What's My Role
In the 'By Girls, For Girls' Approach?

"The girls and I often go hiking. It's an activity we all enjoy," says Lorena Kirschner of Morris Area Girl Scout Council (N.J.). "In the beginning, I was always at the front reading the trail signs. Now, I'm in the back and I get to see the girls helping each other over rocks with their backpacks, or just enjoying the event. Had I always stayed in the front, I would have missed them relying on each other."

Having transitioned from being the adult leading the way to observing girls help each other, Lorena feels rewarded by what she's witnessing. Not only are the girls flourishing in Girl Scouts, but she, as the troop leader has understood how and when to encourage the girls to become independent and take on leadership roles. Now she is more of an adviser.

Making sure that girls play a significant role in decision-making has always been part of Girl Scouting, but the term that's been used to describe the concept has changed from "girl planning" to "girl-adult partnership" to today's phrase, "by girls, for girls." By girls simply means that girls are playing an active part in figuring out the "what, where, when, how, and why" of their activities. For girls refers to girls benefiting from those decisions.

Marilyn Mathews, a GSUSA staff member, still remembers how her Girl Scout leader in the 1960's showed that she understood the importance of that "by girls, for girls" approach. "Mrs. Holzer encouraged us to take charge, to get involved in planning every aspect of our Girl Scout experience. We were responsible for making things happen and for looking back to see how they went, and how we could do better the next time. It took us four years of growing, learning, and practicing to go from inexperienced girls to the skilled young women we became. Over time, Mrs. Holzer adjusted how she worked with us, gradually stepping back and helping to build our skills so that we could take on more and more responsibility."

Today's "by girls, for girls" approach still encourages girls to voice their opinions, advocate for themselves and others, and share decision-making with their adult leader or adviser. As girls go from their early days of kindergarten to their last year of high school, they are capable of taking on increasingly greater responsibility for their actions, and they want and need to do this.

Here's how my daughter Liz described her "by girls, for girls" experience:
"When we were younger, our leaders played a major role in what activities we did, but now that we're older, our troop advisers are more of a support network than anything else. We're the ones deciding what STUDIO 2BSM focus books to work on, or what our next steps should be in a Girl Scout Gold Award project, or even just where we're going to meet."

Paola Capella, 17, discussed how she benefited from her Girl Scout leader's "by girls, for girls" style. "When I was younger, I always relied on my troop leader and my mom to tell me when my meetings were and what I had to do on my projects. But because my troop leader encouraged us to do our own planning and make our own decisions, now I can figure out what I need to do to achieve my own goals, and not just in Girl Scouting."

Increasing or shifting leadership opportunities to girls is an important aspect of ensuring that Girl Scouting will become more and more girl-centric. Councils, where this approach is being implemented, indicate that girls who reach the pre-teen and teenage levels are more inclined to remain in Girl Scouts.

A Dozen Ways to Tell . . .
if you are encouraging a "By Girls, For Girls" approach in your troop.

  1. You know that every girl's opinion counts, and you actively encourage them to speak up and share their ideas.
  2. You show respect for what girls say and value their opinions regardless of their age. You recognize that even Daisy Girl Scouts can begin to develop their leadership skills by sharing, voting, and choosing.
  3. You actively encourage girls to follow the Girl Scout Law, which includes the statement: "be a sister to every Girl Scout." You remind them how much they learn from each other.
  4. The girls suggest how they want to spend their time in Girl Scouting and where they want to take trips, and your response is something along the lines of "How can we make that happen?" or "How can I help?"
  5. Girls are not afraid to disagree with your suggestions, but they are also open to your ideas.
  6. Your first reaction to an outrageous suggestion, such as a year off from school to cruise around the world, is not "That's impossible!" but rather "Why are you interested in doing that?" as an attempt to figure out what's behind the statement. Probing the suggestion could lead to another idea that might be a little more realistic.
  7. If you're not comfortable with an activity suggested by girls — maybe you'd rather not go snow-tubing — you help them find an adult who can make their ideas a reality — as long as those ideas are okay, according to Safety-Wise.
  8. You help them evaluate the value of their experiences: What did you learn? What was the best part of this day? How did this experience affect you? What might you do differently the next time?
  9. You share your ideas with the girls in your group, but you don't expect or need them to jump up and down with great excitement each time they hear one of them.
  10. Girls are clearly comfortable saying what they like and don't like about your ideas when you offer them as possibilities rather than as "must-do's."
  11. Girls know they can come to you for help whenever they decide they need it.
  12. You are always ready to offer support and encouragement.

Adapted from LEADER, Winter 2005. © Girl Scouts of the United States of America.