Seven Tips for Creating a Space for Girls to Speak Up
Denise Montgomery is a Junior troop leader in San Diego, California, who runs a consulting practice focusing on youth development. In this post, she shares how intentionality helped her young Girl Scouts learn to use the power of their voices.
One of the great joys of leading a Girl Scouts troop is supporting the girls as they grow. It has been particularly fulfilling to see girls who were shy as Daisies now, as Juniors, initiate projects, lead activities, and share their points of view.
Before forming our troop, my co-leader and I talked about the troop culture we wanted to nurture. We also shared insight from our professional lives, including books and research on group communications, that could inform troop culture. For instance, we learned that in any given group, about 30% of people tend to dominate, and by being aware of that subset’s tendency, we know that we must be intentional about ways to hear from all girls.
As an extrovert, it has been helpful for me to understand introversion and extroversion in terms of how people become energized. Introverts get more energy from within themselves and tend to do best in less stimulating environments, whereas extroverts are energized through interactions with others.
As troop leaders, we create a safe culture and include many types of opportunities for participating, speaking out, and assuming leadership roles. We don’t label girls and would never say something like, “Don’t be shy” or “Lindy is shy.” We don’t force girls to do things. Just as we take a “challenge-by-choice” approach for adventure activities such as zip-lining or a climbing, the girls choose when they are ready and want to more visible, vocal, or bold within the troop.
Here are my favorite tips for creating a space for girls to express themselves.
1. Use the “Meet my Daughter” form: We asked families to complete a “Meet My Daughter” form when girls join the troop so everyone can get to know new members and support some of our new Daisies, who could be shy. By asking families for this information, we also build trust with them and show our sincere interest in supporting their daughters.
2. Have structure and role clarity at troop meetings: When girls know what to expect, they feel safe and comfortable to freely express themselves. Since forming our troop, we have maintained the same opening at troop meetings: coming together in a Friendship Circle, reciting the Girl Scout Promise and Law, and doing a friendship squeeze around our circle.
At each troop meeting, there are many different roles—attendance taker, squeeze starter for opening the friendship ring, squeeze starter for closing the friendship ring, and snack server—and all the girls embrace these roles. For a shy girl, starting the squeeze that travels around the friendship circle can be a subtle, comfortable way to take the lead.
The attendance taker chooses a question or topic, such as “a place you’d like to visit” or “your favorite character in a book.” Having girls respond to these questions is an easy way for them to participate and share something about themselves with the troop.
3. Vote on troop matters: We do this so girls have a strong voice within our troop and to emphasize that every point of view matters, not just the loudest voices in the room. We vary our approach to voting; paper ballots, head-down votes with girls raising their hands, and place-the-dot-on-the-flip-chart votes, through which girls can see patterns of consensus emerge. We ask girls for their input on voting processes too, so the girls see tangible ways that their voices matter in how the troop runs.
4. Use roleplay and skits: During our troop’s annual Cookie Kickoff party, the girls rehearse their sales pitch to potential customers and anticipate customer responses. By practicing what they might say to a customer—like thanking people for buying Girl Scout Cookies or being gracious if someone says they already purchased cookies—we help set up girls to feel successful in handling customer exchanges. It’s also, in part, how they earn their Customer Insights and Cookie CEO badges.
Skits are a way for shier girls to try acting out a scenario in a safe environment. In multi-troop encampments, our troop has favored having the entire troop participate in a skit, and the girls found strength in numbers and by having a plan for their skit. For the Junior Social Butterfly badge, the girls performed a series of skits they named “The Bad Manners Crew Comes for Dinner,” in which they modeled welcoming behaviors that we discussed as part of the badge. The girls’ imaginations soared as they exaggerated all kinds of behaviors and got lots of laughs from their audience. They were having too much fun to feel self-conscious!
5. Play inclusive games: Games are a great part of Girl Scouts—they get everyone up and moving, they can be a platform for sharing, and girls love them. We choose games that include everyone and typically aren’t focused on a winner. Here’s one example:
Concentric Circles: Divide your troop in half, and form two concentric circles, the inner circle facing out and the outer circle facing in, so that girls in the two rings face one another. Pose a question (“What has been the best part of your day today?”), or have a troop member ask the question (“Would you rather be a doctor or a pilot, and why?” or “Would you rather be a unicorn or a mermaid, and why?”), and have girls share their responses. Then have the outer circle rotate one position for the next question. Continue until the outer circle has done a full rotation.
6. Team up with troops of different ages: As our troop has gotten older, the girls love opportunities to play the role of mentor to younger girls. We planned an ice-skating outing for all the Girl Scout troops at our school, and the fifth graders wanted to help younger girls who haven’t skated before. In addition to feeling part of the larger sisterhood of Girl Scouts, this was also a confidence boost for everyone.
Similarly, our girls participated in encampments or She & Me (a Girl Scout and her registered Girl Scout mom, grandmother, aunt, sister, or mentor) camping weekends and found inspiration from the older Girl Scouts, who planned and led these gatherings. I have been on many hikes where I overheard older girls share tales of how they used to be shy and now they do things like speak in front of groups. Our Juniors drink this in and understand that being shy is not a fixed trait or something they are locked into, nor is it in any way deficient.
7. Talk about leadership with your troop: Although we've engaged in leadership development at all levels of Girl Scouting, we’ve had more involved discussions now that our girls are Juniors. We let girls know that effective leaders listen, and we also dispel myths about leadership, such as leaders must be charismatic. The Junior Agent of Change Journey provides great content for interactive, reflective activities about the qualities of good and bad leaders and techniques for consensus voting.
Transformations occur gradually and through a culture of acceptance and respect. My co-leader and I are intentional about ensuring that all girls’ voices are heard and that they, whether shy or outspoken, have a range of opportunities to lead.