Middle school is a time of transition for all students. The rigor of academics increases, opportunities of independence are more frequent and the need to “fit in” is of most importance at this age. These struggles are felt by all tweens, but can be escalated in girls. Pre-adolescent girls are able to voice their feelings more freely and demonstrate a strong sense of self. However, when girls reach puberty they are more apt to conform to what is the norm, as to not stand out, be noticed or seem different in any way. With a few exceptions, our girls are conscientious of not wanting to appear pushy or overly confident among their peer group. Ban Bossy, a national organization that encourages girls’ leadership proclaims, “When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.”
Middle school level students are already thinking about future careers and gender expectations have already had an influence on their potential career interest. By middle school, the influence that educators have to help shape the attitudes about interests and possible careers is great. Teachers provide lessons that spark interest in subject matter, counselors guide students to fulfilling aspirations, and we must round out the experience by providing opportunities to build confidence in our students, especially girls. The recent push of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiative over recent years has focused on early exposure to careers related to science and engineering and the limitless possibility for girls in the field. The STEM push has shown an increase in girls taking advanced level courses in high school and beyond.
Activities, clubs, and athletics that middle school girls are involved in will form their social circles and interests that may define them throughout their high school years. Therefore, middle school is the optimal time to infuse programs that develop leadership skills in our girls. Leadership programs for girls should not only provide opportunities for girls to act in the leadership capacity, but should include activities that provide education, promote empathy, self-awareness and reflection. By fully engaging students in meaningful projects, the development of leadership skills happens naturally under our guidance. One of the key objectives of teaching leadership should be a focus toward social responsibility and advocacy. Guiding our girls in developing an understanding of citizenship and the importance of global awareness should be part of our mission as mentors.
Middle school girls benefit from being exposed to and building relationships with women in leadership positions. The modeling of positive leadership attributes by women help young girls realize their future potential. Providing our girls with a chance to lead an effort for a particular cause encourages creativity, develops compassion, and hopefully provides them with a sense of personal satisfaction that can be realized through volunteerism.
It is our responsibility as educators, whether male or female, to discover the leadership abilities that exist in our middle school girls and expose them to experiences that will nurture the development of their potential at this young age. Allowing these all so important, yet challenging formative years, to be influenced by positive leadership experiences for our girls will continue to grow their confidence that will foster success in high school and beyond.