Girls’ Schools Redefine Leadership: Part 2 of 2

community service

This article is part two of a two-part series on how leadership is viewed and taught in girls’ schools. Click here to view part one.

An NCGS belief is that one size does not fit all. After all, the premise for single-sex schools is there are some things better suited for a single-gender environment. Therefore, one can conclude girls’ schools are based on the belief that there are many temperaments, talents, and attributes to actualize and an array of approaches and applications that can build up the strengths of our students. This is not to say coeducational institutions believe in one size fits all. As an educator, I have great respect for my colleagues and the ways in which my peers strive to actualize missions specific to their schools.

As I reflect on Susan Cain’s work, I find myself thinking carefully about the range of personalities in our mix. I am grateful for Susan’s deep dive into personalities and leadership. Our schools and professional lives are improved with such contemplations and ensuing dialogues. I am proud NCGS is focusing on civil discourse with this blog series on leadership, and appreciate the opportunity to ponder Susan’s work and the response of my respected colleague Nanci Kauffman by adding my own musings.

When at our best, those of us who claim our craft as educators are carpenters of the heart and mind.  We are child whisperers and claim to know what makes our students—and in the case of NCGS, our girls—tick. We don’t set a timer on the dashboard and use competition to bring out the best in all of our girls; even our extroverts, alphas, and those most comfortable taking healthy risks need “think time.” We don’t view spectating as passive, but in many cases, as a front row seat for the active learner. I agree with Nanci that leadership is not binary. One is not a leader or a follower. In my role as a Head of School, I sometimes lead, sometimes follow, and sometimes get out of the way. I see the same in my colleagues and from our girls. I learn from their ways and journeys on the path towards their maturation and leadership development.

Oftentimes, the true measure of our success and mission delivery is to focus on our graduates. As the Head of St. Paul’s School for Girls (SPSG), I am blown away by our alumnae. I imagine this is not singular to my experience, but rather many of my colleagues at other schools feel the same way and are humbled, proud, and rejuvenated from interactions with their alumnae/i. When I hear how they navigate their lives and make intentional choices, what’s clear to me is they feel they have more autonomy than ever before. Choices are in abundance, but making healthy choices is the key to success. Finding meaning and purpose in one’s life is an area for discussion where our alumnae—no matter their zip code, graduation year, or lifestyle—want to linger.

Our graduates and current students want to serve, to give back, to have empathy for those they claim as a part of their community. Servant leadership is a form of leadership brought to the forefront of SPSG and many girls’ schools which have service learning requirements. For SPSG specifically, our Episcopal identity calls us to give and grow from such service to others. Alumnae share that this “requirement” becomes a lifelong habit of leading through service. I wonder if this is the type of following that might resonate with Susan Cain’s work? Following a cause, a belief, a mission, or a higher calling is not passive. I think Susan wants our students—both boys and girls—to discover themselves through processes and to be less focused upon the product that the college landscape and résumé-building frenzy is leaning towards. Without pause, think time, boredom, discovery, choice, and application of creative thoughts, it’s hard to find meaning in one’s life or to make meaning from one’s experiences. The choice of when to lead by being in front, when to follow by letting others have a turn, and when to get out of the way requires instinct, knowledge of oneself, and permission to make mistakes.

It is a gift—a privilege—to serve through leadership at SPSG, to partner with NCGS, and to act as a catalyst for planting seeds with our colleagues about how we might unravel the leadership labyrinth. In doing so, we will help our students know themselves as evolving and capable citizens, learners, and friends. The last line of St. Paul’s School for Girls’ mission statement reads, “inspire confident leaders to serve in the world.” As such, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with the girls’ school community members who are, like me, carpenters of hearts and minds.

Penny Evins, Head of School, St. Paul’s School for Girls

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