If You’re Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You Won’t Learn Anything

Harvard Business Review

JULY 29, 2016
You need to speak in public, but your knees buckle even before you reach the podium. You want to expand your network, but you’d rather swallow nails than make small talk with strangers. Speaking up in meetings would further your reputation at work, but you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. Situations like these — ones that are important professionally, but personally terrifying — are, unfortunately, ubiquitous. An easy response to these situations is avoidance. Who wants to feel anxious when you don’t have to?

But the problem, of course, is that these tasks aren’t just unpleasant; they’re also necessary. As we grow and learn in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior. It’s simply a reality of the world we work in today. And without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement. How can we as professionals stop building our lives around avoiding these unpleasant, but professionally beneficial, tasks?

First, be honest with yourself. When you turned down that opportunity to speak at a big industry conference, was it really because you didn’t have the time, or were you scared to step on a stage and present? And when you didn’t confront that coworker who had been undermining you, was it really because you felt he would eventually stop, or was it because you were terrified of conflict? Take an inventory of the excuses you tend to make about avoiding situations outside your comfort zone and ask yourself if they are truly legitimate. If someone else offered you those same excuses about their behavior, would you see these as excuses or legitimate reasons to decline? The answer isn’t always clear, but you’ll never be able to overcome inaction without being honest about your motives in the first place.

Then, make the behavior your own. Very few people struggle in every single version of a formidable work situation. You might have a hard time making small talk generally, but find it easier if the topic is something you know a lot about. Or you may have a hard time networking, except when it’s in a really small setting.

Recognize these opportunities and take advantage — don’t chalk this variability up to randomness. For many years, I’ve worked with people struggling to step outside their comfort zones at work and in everyday life, and what I’ve found is that we often have much more leeway than we believe to make these tasks feel less loathsome. We can often find a way to tweak what we have to do to make it palatable enough to perform by sculpting situations in a way that minimizes discomfort. For example, if you’re like me and get queasy talking with big groups during large, noisy settings, find a quiet corner of that setting to talk, or step outside into the hallway or just outside the building. If you hate public speaking and networking events, but feel slightly more comfortable in small groups, look for opportunities to speak with smaller groups or set up intimate coffee meetings with those you want to network with.

Finally, take the plunge. In order to step outside your comfort zone, you have to do it, even if it’s uncomfortable. Put mechanisms in place that will force you to dive in, and you might discover that what you initially feared isn’t as bad as you thought.

For example, I have a history of being uncomfortable with public speaking. In graduate school I took a public speaking class and the professor had us deliver speeches — using notes — every class. Then, after the third or fourth class, we were told to hand over our notes and to speak extemporaneously. I was terrified, as was everyone else in the course, but you know what? It actually worked. I did just fine, and so did everyone else. In fact, speaking without notes ended up being much more effective, making my speaking more natural and authentic. But without this mechanism of forcing me into action, I might never have taken the plunge.

Start with small steps. Instead of jumping right into speaking at an industry event, sign up for a public speaking class. Instead of speaking up in the boardroom, in front of your most senior colleagues, start by speaking up in smaller meetings with peers to see how it feels. And while you’re at it, see if you can recruit a close friend or colleague to offer advice and encouragement in advance of a challenging situation.

You may stumble, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s the only way you’ll learn, especially if you can appreciate that missteps are an inevitable — and in fact essential — part of the learning process. In the end, even though we might feel powerless in situations outside our comfort zone, we have more power than we think. So, give it a go. Be honest with yourself, make the behavior your own, and take the plunge. My guess is you’ll be pleased at having given yourself the opportunity to grow, learn, and expand your professional repertoire.


Andy Molinsky is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Brandeis International Business School. His forthcoming book, Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence is to be published by Penguin Random House in January 2017. For more information visit andymolinsky.com and follow Andy on Twitter @andymolinsky.

Personalized Learning: Enabling Student Voice and Choice Through Projects

Edutopia

Adapt these six tips to bring personalized learning projects into your classroom and build student engagement.

Follow this link for an interesting video

Overview

Addressing four teenagers standing at the front of the classroom, Gary Hook, a history teacher at Nashville Big Picture High School, told them, “I’m going to give you $100,000 for 20 percent equity in the company. I need to know right now, though. I need to know whether you’re in or not.”

A panel of four additional 11th-grade teachers sat beside Hook, and each of them took turns making different investment offers based on the product, potential revenue, and investment request that the students initially pitched.

The power switched into the students’ hands when they chose an offer, and all of their classmates erupted in cheers. They were participating in a two-week Shark Tank project — based on the show of the same name — where entrepreneurs pitch investors to fund their company.

 

 

What began as a classwide math project to learn about the profit function equation and quadratic functions culminated into a grade-level presentation to imitate the show Shark Tank.

Each student was tasked with joining a group to create a fictitious business, which included developing a product and marketing plan, choosing a location and work space, and identifying how much money they would need for startup costs and what the return would be for investors.

“One of the things you hear all the time as a math teacher is, ‘When am I ever going to use this?'” says Derick Richardson, a Nashville Big Picture math teacher. “I try to bridge that. And so through this project, the kids were able to see, ‘Oh, man, we’re talking about stuff that I hear on the news and that I see on this TV show that I like, and it actually makes sense.’ Everybody got involved, even the kids that are not good at math. I’ve never seen these kids get this excited about a math project.”

“When you’re able make learning relevant to a student,” adds Chaerea Snorten, Nashville Big Picture’s principal, “it helps them want to do it and not just because that’s what’s expected. The whole focus of personalized learning is that students see the relevance of what it is that they’re doing. The outcome is students are engaged, and they’re enjoying the learning process.”

If you want to engage your students in personalized learning projects, here are six tips from Nashville Big Picture High School for how you can get started.

How It’s Done

1. Make Your Projects Simple

Not every project has to be a grade-level collaboration like the Shark Tank project. Instead of the traditional paper or PowerPoint presentation, give your students choices in how they show their learning. They may choose to make a video, act out a skit, or create a painting.

Kristin, a Nashville Big Picture junior, was asked to depict slavery in any way that she wanted for her history class. She chose art. Her painting depicted Harriet Tubman and a slave girl against a backdrop of words.

These words — ranging from “kidnapping” to “hope” — depicted a slave’s journey from slavery to emancipation. She appreciated not only being able to choose how she would express her learning, but also the public display of her art — alongside other students’ work — in the school hallways. “My art is a part of me,” shared Kristin, “and so for people to walk by and see a part of me, it feels great.”

When Harley, an alumnus, entered Nashville Big Picture in ninth grade, he was given the choice in how he could approach his first project. “I made a video documentary about myself,” Harley recalls, “and from that assignment, I realized that I loved making movies.” From that moment forward — from his exhibitions to his senior capstone project — Harley expressed his learning through video. “I wouldn’t have put in as much time and effort if I had to write a lot of papers, but by making a bunch of videos, I was able to do awesome work because it was something I cared about,” he says.

Watch Harley’s short video for Edutopia about student voice and choice (and read his four tips on how teachers can engage students).

2. Let Your Students Choose What They Learn (It’s Not as Scary as it Sounds)

In place of a quarterly test, Big Picture history teacher Gary Hook assigned his students a mini-project to research, investigate, and present on a topic within modern U.S. history. He gave them a list of topics from the ‘80s to the present — ranging from movements (like gay rights and Black Lives Matter) to the impact of social media on modern-day society. If there wasn’t a topic on the list that his students wanted to research, he let them choose their own topic as long as it fit within modern U.S. history.

Give your students a list of options from which they can choose, whether it’s a book to read in language arts, a topic to research in history, or a business to create in math. “With project work, I try to give them a menu of options that they can choose from to show their learning,” explains Hook, “as well as a menu of options that they can choose to research. This allows them to operate in a space where they are comfortable.”

3. Give Your Students a Project Framework

Giving your students choice in what they learn and in how they express their learning doesn’t mean that content or standards get thrown out the window. Hook was able to give his students choice while still meeting his content objectives. Nor does giving your students choice mean that your assignments lack structure or planning. “When it comes to personalizing our learning, we have to look at what our content and standards are. We start there,” says Snorten.

“The essence of personalized learning is understanding where the student is and where they want to go, as well as where you need them to go,” adds Hook. Give your students a project brief to make sure that they cover the content and skills you need them to learn. Hook gave his students a project brief outlining the objective, topic options for research, guidance on how they’ll carry out their project (such as working in groups and presenting their topic), and details on what needed to be included in their process.

4. Use Temperature Checks to Assess Your Students’ Work

When assessing personalized learning projects, do one-on-one or group temperature checks with your students. Are they hot or cold? Are they way off or close to grasping what they need to understand? When Richardson’s students were working on the Shark Tank project, he would go from group to group, checking in on their profit functions.

Richardson also checked in on their progress with their product, their marketing campaign, and the elements of their project that were less tied to math. “Sometimes you have a project, but you don’t follow up,” he explains. “You hand out a sheet of paper, they go do it, and that’s it. I really wanted them to get excited about this, be passionate about it, and create something that they really might be able to use outside of the classroom.” Student choice about their project brings relevance to their learning. By showing interest in the whole project, you show interest in their passions and in your students themselves. They’ll become more engaged in their work if they believe that you’re excited and engaged in what they’re doing and in who they are.

5. Get to Know Your Students

“We need to understand who our students are and how they learn,” stresses Richardson. Once you understand your students’ needs, you won’t waste time delivering content in a way that they won’t comprehend. “It saves you a lot of time and effort,” he says.

“Like adults,” adds Courtney Ivy Davis, Big Picture’s school counselor and internship coordinator, “their passion is what drives them. It’s what gives them excitement, and we want them to be excited about their passion and tie that to their education so that they can be successful lifelong learners.” Students don’t walk into your classroom with their passions and interests written on their forehead. You have to uncover these things while giving your students the opportunity to explore and discover their interests for themselves. By offering them choice in what and how they learn, you allow them to figure out how they learn best. Building intentional relationships with your students will allow you to guide them in this discovery. Here are 22 ways that Nashville Big Picture builds intentional relationships with their students. (Note that these strategies are applicable even if you’re at a bigger school.)

6. Ask Your Students What They Want and Need

“Student voice is number one,” emphasizes Snorten. “Hear it, learn it, ask for it. ‘What is it that will help you do better? How can we help you improve? What do you need from us?'” Building personal relationships with each of your students is important, but it also takes time.

If you have a class of 40 students, and want to know their needs and interests now, ask them.

See Related Resources: When We Listen to Students and Student Surveys: Using Student Voice to Improve Teaching and Learning

Help Your Students Figure Out How They Learn Best

Rather than opening a textbook, memorizing steps to an equation, or learning the teacher’s method on how to understand something, personalized learning allows your students to figure out how they learn best. They also get to see how their peers learn best, showing them that there are many ways to problem solve and reach the same solution. “At other schools, they might know one specific way to do things,” explains Richardson, “but our students are prepared to be more creative in how they figure out the solution. They learn how to learn on their own, and they take that into college.”

Slow Deciders Make Better Strategists

Harvard Business Review

JULY 08, 2016

There are many ways to split people into two groups. Young and old. Rich and poor. Us and them. The 98% who can do arithmetic and the 3% who cannot. Those who split people into two groups and those who don’t.

Then there’s the people who make good competitive-strategy decisions, and those who don’t.

It’s not easy to split people into the good/bad strategy decision-makers. Track records are useful but they’re not unambiguous, and those getting started have no track records at all. General intelligence and business degrees seem to be good signs, but smart people with business degrees don’t agree on what works in strategy. Veterans with specific industry expertise look promising, but so do outsiders with new ideas.

What about mindset? We know people put credence in confidence. However, it seems to me there’s a difference between someone who’s confident after laboring over a thoughtful decision and someone who’s confident with a snap judgment. It seems to me there’s a difference between someone who’s unsure after serious contemplation and someone who’s unsure about a quick pick.

Imagine that we can record decision-makers’ solutions to a competitive-strategy problem. We also ask how confident they feel that they’ve found a good answer and how long it took them to find it. We can categorize them, then, like this:

W160623_CHUSSIL_FOURSTYLES

I’ve got such a database of people, those who have entered the Top Pricer Tournament. The database includes business executives, consultants, professors, and students. I gave all of them the same unfamiliar but straightforward pricing-strategy problem.

Dozens of Tournament entrants said they were very confident in their strategies after making a fast decision, dozens said they were very confident after a slow decision, and so on. The phrases in the boxes are how I interpret the mindsets of the people in those boxes. In the analysis below I’ll leave out the respondents in the “I guessed” box because they seem unrepresentative of what happens in real life, where strategists work at strategy decisions until they’re confident in their answers or they’ve worked long enough to conclude they’re not going to make further progress.

In general, the I-already-knows, confident in their snap judgments, and the Now-I-knows, confident after pondering, tend to be older males. Male business students are also represented in the I-already-knows. The I-don’t-knows, unsure of their thoughtful decisions, tend to be somewhat younger. And females make up well over half of the I-don’t-knows, a much higher percentage than in the other mindsets.

Make your prediction: which of the three styles selected the best-performing Tournament strategies?

The best-performing group: the I-don’t-knows.

Perhaps it’s about age: we gain confidence over time, but maybe not skill. Perhaps it’s about gender: rather than the conventional wisdom that females don’t have enough confidence, maybe males have too much. I don’t have enough data yet to assess those hypotheses. And perhaps the results will change as the sample sizes grow.

Still, the I-don’t-knows’ success fits my business war-gaming experience.

In one case, the new vice president of a troubled business brought together about thirty managers, each with decades in the business. The managers considered the war game an amusing waste of time. They all knew the answer already, they said, and no other options were possible. Then, role-playing their business and its competitors, they discovered that their already-known answer simply would not work. The manag­ers suddenly found new options. We war-gamed one, and it worked, and they rolled it out in real life, and it worked. The new VP got promoted.

It’s not that the managers didn’t care or were incompetent; it’s that they were overconfident. When you think you know the answer, you sincerely believe it’s a waste of time to keep looking for it. It feels like continuing to search for your keys after you’ve found them.

I think the essential lesson for competitive-strategy decision-makers is not so fast, in both senses of the phrase: take your time and don’t be so sure. That’s the mindset used by the new VP and the I-don’t-knows.

The willingness to apply that mindset is what separates the good decision-makers from the bad.

Author note: I’d like to expand the Tournament database. I offer use of the Tournament in confidence and at no charge to faculty in business schools and executive-education programs, and to facilitators at corporate universi­ties and management-development programs. Please contact me at TopPricer@DecisionTournaments.com.

Mark Chussil is the Founder and CEO of Advanced Competitive Strategies, Inc. He has conducted business war games, taught strategic thinking, and written strategy simulators for Fortune 500 companies around the world.

Learning Persuasive Public Speaking

    • TED talks a great motivator

      CMSchool brings persuasive speech to 21st Century

  • Clarissa Gowing  Courtesy photo

    Clarissa Gowing Courtesy photo

    By Lara Bricker
    newsletter@seacoastonline.com

    Seacoast online

    Posted Jun. 30, 2016 at 2:03 PM

    STRATHAM — Eighth-grader Clarissa Gowing admitted that public speaking is not her favorite thing.

    But the new format of the eighth grade persuasive speaking requirement at the Cooperative Middle School made it tolerable for her. Gone are the days of students reading their speeches off note cards or memorizing a talk. For the past three years, eighth graders have done their own version of TED Talks, known at CMS as ED talks.

     “We didn’t have to do a boring essay that was long and really formatted. We could be really fluid around it and have a lot of freedom,” Gowing said. “It was my own topic and I was interested in it, so it was easier talking about it. I don’t love public speaking. I think being able to choose the topic and only going in front of a small group of my peers really helped.”

    Before the ED talk approach, teachers heard many of the same topics each year. From why the school day should start later to the menu in the cafeteria. That all changed three years ago when a group of teachers at CMS decided to try something new. Eighth-grade English teacher Melissa Tobey broached the idea of having students try their own version of TED Talks after listening to the TED Radio Hour on National Public Radio one summer.

    “It just kind of sparked the idea of making the persuasive speech more kid-friendly and 21st century,” Tobey said.

    They found that students knew all about TED talks and were much more invested in the project that previously. The student talks have to be three to seven minutes long. The top eight talks, as selected by their peers, were presented before the entire eighth grade in late May, as a recognition of the project more than a competition.

    The ED talk format invited students to really become an expert on a topic and talk without notes.

    “We decided that they’re not ever going to be allowed to do a written speech because they tend to memorize and it makes it robotic,” Eighth grade English teacher Janet Prior explained.

    Tobey agreed.

    “It really makes them absolutely know their stuff really well because they have to be able to talk about it,” she said.

    Students found topics they were interested in and spent time learning about them, such as a student that apprenticed with a master blacksmith as research for his talk or another student who worked with a carpenter.

    Gowing did her ED talk on reactive attachment disorder, which she became interested in because she has a family member that may have the disorder. The disorder is caused when a young child is taken away from their main parental unit, usually their mother, which leads them to be unable to build trust with adults.

    “Later on they have trust issues and they can’t build loving relationships with others,” she said. “You can have therapy but there isn’t a real treatment they’ve discovered.”

    Topics were varied this year from Sean Collins’s discussion about Julia Childs to Jake Flewelling’s talk about the history of basketball.

    “I learned what YMCA actually meant,” Flewelling said, adding he also delved into famous players and the number of titles they had won. “I liked that we had a lot of time to prepare for it. I likes that you could vote on whose you thought was best.”

    Ben Gorman, who took on the issue of time travel, was one of the eight finalists who did their ED talk for the entire eighth grade.

    “It’s something that’s always interested me,” Gorman said of time travel.

    Gorman took the position that forward time travel is possible.

    “In order to time travel forward, when you approach light speed or greater then what happens is time starts to slow down for you,” Gorman explained. “One day for you could be 100,000 years for someone else.”

    Teachers recognized the value of giving students the freedom to select their own topic.

    “That makes it so authentic for them,” Prior said. “They pick topics that are their passion.”

    Students also incorporated technology into their talks by selecting images that enhance, not distract, from their message.

    “It’s something that every student can be successful with no matter their learning style,” Tobey said. “I think it’s less pressure for them. It’s really quite gratifying to watch.”

    Prior loves the genuine enthusiasm she sees in the students when they give their talks.

    “We need every day to feel like this day,” she said. “It remind you why you got into education to have a student who never shines in an academic setting getting applause and sit down feeling good about themselves.”

    The project improves each year, Tobey said.

    “It was so encouraging and positive from the get go. I love that the kids are excited to do it,” Tobey said. “It’s vital for our eighth graders to have such a positive experience with their first time presenting.”

    Busy or Annoyed?

    By George Couraos on Apr 03, 2016

    I love reading leadership articles and books, and no matter how many times there is a “5 Qualities of  a Great Leader” type article, I tend to eat it up, even thought a lot of the information is similar.  In an article titled, “7 Habits That All Great Leaders Have“, this point really resonated:

    5. They’re not always busy.

    Warren Buffett spends 80 percent of his time learning and thinking. Bill Gates goes off the grid for a week every year for deep reflection. LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner sets aside two hours every day just to think. Contrary to stereotypes, the best leaders aren’t always frantically busy. They know that having the maximum impact means leaving time for deep concentration and uninterrupted pondering (and yes, evenadequate rest).

    It really resonated with me as I always think of this George Costanza quote from one of my favourite Seinfeld episodes:

    Costanza Busy

     

    If you have never seen the episode, basically George gets out of work by looking annoyed, which in turn looks like he is always busy. The more you watch the episode, the more you realize how “busy people” really do look “annoyed” all of the time.

    via GIPHY

    One of the best leaders I have ever worked for, seemingly was never busy when her door was open. I would ask, “Do you have a moment?”, and she would always say, “Of course I do!”, and welcome me into her office.  Although I know she had a ton of work to do, she always made time for people and made them feel welcomed and that they weren’t “on the clock”,

    I have seen the opposite as well though.  When you ask for time and you constantly hear, “I only have a few minutes”, you feel like an annoyance, and it is definitely not a good way to build relationships.  It also creates a certain dynamic, as how often do we treat those we respect that their time is limited.  I rarely see principals tell superintendents that they are busy, but I have seen the dynamic the other way around.

    Can you imagine a student showing up at your office and then telling them how busy you are?  Should we do this to those in our organization as well? There are times when 10% of people take up 90% of your time and you have to be clear, but constantly telling everyone how busy you are isn’t laying the foundation for a good relationship.

    One of the things that I always say to people is that the higher up you go in the traditional hierarchy of an organization, the more people you serve, not the other way around.  

    If we aren’t able to make time for the people we serve, can we really be effective as leaders?

    Shifting your Professional Network into the 21st Century

    Teaching Channel

    When I first became an educator, the term “network” had a different connotation for me when I compared it to other professions. In my mind, it implied we were supposed to reach out to other educators within our building, or perhaps at the district level, to exchange both ideas and resources.

    After being selected to Honeywell’s Educators @ Space Academy in 2006, my idea of an educator’s network broadened to include educators not only in other states, but around the world. In fact, after realizing the opportunity, a few of us decided to make our own website to stay in touch and collaborate. It worked so well that my students participated in joint science experiments with students from other states, but they also helped set up an “American style” student council in Romania.

    SpaceAcademy2

    After seeing the value of collaboration, I was eager to be part of the initial cohort at the Dayton Regional STEM Center. This cohort included professionals from K-12 education, higher education, and industry, working together to develop STEM curricula for students in all schools. As a STEM Fellow, you participated in training which includes learning about the engineering design process, as well as touring labs at local universities and industry sites. Working alongside passionate individuals and seeing their amazing work environment was very inspiring. As an educator, I knew that I had to find a way for them to become part of my classroom. And that’s when things changed.

    I had lived in self-imposed exile for far too long. I used to think that cross-curricular activities within my building were good enough, but when I saw the value that was added through these highly gifted engineers and scientists interacting with students, it forever changed the way I organized my units of instruction. My idea of a professional network was forever changed.

    I started using sites such as LinkedIn to keep track of my professional contacts and building an even bigger network. Additionally, I started the practice of sending home a letter at the beginning of the school year outlining my course of study, which also invited parents to sign up as a potential volunteer/site hosts if their profession seemed to fit within the scope of our studies. Finally, I reached out to former students that were either in college or in their young careers for support. The response that I received was phenomenal.

    As a result of leveraging my contacts, not only did the number of visitors coming into my classroom sky rocket, but my middle school students have been active participants and earned experiences that have been much more than just “field trips” at the following sites over the past 3 years:

    • Mad River Township Fire/EMS
    • Wright State Visualization Laboratory
    • Schools of Chemistry, Physics, and Engineering
    • The Ohio State University Aero/Astro Research Center
    • Ohio State University Schools of Engineering and Architecture
    • Air Force Institute of Technology

    Once your classroom develops the reputation of engaging the community, entities will search you out. As an example, I was contacted by Jason Kruger of Stratostar out of Indianapolis, Indiana. Even though his company is a couple of hours down the road, through reputation he found us. We worked together with my students to create experiments that would be attached to a high altitude weather balloon that launched into near space. Ovular objects (how fluids behave with changes in temperature and pressure), Dancing Confetti (a study in turbulence as well as sound waves at different altitudes), and the ill-fated AstroCrickets, were our way of conducting authentic engineering and scientific investigations for nearly a month. Our school organized a launch day in which all of the students in the building, as well as parents and local media, were invited to attend. We even had a mission control in which everyone could watch as the real time data from the sensors rolled into our classroom.

    Balloon

    The day after our successful launch and retrieval, one of my students — a 12-year-old girl who was very quiet — came up to me and said, “You know Mr. J, I had a great moment yesterday. When my dad came home from work, he asked me what I did at school today. I said nothing big. I just helped launch a weather balloon over 62,000 feet into near space. ‘What did you do?’” On that note, we both smiled then chuckled, and I knew that my extra efforts to reach outside of my classroom walls were well worth the time.

    Tom Jenkins teaches both middle school science and STEM in Enon, Ohio. He is a NASA SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador, Manager of Special Projects at the Dayton Regional STEM Center, as well as the Boeing Science Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Tom via Twitter: @TomJenkinsSTEM.

    Empowering a Generation of Female Leaders

    Chris Wilson, Head of School, Esperanza Academy, L+D Board Member

    In March 2011, a Princeton University panel came out with a study showing that while women continued to enroll at the university in greater numbers, and to achieve at a high level academically, their involvement in leadership positions on campus was very different than that of men.

    “The committee found that women, more than men, tend to hold behind-the-scenes positions or seek to make a difference outside of elected office in campus groups; that women do not assert themselves as often in class discussions, yet tend to outperform men academically; and that these and other patterns reflect the different ways in which undergraduate men and women view their college experience,” the committee reported.

    The panel went on to recommend an overhaul of orientation, mentoring, and faculty awareness activities to overcome what the panel chairwoman deemed “a popular culture that simply has not been very supportive of women” taking leadership positions.

    How can women, on the one hand, be excelling academically, enrolling in and graduating college and professional programs like medical school in record numbers (eclipsing their male peers in almost all measures) but remain unwilling or seemingly deterred from seeking top-level leadership positions despite excellent credentials? This phenomenon is not limited to the campus student government; more recent studies have show that women, despite having a strong presence in these fields, hold far fewer leadership positions than men in everything from medicine to law to finance. And we all know that the prevalence of women in corporate boardrooms and Executive Suites lags their representation in the broader workforce.

    Could there be a role for us as educational leaders in preparing women to take the reins of leadership later in life?

    At my school, Esperanza Academy, a tuition-free, independent

    middle school for modest-income girls in Lawrence, Massachusetts, we aim to explicitly train our students to exercise habits of leadership.

    But “leadership” for us means something deeper than “believing in yourself” and “building self-esteem,” and many of the other phrases one often hears along with the concept of leadership these days. We, of course, hope our students come to believe in themselves and have confidence. But we also teach our students that becoming leaders involves responsibility. It involves risk. “Leadership” is often about developing, harnessing, and deploying “power.” The power to be seen and influence others, the power to take the stage and make an argument, the power to “find a voice.”

    Leadership means speaking for and acting on what one believes is right, even when those beliefs are unpopular. This is often countercultural for young women, who are taught by so many social forces to be “cute and likable.” What we ask our students to do – to take power, and to learn how to use it – is very “anti-Facebook.”

    We also teach our students that privilege and leadership are not ends in and of themselves. Although my school exists to give a generation of low-income students an opportunity to make their own choices and set their own paths, we also believe strongly that the goal of an independent school education must be something deeper than simply the creation of privilege for our students. It must be to engender in our future graduates an orientation towards social justice and creating a better future – a future within which they and other women will have far more power.

    As a girls school, we are keenly aware of the benefits of single-sex education for young women, in providing opportunities for leadership that would all-too-often be lacking in a coeducational environment. But it is not simply because we are single sex that our students have become such strong leaders – we believe it is because we hold young women’s leadership as a central goal of our educational curriculum.

    One critical piece of creating our future leaders at Esperanza is developing public speaking and self-advocacy skills. This goes beyond simply reading a passage in front of a group. Our young women, beginning in fifth grade, are expected to address the whole student body and faculty regularly. They compete to address donors at fundraising functions, and have lobbied city government officials in person.

    How do they develop such poise?

    They practice, day in and day out. They greet each teacher everyday with a handshake and a “good morning.” They attend school in uniform and take pride in their environment with a daily all-school cleanup. Each morning, students address the school during morning assembly, and every two weeks in chapel. These opportunities are celebrated and sought after – nearly thirty students (half of the school) competed for the fifteen student ambassador spots. Any time we have a guest in the building, students stop in the hallways to introduce themselves and greet the visitor. And in classes, our teachers regularly have student debates and defend their intellectual positions.

    All of this is just one part of our effort to build our students’ comfort with and ability to hold leadership positions. In many ways I regard this as important as our students’ academic achievements. After all, girls seem to be catching up to boys in making good grades, but they don’t seem to be catching up in seizing the reins of power in making the decisions that will impact the next generation the most, from the highest echelons of leadership. It is my hope that our Esperanza Academy graduates will help change that balance of power.