The National Coalition of Girls' Schools (NCGS) is the leading advocate for girls' schools. Their 2016 Global Forum on Girls' Education: Creating a World of Possibilities was attended by school leaders from more than 20 countries, including Linden’s Principal Janice Gladstone and Director of Admissions and Academic Advising Tara Silver. They both recently shared with us their thoughts and takeaways from this forum.
Conversation with Linden’s Principal Janice Gladstone
Linden: You had the opportunity to hear from stellar keynote speakers at the conference, including Arianna Huffington and Rachel Simmons. What were some ideas they shared that you found particularly memorable?
Janice: Each of these women delivered powerful messages and ideas that will stay with me. I will just share a few notes and quotes that I found particularly inspiring or thought provoking.
Arianna Huffington talked about how young women need to redefine their relationship with technology. According to her, we are in danger of being enslaved by technology – we take better care of our smartphones than we take of ourselves. She talked about how stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout are not prerequisites of success, and that we need to disconnect from technology and connect with ourselves. She also talked about how sleep used to be considered an obstacle to productivity and that we now know better. According to her, “sleep is of the brain, for the brain, by the brain,” and lack of sleep has a huge impact on young people’s health. Some of her quotes include:
"We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom." — E.O. Wilson
"Live life as if everything is rigged in your favour." — Rumi
"Failure is not the opposite of success; it's a stepping stone." — Arianna Huffington
Slide from the presentation on "Effortless Perfection."
Rachel Simmons gave an inspiring presentation on “Effortless Perfection,” where she discussed a current study at Princeton University about how women lose self-confidence with each year of university, except for those participating in competitive athletics, and those who attended all-girls’ schools before university. Rachel also discussed a paper on “Objects Don’t Object,” which is all about the objectification of women and how it discourages leadership among women. One of her messages to young women includes the value of skill building and working on one’s “inner resume.” I found this to be a particularly powerful idea. Our inner resume might include categories such as our capacity to fail in a skillful way, our ability to practice self-compassion, and our inclination to seek help when we need it.
Linden: You attended several workshops by colleagues from other countries including one from South Africa. What did you take away from that talk?
Janice: The workshop from colleagues in South Africa was very valuable, especially when it came to discussing privilege. Some of the questions they asked school leaders included:
- How are we engaging with diversity and institutional culture?
- How are we engaging with privilege?
- How welcoming and inclusive are our schools?
They also discussed the “wind metaphor.” For privileged people, the wind is at your back. You don’t notice how it helps you move forward with little effort. For the rest, pushing against the wind is enormously draining. Peggy McIntosh’s piece on “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” was also featured, and we were asked to examine our own list of privileges and how these are connected to the direction of the wind.
Linden: Overall, what were your key takeaways from this year’s conference?
Janice: It was really gratifying to have Linden’s excellent implementation of the most current, research-based pedagogy for girls affirmed by everything we saw and learned at the conference. Our work with developing leadership, fostering relationship-building skills, and giving voice to our girls is fully embedded within the curriculum, classroom practices, and structures of the school. I am proud to say that I found our model to be one the strongest and most unique amongst all of the girls’ schools represented at this conference.
The Brearley School tour for conference participants.
Conversation with Linden’s Director of Admissions and Academic Advising Tara Silver
Linden: There were several sessions on mindfulness and building resilience at this year’s conference. How is Linden applying some of these initiatives to address learning and the pursuit of perfectionism?
Tara: It was very gratifying to learn that Linden is at the forefront of these approaches to girls’ learning. We have always had a holistic focus on learning and socio-emotional development, and there were many schools adopting this approach. I was surprised to see that the most popular sessions were those addressing girls’ stress and perfectionism in particular. Fortunately, for parents and educators, there are a number of excellent resources on the topic, including Rachel Simmons’ “Curse of the Good Girl” and Madeline Levine’s “Price of Privilege.” We draw on the latest research to shape our student advising program and learning strategies courses. Linden teachers also do a fantastic job of talking to students about stress and helping them develop healthy approaches to stress-reduction. Our recent “Self-Care Week” is a great example of that. Take a look at the bulletin board near the gym!
Linden: What are some recent developments in girl-centred pedagogy and empowering girls in the classroom?
Tara: Some of newest research on learning in the adolescent years is truly exciting, and it doesn’t reduce teenage girls to just a mysterious jumble of hormones. Lisa Damour’s new book “Untangled” is a must-read for all of us. When you understand what is going on in the teenage brain during those crucial years, it makes working (and living) with teens a more joyful experience. In short, what empowers girls the most is having adults and peers around who support and value them as individuals. Intellectually, kids are naturally curious, and our job in the classroom is to nurture and facilitate that. Collaborative problem solving and inquiry are a major focus of educational research and practice, and Linden excels in these areas.
Linden: You must have enjoyed the various sessions on preparing girls to be leaders and change-makers. How are Linden girls leaders in this area?
Tara: One the best sessions I attended was with Irshad Manji, who encourages girls to start small and think about leadership in ways that don’t feel overwhelming or abstract. Being a leader might mean taking on a challenge or responsibility that pushes you just a bit outside your comfort zone. This could be cooking a meal once a week with your busy family, a school initiative, or a project in your neighbourhood … anything that helps make the world around you just a little better. This leads kids to feel more competent and confident taking on bigger leadership roles later in life.
Linden: What were your key takeaways from this year’s conference?
Tara: I felt very affirmed that Linden’s holistic approach to girls’ learning is the way of the future. For far too long, education has been treated as primarily an intellectual and academic endeavour, but we now know that the social and emotional dimensions of children’s lives are every bit as important to their long-term success and well-being. I am looking forward to the next conference in 2017 where I hope to present on behalf of Linden.