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