Last year, the Guiders of the 26th Orleans Guides stopped leading the horseshoe, the campfire, or organizing games – and it was the best thing we ever did.
We had started our year with four Guiders and a productive planning meeting full of great ideas. We had no idea that our leadership plans were about to fall apart. A family tragedy, a new job, and a complicated pregnancy meant that suddenly, all but one of us was part-time and no one had time for planning. By Christmas, we were all stressed and exhausted.
So we put the girls in charge. They were in the lead when it came to choosing what parts of the program they wanted to cover and how we were going to do it.
It occurred to us that there was nothing in our meetings that the girls themselves wouldn’t be capable of leading. With our adult leadership team stretched thin, if we wanted to focus on delivering the great program ideas the girls had come up with, it would be much easier if we simply didn’t have so much to do at meetings.
So we stopped leading the horseshoe and campfire. Stopped leading games, handing out forms, even greeting girls as they arrived.
We made the girls do it.
After a month, we asked for their feedback. Here’s what they told us: “It was fun to do the things we had decided ourselves!” “Leading the horseshoe made me feel grown up!”
Most compelling of all: “It was really powerful being trusted with the responsibility of running our Guide meetings. I felt like for the first time in my life, the adults around me really, truly trusted me.”
As a Guider, this has been an incredible experience. Meetings feel relaxed and fun. We’re confident that the girls are going to enjoy the activities – since they choose what to do. We have a few minutes of breathing space every meeting while girls are leading things where we can assess and evaluate, have small but significant conversations with girls and with each other, and get set up for the next activity.
We’ve seen incredible things happen with the girls, too.
They’re more confident – our shyest, most tear-prone first-year who never spoke to the group as a whole announced loudly one meeting that she had not had a turn at presenting her Lego invention yet, and then spoke for a full five minutes. Two weeks later, she led the group through a song at campfire. This year, at our second meeting of the year, she chose to take the lead for an entire campfire.
They work together better. And, having led activities even when they’re not entirely sure they could do it, they’re much more supportive towards each other with more respect and empathy for each others’ differences in personality and ability. They’re less afraid to make mistakes and more likely to lean on each other in finding a solution.
Meeting attendance went up. Camp attendance went up. All our third-year girls earned their Lady Baden-Powell award. They all went on to Pathfinders. Putting girls in the lead has been truly transformative.
But you don’t have to take my word for it.
In April, a guest speaker on mental health commented that our girls were very self-assured, thoughtful, and empathetic towards each other. Parents commented on the change in their daughters. Several parents made end-of-year gifts and donations to the unit.
We had thought that putting the girls in charge would be a fun way to teach program while easing our leadership burden for a month, and that we would look for more leaders to help with the rest of the year. We had no idea those new leaders would end up being the girls themselves, nor that it would inspire our girls to accomplish so much. Allowing every girl in Guiding to be to be everything she wants to be really does start with the girls!
Guest post by Andrea Drajewicz, a Guider with the 26th Orleans Guides in Ottawa.