CGS Professional Development Blog
Girl Meets World
Girls’ Leadership Institute Conference
Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA
February 27-March 1st, 2017
By: Sarrah Johnstone and Alora Popow
Girl Meets World is a conference offered by the Girls’ Leadership Institute in the west and east coast of the United States twice annually. The Girls Leadership Institute is a not-for-profit organization whose research is headed by Rachel Simmons, the woman who wrote Odd Girl Out and Curse of the Good Girl (with another book on the horizon that will most likely be available in March 2018). Rachel is co-founder of the institute with her colleague, Simone Marean, who developed the curriculum that is based off of Simmons’ research. Their curriculum is designed to support and educate teachers, coaches, those in health care-related fields, and other professionals who work with middle-school-aged girls in building their capacity and understanding of relationships.
We traveled to Stanford University to immerse ourselves in “girl world”, and were in awe of the presenters from the first moment. Not only are they both professional, and extremely knowledgeable on the topic, they are also genuine, approachable and engaging. The delivery was direct, interesting and focused on multiple modes as we took notes, had lectures, were part of role plays (sometimes in front of an audience), played games (this sounds much easier than it is, at times) and even taught our own lessons to a group of twenty other participants. The approach is to immerse us in the material in the same way that they encourage middle school girls to do. In this way the learning was hands-on, messy, engaging, real. It was a method that asked you to use personal experiences as a foundation for your understanding of relationship, and as such the conference itself was personal.
Content was primarily focused on much of what Simmons shares in her book, Curse of the Good Girl. The curriculum was designed around much of this content and also asks the participants to exercise their “relationship” muscle in a way that we exercise all of our muscles. A key element of this training is recognizing that girls do not just inherently KNOW how to be in relationships and that they must practice, especially in times of conflict or when there are challenges in their relationships.
Effortless perfection, a theory and practice that many humans exhibit in their daily lives was a particular concept that had us thinking. Reference was made towards a “stress olympics” where there is a social competition, especially among females, to do more without making it look as though you are putting effort into doing more. As a large factor affecting the mental, emotional, and social health of girls, specifically being that of rumination; having a thought that you have not expressed to another person, or a feeling that you have kept inside, is a trigger for anxiety and further stress. By using a method of “I statements” we can say how we feel, when we feel it, to create a script through communicating effectively, in hopes of curtailing the rumination, competition, and cultivating acceptance of self and others.
The curriculum is designed to “…equip adolescent girls […] to meet the world with integrity, self-awareness, and personal authority. The program teaches a set of communication and conflict resolution skills that girls can put to effective, immediate use in all of their relationships (Simmons & Marean, 2010)”. Specifically, Marean led us in a number of scenarios where we role played with other conference members on our own scripts where we have had conflict in our lives, and challenged us to work through the material (much of which was challenging work, as well as often hilarious).
Some of the resources that Rachel and Simone noted or promoted during the conference are:
Peggy Orenstein: many of us have already delved into the world of Orenstein’s commentary in her books Girls and Sex and Cinderella Ate My Daughter. A resource about this author, her most recent book, and talking to girls about pleasure can be found here: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/03/29/472211301/girls-sex-and-the-importance-of-talking-to-young-women-about-pleasure
- Carol Dweck: Mindset http://mindsetonline.com/
In January I took a trip to the San Francisco area to attend the Teaching Mindset Mathematics workshop with Jo Boaler and YouCubed at Stanford University. The big ideas behind Jo Boaler’s work center on the importance of fostering a growth mindset in students, and empowering all students to engage in challenging, open mathematical thinking that values struggle, depth and creative representations of ideas. Her work is rooted in neuroscience and the understanding that making mistakes, and struggling, create stronger synapses in the brain. Research was presented to support the belief that mindsets change learning, “what you believe and how you feel changes how you learn”. High achieving girls, in particular, who embrace a growth mindset are one of the demographic groups that benefits the most from the idea that everyone is a math person and everyone can grow in their ability to think and visualize and solve mathematical problems. We also learned that ideas of giftedness hurt learning, especially the learning of the typical high-achievers, and that parents’ anxiety about math affects their children’s growth in that area. The focus of Mindset Mathematics values visual, creative approaches to problem solving and number fluency in addition to symbolic representations. I was encouraged while attending this workshop because CGS students already understand the value of a growth mindset, and are learning in an environment that values collaboration, risk taking, and struggle in learning.
For more information about Jo Boaler’s work, visit: