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Everyday Courage for Our Middle School Girls

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Every summer, as I reflect upon the past year and my goals for the year ahead, I choose a theme to help guide me in the work I do. This year, I am focusing on courage. Courage, I believe, is a fundamental part of being a middle school girl and working with them as parents and educators.

A quick review of the etymology and definition of the word tells us that courage originates from the Latin word for heart, cor, often used as a metaphor for inner strength. One definition of the word is “the ability to do something that frightens us,” but author Brené Brown offers another view of courage. She talks about ordinary courage as “the level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about experiences―good and bad.” All of this is particularly relevant to adolescent girls.

5th graders on the first day of school, stepping outside their comfort zones (and into small spaces) to make new connections.

Adolescents are in an intense developmental period of self-reflection and identity formation. As their intellectual development grows, they have an increased ability to understand and reason, are curious, and display wide-ranging thought. Adolescents are also marked by fluctuations in confidence and feelings of inferiority. This is a perfect developmental time to cultivate courage!

7th Graders budget household meals and become familiar with the everyday choices families make.

We need both honest self-reflection and some fear. At Orchard House, our curriculum is designed around these developmental markers. Opportunities for girls to take appropriate risks in their classes, to play a new sport, to try many different art classes, and regularly scheduled time for activities and discussion centered around understanding one’s self as an individual and in relation to others, all serve to build courage in our students.

Older students modeling the ability to attempt new tasks, cultivating grit in themselves and the younger students.

We have the privilege of watching girls confront fears, step out of comfort zones, and build inner strength over their four years at OHS. The shy fifth grader, slightly overwhelmed by a new school, asks a teacher she doesn’t know yet for help. A sixth grader sings at the talent show. A seventh grader seeks help for a friend in need. An eighth grader delivers her graduation speech to hundreds of people and courageously enters a new chapter of her life.

Courage is a group project, not just an individual undertaking.

Adults who care about and work with adolescent girls are in a unique position not only to challenge and support girls as they try on courage, but also to model it. Whether or not they admit it, adolescents look to us for information, security, and inspiration―another trait of their development. Are we honest about our own fears? Do we confront them, and do we talk about our experiences, good and bad? Leading a life of courage not only benefits us, but the girls who look up to us.

Faculty share with each other the facets of diversity they are most and least comfortable talking about and why.
Girls learn about the everyday notion of “peace,” constructing Pinwheels for Peace as a symbol of their commitment to conflict resolution in their own lives.

Michelle Poler visits us on October 19 to share her personal journey into her own fears and how she learned to view her fears in a new light, confront them, and experience profound personal growth and new opportunities she would never have imagined in the process. She found that as she confronted fears, her inner strength grew. She became more courageous.

We hope you will join us on October 19th and consider some ways to expand courage in your own life!