Whether it’s embedded into the curriculum or into co-curriculars like model UN, robotic competitions and exchange programs, girls-only schools are giving girls a voice. But focusing on ‘soft’ skills such as resilience, empathy and capacity – just as much as academics – is also helping to prepare girls for an uncertain future.
St. Clement’s School in Toronto, for example, is teaching girls to get more comfortable with feelings of discomfort through deep learning competencies called the 6 Cs: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, citizenship, character and communication.
The 6 Cs is a relatively new pedagogy that focuses on skills students need for the future – regardless of their job.
“This research has really resonated with us,” says Martha Perry, principal of St. Clement’s. “Girls learn differently [than boys], they value the opportunity for collaboration, but they still need to learn how to do it effectively.”
The school has a number of programs to nurture the 6 Cs, such as ‘curious kids,’ in which girls across grades discuss an issue they consider important. Some girls, for example, were interested in how a community comes together during a crisis, such as in Gander, Nfld., when flights were grounded there after 9/11. So they reached out to the mayor of Gander for a conversation, which helped them understand the notion of citizenship.
There’s also a lot of discussion about the future. “It’s important we work consciously and purposely on how we manage the unknown,” Perry says.
When teaching math, it’s about learning how to learn through math. “The way we’re working with kids on math is very different than it was seven or eight years ago – it’s not a stand-and-deliver method.”
St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School in Oakville, Ont., is another all-girls school that has embraced the 6 Cs.
“Our mission is that we develop courageous girls who change and challenge the world,” says Carol Steven, head of middle school at St. Mildred’s.
Its philosophy of “inspired girls, empowered women” goes back to the school’s inception 128 years ago. More recently, it established “signature programs” for academic and co-curricular excellence, which include active healthy living, art and design, global studies, STEM and robotics.
“It’s not just about coming to school and learning, which is important … but you can’t have that without thinking about the social and emotional development of girls,” Steven says. “There is a curriculum, there are expectations, eventually they will be taking provincial tests, so that’s where balance comes in.”
But at the core are the 6 Cs, embedded within the classroom and into the signature programs.
They’re also embedded into its global studies program; last year, 110 students studied abroad in nine countries.
“The impact that those kinds of experiences had on them, their confidence, their leadership skills, their resilience – they come back changed people,” Steven says.
Havergal College in Toronto also offers global experiential learning to help girls find their voice, as well as encouraging community partnerships and volunteer opportunities locally.
“Our world is changing. To be able to go somewhere else and be uncomfortable, but be adaptable and curious rather than judgmental, [can] help inform your own values,” says Jennifer Russell, manager of Havergal’s Forum for Change and co-ordinator of student leadership.
She describes Havergal’s approach as Fun A vs. Fun B. Fun A is visiting the Eiffel Tower during a student exchange.
“Fun B is that hard conversation where you had to advocate for yourself but it had a good outcome,” says Russell. “Especially in an exchange program, the challenge is the point. They’re not signing up for Fun A.”
Ultimately, though, finding their voice starts right in the classroom. The philosophy at The Bishop Strachan School in Toronto, for example, is to inspire growth and discovery in the face of life’s challenges – through which girls find their voice.
“In the classroom environment, it’s the perfect place for girls to start developing their voice. They have a small, safe community, particularly for girls who might be more introverted,” says Angela Terpstra, head of school for Bishop Strachan.
“Being in a girls-only school, all of your role models are girls: the athletes, your peers in the classroom,” she says.
“This is a huge piece of building confidence when you look around and see all of those girls. There’s no division into roles.”
Whether in the classroom or outside of school walls, the 6 Cs and other novel approaches to learning are helping girls to learn from real-world experience and practise risk-taking in a supervised environment.
“We’re not foregoing any of the curriculum,” Perry says. “We’re thinking of how that curriculum can be delivered in a way that fosters those skills.”
Our Kids tip: Parents need to evaluate if their chosen school’s culture suits their girl
“Each girls’ school develops its own culture and vibe. Visit schools on a regular school day — and bring your daughter — to get a taste of their student culture: How do students interact? Have your daughter pay attention to her visceral feelings. Schools with diverse populations — that have girls with different personalities, interests, and values — will give your daughter more opportunity to find like-minded peers.”
— OurKids.net, Canada’s Private School Guide
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.