Teaching girls to claim their voices is woven throughout our school’s history. From the essay writing contest from decades past to recitations to our contemporary rite of passage, the Senior Speech, Laurel School has, for more than 100 years, encouraged girls to speak up and speak out, to frame their thoughts, build an argument, and speak their minds. Yet, our longstanding emphasis on articulate expression is related to but not synonymous with voice. Voice is a fundamental component of confidence and is linked to leadership.
I worry that in many school communities the term “leadership” has become a catch-all; I’d like us to deconstruct the term, to parse it so that girls understand there are many ways to lead. Perhaps one non-negotiable is that great leaders know how to communicate effectively. They also share a willingness to initiate, to inspire, to listen closely, and to follow through. At Laurel, we view school as a crucible in which girls develop voice, vision, and the ability to practice components of leadership.
Adults in our community encourage our girls to speak, to test their ideas, to substantiate a thesis persuasively. Laurel’s Center for Research on Girls has undertaken a recent study, led by researchers at the University of Michigan, on hedging—the tendency to soften or justify a comment by saying, “This may not be right, but . . . ” We are pleased to collaborate with the faculty at St. Ignatius, a nearby boys’ school, and with Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, MI as we investigate whether or not hedging is more common in young women than in young men. Why do we hedge? Maybe we do not want to appear too strident, too insistent. We want others to understand we are not arrogant, that we offer our ideas humbly. It is not uncommon for all of us to hedge from time to time. But thinking about this impulse, of which I, too, am sometimes guilty, has led me to reflect a bit more on the intersection of voice and vision.