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We Must Help the Quiet Girls Find their Voice

Consider the ‘good girls’ in your class you never hear from or who get overshadowed, and develop their confidence to speak up, says Jo Castro...

  • We Must Help the Quiet Girls Find their Voice

Over my 18 years of teaching, mainly in east London, time and again I have found myself at the end of the school year wondering how I knew so little about some of my children – and those pupils were regularly the ‘good girls’, who quietly got on with little fuss but also little excitement or enthusiasm. They were constantly overshadowed by the more dominant personalities of the class.

This came into focus when a colleague came to me with a concern about a group of girls in his class who seemed afraid to speak out. I grabbed the opportunity to work with them to see if we could improve their confidence and participation.

The school had a well-established coaching culture and I had been working with adults and children one-to-one, so we decided I would take the girls out of class for six one-hour sessions over the next six weeks.

I developed a group coaching model to understand what was keeping these girls from speaking out and then supported them to find their voices and put them to use. The results were so exciting that I have used this approach again in a different school.

I always start with the presumption that the girls will give a presentation of their choosing to a large group by the end of our sessions together. The expectation that they will be able to achieve this is so important, as the focus is on ‘how we get there’ not ‘will we get there?’.

The group is a safe space where the girls can share their feelings confidentially and find their voice, safe in the knowledge that we are there to support and celebrate one another’s bravery and risk-taking.

As the approach is solution-focused, we begin by looking at the girls’ individual strengths and then sharing those that they see in each other.

The power of being told what others value in you never fails to ignite a little spark of self-belief, which is evident from the small smile that refuses to be hidden on each girl’s face.

From here we begin to unpick what confidence is by describing the most confident girl we can imagine. We leave nothing unexamined and draw and write how she is on the inside and how we see that confidence on the outside.

In the following sessions we use visualisation, scaling and drama to work towards becoming the confident person the girls would like to be. It is important that the expectation is not that they will become the confident person we originally described, as this jump might be too big or not who they want to be.

By visualising a desired future in detail, the brain feels what it is like to be that person. Research shows that the subconscious mind believes the imagined future to be real and therefore the imagined can become the new reality.

Alongside this work is the preparation for the presentation. I use drama approaches that enable the girls to explore how a confident person sits, stands and speaks, and they learn how we can trick our brain into feeling confident by embodying the physicality of confidence.

They love learning the ‘power stance’ in particular. They practise holding their space on a crowded tube or bus and believing that they have the right to take up space too. They learn to roar!

The projects culminate in a performance. One group recited to their class a poem they had written, while another wrote and delivered an assembly on International Women’s Day about women from history who have changed the world.

Their peers and staff sit amazed and often tearful when they see these girls transformed and finally hear their voices loud and proud.

Following the projects, teachers report improved participation from the girls in class. They describe them as happier and note improvements in their academic progress. The girls describe themselves as more confident and many claim they feel their learning improves because they are talking more and therefore developing their thinking.

“I never thought anyone would be interested in what I have to say but they are and they think what I say is good,” said one.

“I loved the International Women’s Day Assembly because not only did it make me stand up for women’s rights but it also made me stand up and be confident,” said another.

So perhaps take a moment to think about your class and consider who are the voices you never hear and what you can do to help them be heard.

Jo Castro is a Y6 teacher and freelancer delivering coaching, peer mediation and teacher training. Follow her on Twitter at @jocastro_coach.

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