This past week, I traveled to New York City to attend a New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) conference entitled Educating Girls. I was excited about the conference topic but even more thrilled that our Vice Principal, Leanne Foster, and our Junior School Curriculum Leader, Nancy Taylor, were presenting on the research St. Clement’s is doing on nurturing growth mindsets in our Grade 5 and 6 girls.
The keynote speaker for this event was Rachel Simmons, who had been to St. Clement’s a year earlier to talk with our girls from Grades 4-12 about the importance of using their voices to speak up and out, as well as having the confidence to ‘lean in.’ I had very much appreciated Rachel’s message at the time; however I was impressed that at this conference Rachel had the courage to admit that her past advice, while good, was not entirely helpful for girls and young women and that we all needed to modify our approach slightly.
Make no mistake, the importance of finding one’s voice and having the capacity to make things happen are both imperatives for our girls. We speak to this a lot. However, Rachel said something out loud that I believe many of us who educate girls have been saying quietly to our own students. It is something that must be more explicit, not only in our teaching but also in our modelling for our girls.
When you exist in an environment of high achieving girls and women, there are, as a result, high expectations. While St. Clement’s School seeks to provide a rigorous and challenging curriculum, we are very mindful of creating a culture of care for our girls where structures and approaches support them as they learn and grow. That said, our girls can be tough on themselves, and that is something about which I worry from time to time.
During her keynote address, Rachel stressed that rather than providing a message that rather than providing a message that confidence and ‘doing’ things will assist girls in leaning in, we need to remind our girls to lean inside– and model this ourselves. As Rachel went on to say, “Confidence is just part of the fix; prioritizing self-care is fundamental. “ Our girls need to always know that they can and should seek support when they need it. It is self-compassion that lets us see that despite setbacks, we still have self-worth, and for many high achieving girls and women, this is an issue that needs to be addressed. As Rachel went on to say, “Being successful is not successful if you can’t be kind to yourself along the way.”
Too often I catch myself, our staff or our parents being tough on themselves for making mistakes or apologizing for things that were not our fault or, if they were, were not significant issues. Rachel pointed out, “If we want our girls to practice self-care, we must be modelling it ourselves.”
I loved what Rachel said that day. Her belief is spot-on. While there is much to be said for considering what we can ‘do’ to ensure our girls’ happiness and success, we must hold our culture more accountable. Rather than asking our girls simply to work on their confidence, we must all model self-care and compassion. If we truly want our girls to challenge themselves, reach their potential, and do so while being well and healthy, then it is as much up to us to model it as it is for them to do it.