

Stop Bullying

Bullying is a complicated issue that each and every school has to deal with. You try to look for the signs and use prevention campaigns at your school, but not all bullying is easy to spot.  Bully is a multifaceted complex that can take many forms. Cyberbullying and other micro-aggressions are harder to detect than blatant name-calling.

The role of bullying can change, “you can observe bullying (i.e., bystanders), experience bullying (i.e., victims), and perpetrate bullying (i.e., bullies) across different situations over time. 


girl bullied


Motivational speakers can come from different vantage points; some have been the bully themselves while some will have been victims of bullying.

The bully can speak to other bully, relating and understanding the behavior, teaching them how to change. The speaker helps students realize they were being a bully without being fully conscious of it.

Those who have been bullied benefit from hearing the story of a former bully, to help empathize and understand the behavior. These students are also empowered by bullied speakers who succeeded despite being put down.

Why Motivation Is Key

In life, motivation is “one of the most important requirements for success and satisfaction.”

Educators and parents can easily point out and describe what an obviously unmotivated student looks like. These students are hard to reach and often act out as a result. Students without motivation find school boring and pointless. They often adopt bad behaviors, as they remain unfocused and uninspired about their future.


motivation is key 

According a study by The University of Negev, Israel, “when students engage in academic tasks out of intrinsic reasons such as interest, enjoyment, and the purpose to learn and understand, they engage more meaningfully, regulate their learning, achieve high grade, retain the material, and manifest high well-being” compared to extrinsic reasons.

Extrinsic reasons are easier for you to enforce. Extrinsic reasons are “a desire to please others, to demonstrate ability, to avoid feeling incapable, or to avoid punishment.” You can create consequences for not turning in a paper or doing your homework, but the motivation is very different.

The 9th graders are around 14 and 15 years old and the seniors are 17 and 18 years old. As students enter high school, they are starting the climb towards college.

If they become unmotivated, slacking off in their studies and adopting bad behaviors, they jeopardize their college opportunities. Seniors have to decide whether or not they will go to college, a vocational school or into the job force.  The 10th and 11th graders need to be inspired to keep working hard towards their goals

Mistaking Achievement for Motivation

Achievement is sometimes perceived as motivation. High performing students can be looked over, given less attention than the problematic students.  Teachers and administrators look at these “model students” and often do not see the signs of low motivation. Motivational speeches are just as important to your straight-A students as your ones that struggle.

student achiever


Educators often focus on the students with poor academic performances and discipline problems, as these are the “obvious” students in need of motivation and inspiration.

The high performing students may be studying and completing projects out of fear of failing or fear of disappointing their parents, not because they want to be successful. These students can be riddled with stress and anxiety, unexcited and unenthusiastic about their future.

Motivational speeches do more than help prevent bad behaviors. Students can be lacking motivation, which is incredibly important for success.

Students with high ambitions can lose sight of their goal and fall behind, jeopardizing their future.  Students on the right track need to reassure that it’s worth it.  Juniors and seniors need a little extra boost to push through the final stretch.

The Gift of Inspiration

Google defines motivation as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behavior in a particular way” or the “general desire or willingness of someone to do something.” Inspiration is defined as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

Inspiration is often described as a spark that creates a new perspective and then is acted upon.

According to Psychology Today, inspiration has three parts.  Inspiration is a result, which can be created from the actions of someone, art or music.   Inspiration takes us past our core needs, and towards a new perspective or “moment of clarity.”  Inspiration is acted upon as the individual “strives to transmit, express, or actualize a new idea or vision.”

A motivated student works hard to turn in their projects on time because they know it will help them succeed. They study for tests and plan for college. 

An inspired student goes above and beyond.  These students excel in their coursework but are focused on the big picture, aiming for a dream or big picture goal.  They think outside the lines to come up with new ideas and solutions to problems.  These inspired students are excited about their future.


inspirational speech


Motivational speakers aim to inspire.  The speakers want students to walk out of the auditorium with a new perspective on life.  Many motivation speakers focus on positivity.  According to the Harvard Business Review, “inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities.”

Even the speakers who have faced tough adversity have an overall positive message that can give students hope.  Motivational speakers know how to arch the story, so even if there were rough patches and rock bottoms, the ending message is powerful and impactful but optimistic. 

Speeches telling personal stories about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and bullying are darker in nature and have real-life consequences that can be life or death.

Great motivational speakers give students either a positive ending message or actions they can take to be a part of the change.  Instead of just being told what not to do, they are given realistic alternatives.

Seeing the Big Picture

Motivational speakers can help your students see the big picture.  Students can get caught up in the realm of high school and forget about the “real world.”  High school is very involved, filled with not only learning but personal development and relationships. 

The school becomes its own world and outside life seem unimportant.  A big test can seem paramount, overshadowing thoughts about the future and life beyond campus.

The Power of Storytelling

Teachers and administrators have trouble connecting with their students on a personal level, as it conflicts with the level of professionalism you must maintain.

Students often brush off advice, assuming it's part of your job.  Obvious attempt at motivating and inspiring are less effective than storytelling.  Narratives are more effective because “you are simply illuminating a principle through experience and allowing the listener to attach their own meaning.”


everyone has story


While you may have stories that are impactful and show the impact of choices, it's not always appropriate.  A motivational speaker has the opportunity to be relatable and reach students with impactful anecdotes that are honest.  A speaker can admit their past mistakes even if they are illegal like alcohol, drugs, or stealing, where an educator is not often able to.

Stories break past the student's natural defense mechanisms of wanting to seem “cool” or “apathetic.”  They engage and allow the students to draw their own conclusions, reaching them on a personal level.  Motivational speakers know how to be personable and use their relatability to inspire.


Why choose a motivational speaker?

You want to help your students, inspire and motivate them to be the best they can be.  Your curriculum is strict, you have lots of students and class periods are short. Motivational speakers know the most effective way to reach high school students, which is a delicate process.

Motivational speakers can reach an entire student body in a single session.  These speakers feel more “real” to your students than a teacher or faculty member. Educators can be pigeonholed as “teachers” or “principal,” which makes your advice seem less genuine.

While you cannot talk to each and every student in your school, discuss their struggles, challenges, and life goals, you can choose a motivational speaker that can give them a new perspective on life.  Whether you want to address bullying, drugs, alcohol, or just inspire them with a story about overcoming adversity, a motivational speaker is a great way to reach an entire student body in one assembly. 

The right speaker will have them leaving the auditorium feeling empowered, inspired, and have a new view on issues. 

If you could change the lives of each student in an hour, wouldn’t you?


Bring Joel To Your School

Contact us and we’ll send you a copy of Joel’s book, Stand Your Ground, to see his message will a is the right fit for your students.


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