The Head’s Tale - Girls Thriving (or not)

This past month, I have observed our Grade 12 students navigating the post-secondary admissions process and noticed an increasing level of anxiety that I believe is having a significant impact on their sense of self-worth.  Some of the girls’ attention is consumed with Grade Point Averages (GPA), SAT scores, early acceptance notifications, seeking out scholarship opportunities, and finally choosing the “right” university— all at the expense of finding joy in discovering who they are and substituting learning goals (which is what education should be about) for performance goals (how do I measure up to someone else’s standard?).  I believe it is imperative that we help all of our girls realize that their futures and their sense of self worth are not determined by which schools say “yes” or which schools say “no”. The fixation on using rankings to determine the best schools does not take into consideration the personal attributes of the applicants based on their life experiences, personal goals, or family expectations and the influence these all have on their final choice.  Where you go to university does not define who you will be nor guarantee future success. 

I have just completed reading Rachel Simmons’s new book entitled Enough as She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives. Like Simmons, I am concerned that we are creating a culture of constant comparison and judgment by inadvertently supporting our girls’ inner critical voices that say:

  • I have to be amazing at everything.
  • I can’t afford to make mistakes.
  • My failures will define me.
  • I need to be in control.
  • Being overwhelmed is the “new” normal.
  • Downtime means you are not trying your hardest.
  • Success is measured by achievement not happiness.

The best gift we can give our children is an understanding of the interconnectedness of success and struggle, and a recognition that adolescence is a period marked by difficult transitions. Allowing our students to make (and own) mistakes and to develop resilience, resourcefulness, and self-compassion will provide them with the tools to define and celebrate success on their own terms and well into adulthood.

In the end, we want our girls to develop a sense of purpose leading to self-efficacy not just increased self-esteem. In addition, the connection between confidence and competence is also critical.  By engaging our girls in conversations where they take the lead in describing their own learning, they will realize that what they learn is ultimately more important than what they accomplish. By asking our girls to participate in assessing their own learning and articulating what matters most to them, they will be able to:

  • Demonstrate what they know (understanding)
  • Ask questions (curiosity)
  • Take risks and learn from mistakes (ownership and empowerment)
  • See the connection between one’s actions and resulting outcomes (consequences)

and finally,

  • Value themselves as learners rather than achievers (possibility seekers)

As Rachel Simmons states, “purpose is the deeper reason we pursue our everyday goals. When you have a sense of purpose, you know why whatever you are doing matters to you personally, and why it matters to the world.” If we want our graduates to be our world’s future leaders, the resiliency and determination they will need will only develop if our students are free to identify problems important to them. They should also be encouraged to seek solutions, even knowing and accepting that many of those solutions will fail or be wrong.  Our goal at SMS is to partner with families who believe, as we do, that students here can succeed without sacrificing themselves to the expectations of others.  Students at SMS are encouraged to balance the time required for self-care, emotional and physical wellness and building and nourishing relationships, with the time they each devote to achieving their personal academic best.

“If life were one long grade school, girls would rule the world.”

                                                                                                Carol Dweck

 

“If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all”

                                                                                                Rachel Simmons

 

Resources:

Enough As She Is:  How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives.  Rachel Simmons. 2018

Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. Frank Bruni. 2015

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