For many people, the beginning of a new school year is a good time to make resolutions, start fresh, and improve habits. As a 7th grade teacher, I see girls and boys come into my classroom with varying degrees of trepidation, and some come with enthusiasm. On that first day I have them write on “What I wish my teacher knew about me.” They don’t have to sign their names. I generally get some very interesting notes. There are always a few heartbreaking ones. One of the most common responses expressed this year was how shy or scared the student feels. So, my task is to make sure that these kids leave my class more confident and capable than they came in.
I asked the girls in particular if anyone has ever said anything to them or done anything that inspired them to be great, to be leaders, or to make a difference in the world. Only one girl raised her hand. She said that her teacher last year told them that girls can do anything boys can do. I asked her if that message affected the way she thought about herself and she said it did. To my chagrin, no other girl raised a hand to say that anyone had ever planted that seed of motivation for her to accomplish amazing things.
This surprised me because as a social studies teacher, I am constantly urging my students to be active citizens, to look for ways to change the world, and to reach their greatest potential. I just assumed everyone else was doing the same thing. Perhaps it is happening and the students just don’t recognize the mentoring for what it is. In any case, we adults need to step it up. Girls growing into women need to understand the message that the Utah Women and Leadership Project spreads: there is a crisis of confidence among women in Utah and that trend needs to be turned around.
We need to be talking to girls at a young age about the influence they can have on the world. We need to let them know definitively that they are capable and smart. We need to point out even small things that we notice them being good at and suggest they develop that skill. We need to give them opportunities to have personal victories so they know how good that feels. We also need to help girls see failures as positive experiences and show them how to think through failure as an opportunity to learn and improve, rather than as emotional barriers to future success.
When they are impressionable, we are most able to help mold girls into tomorrow’s women who will truly believe in themselves. They will then shape homes, communities and nations for good. This is a great time to start!
For ideas to encourage girls in education, see tips for Taking An Active Role in these Research Snapshots.