Poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island,” and might well have added, “No Middle School girl is one, either.”
Our students operate in many ways as individual learners, and certainly possess individual talents, dreams and personalities. However, their experiences as a
part of this community include many in which those individuals act, interact and react to one another as members of groups and teams. Some of this is social and happenstance, of course, but much of it is by design. Why is it so desirable for our girls to spend some portion of their days as associates, in addition to the time they invest in solitary pursuits?
Perhaps answering that question requires a bit more definition of instances in which I would characterize girls as associates. The obvious is the athletic team, naturally, as I was informed quite proudly by a group of students noisily occupying the book locker area one afternoon, “We are the soccer team, Mrs. Myavec.” Another example is seen in the fact that we’ve asked our fifth grade girls to enjoy their first week of lunches seated together as advisory (CC) groups, providing a home base in the large dining room as they got their bearings in this new environment. Other occurrences include the eighth grade family groups that adopt a group persona in preparation for their work on immigration, literary circles that discuss commonly chosen titles, lab groups charged with completing multi-step tasks, and desk partners who struggle together on a math challenge.
Returning to the question: Why is this grouping in various ways and various settings valuable?
First, I will say that it is valuable because girls are, for the most part, affiliative
by nature. Even we introverts are attracted by the human-to-human connection. Challenging as it may be, tackling tasks with others who bring different skills, ideas and perspectives to the table (or playing field) stretches us and stimulates growth. It can make the whole endeavor more fun, as well!
Second, collaboration among girls forces attention to process, dialogue and problem solving, even before the task itself is undertaken. In the long run, it is this focus on discussion and process, coupled with practice in problem-solving, which will serve AIS students – far more than completion of any particular project or assignment.
The security and support a group or team can offer is a further reason for promoting this mode of interaction, especially for adolescent girls. While a girl working alone may “play it safe” in her response to an assignment, members of a group may encourage her to take some academic or creative risks and push her further than she might otherwise push herself. We all know that a group can push toward negative behavior... this is the happy flip side of that truth.