Beginning in April 2019, I forayed into the world of freelance curriculum development and consulting. I’d had experience in this realm before, minus the freelance part, and had a blast getting to know a few educational companies more in-depth. One of these awesome organizations I worked with (and continue to!) is Sole Girls.
Sole Girls is a girls empowerment program that tackles self-esteem, physical and emotional health, and running through after-school programs, workshops, camps, and mentorship. Sole Girls was conceived by super-inspiring Canadian social entrepreneur, Ashley Wiles, in her late 20s. Ashley was impelled to take action after hearing about the tragic suicide of 15-year-old Amanda Todd, a teenager in Coquitlam, B.C. who was bullied, alone, without an advocate, and without the perspective of another way out. Ashley had been traveling the world working for a variety of organizations unsure of next moves, and after hearing about Amanda Todd, knew she had to come back to Canada and start a program that could support and empower girls while equipping them with skills and tools to navigate the frequently messy Girl World. And thus, Sole Girls was born.
Sole Girls works with females (and has a Sole 4 Boys program, too!) ages 5-12 through a 9-week curriculum, which is guided by the acronym S-O-L-E (Support, Open-Minded, Love, Enthusiasm) and culminates with a 5km run. The 5km run adds an element of challenge, forward-thinking, and bravery…all of which are absolutely transferable to social-emotional learning.
In addition to developing a variety of interpersonal skills, self-discovery, and running, Sole Girls also provides girls with a safe and encouraging community where they can share freely their experiences, questions, and connect with mentors ranging from high school to adulthood who play a diverse role in the programs’ communities. Six years of age, Sole Girls runs across Canada and has begun programming in Australia, as well.
I had the great privilege of working with Sole Girls, beginning in September 2019 in a variety of creative capacities, including leading programs (coaching) for both the Littles (ages 5-7) and regular (8-12) programs, curriculum development, and workshops.
…wait, can we bring this back to me for a second?
These programs are so special to me. As a kid, I never quite fit in, and I moved from a Montessori school to a public school and while I lived to tell the tale, retrospectively, I was thrown to the sharks. “Fitting in” was a totally new concept to me (made 0% easier by my strange obsession with growing a rat-tail and my parents’ wholeheartedly supporting nearly any form of said personal expression; side note- WHY, MOM AND DAD, WHY!? Jk- I love you); at my old school, all the kids played together, and for the first time, I experienced and saw that kids could be left out, which was jarring and confusing and really had no way of understanding any of it. I survived, yet constantly felt awkward, never knew when to “tell” on a student, and never knew what to do in the face of gossip or teasing. In short, I really had no clarity on my values.
And this is precisely why I adore Sole Girls programming, which takes a values-based approach in its curriculum and is also implicit in its mentorship programs.
But, I’m not really qualified to talk about that stuff…right?
Talking “values” with students might seem intimidating or “something they can do with their counselor,” but think about it. As educators, we learn about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs starting in day 0 of any training, so we know that students have needs they need met before they can master counting to 100 or writing a 5-paragraph essay or shooting a free-throw (pick your teaching poison). Specifically, these needs are Basic (which are physiological & safety), followed by Psychological (Belongingness & Esteem), and finally Self-Fulfillment…which, let’s be real, do we ever really attain?
If we want to reach our students, we’ve got to meet them on this triangle first and foremost, before we think about behavior adjustments, learning support, and calling home, it’s worth seeing where students are feeling in regards to how they feel about their friends, their learning communities, and themselves.
Teaching values need not be complicated or deeply emotional. Introducing a word or theme of the day/month/week/year is a simple way to help students start learning about values and unlocking or further developing their own.
Okay, maybe I’m on board.
So, what are examples of values you may be asking? Here’s a few:
…and so on! Chances are, some other words or values were sparked when you scanned the list. Using these words in grades or assessments, as well as at morning meetings and/or advisory periods is an easy way to incorporate more meaning into the academic schedule and help students’ navigate and further clarify their needs for belonging and esteem.
These simple, (free printable!) cards are an alternative take on Valentine’s Day, in which students can recognize and celebrate the values they see in one another. Have each student draw a name and create a VALUE-tine for a member of the class; or have small groups work together to create a VALUE-tine for someone who works at the school; or trade VALUE-tines with another class. Get creative! Remember to model yours first!
It’s no secret that girls today are facing adversity. With gender pay gaps still a reality and the hard truths of the #metoo movement exposing trauma and , it’s a scary time to be a girl. As educators, it’s more important than ever that we are tuned in to our students– not just their names or their grades, but a holistic understanding of who they are and what their world is. If we can’t recognize the gamut of conditions that exist in our students’ worlds outside of the classroom, we’re not doing our jobs.
This series, GIRL em(POWER)ed, will speak to the need to cultivate strength, boldness, and confidence in our girls. All of the activities can certainly be applied to any gender, but they were created with females in mind.
So, what are girls of today facing, exactly? Geography pays a huge role. If we focus on North America, we eliminate some of the tragic issues faced by other nations, including limited access and incentive for schooling; poverty and forced labor-force participation; limited curriculum available to girls; long distances to school; violence; sex trafficking; and forced family creation. There are a few amazing, dedicated organizations who have made their mission to girls education (see: PlanCanada, CARE, Malala Fund, Global Girls Alliance, to name a couple).
This series provides bite-size, easy steps for your classroom, club, organization, family, and so forth, that you can use on a daily or immediate basis with limited planning and resources. It’s founded on three central themes for fostering strong girls:
Freedom to Individuality: Girls are bombarded on all sides with messages, often wildly conflicting, about how they should be, who they should be, how they should act, and what they should or shouldn’t do. It’s impossible to shut out all of those voices as you’re just beginning to navigate who you are. While we want to foster strong and bold girls into women, we must allow them to try on many versions of themselves and be individuals and ultimately, allow girls to choose who they are. Let them be free to discover themselves and support them relentlessly on the journey.
Relationship: Navigating this world feeling like nobody cares or is on your side is truly the worst feeling. There are so many contentious messages regarding self worth girls are internalizing, and doing it solo is not only painful, but also unhealthy and even unsafe. Fostering relationships with girls is critical not only for the girls themselves but for healthy, happy, thriving classrooms. Find out their interests, make connections. Ask them how their swim meet went. Care about their weekends. Really read what they write in their creative essays. Invest in girls.
Belief: Believe in girls’ abilities to learn, to change, to grow, to try, to care, to evolve. Some of my own most vivid memories that defined my self-worth as a young woman are offhand comments a teacher or coach made, both the positives and the negatives. I had a cross-country coach who said to me once, “You really don’t care, do you?” I actually really did- I just didn’t believe in myself. That comment has stuck with me until today, and still makes me feel ashamed. Conversely, my 6th grade science teacher complimented me in front of a group of my peers, saying my poster layout I contributed for the team was sophisticated. I have never forgotten how proud that made min that moment. We likely all have moments like this, and the takeaway is: tell and show girls that you believe in them. Be a mentor who encourages and believes in them without condition.
How are you empowering girls in your schools? I’d love to hear about it!