Have you noticed there’s a Women in Leadership Conference in November ? In New Orleans?
Are you thinking, “Why an event just for women? Isn’t ‘cross-pollination’ between genders a better way to improve the lives of children?” If you’re a female education leader, you may start to conclude, “I’m too busy to even think about attending.” Or, “My focus has to be on the children I serve. That leaves little time for conferences not tied to school goals and initiatives.”
Let me ask you two questions:
- Might a roomful of females might generate different ideas about student needs than a roomful of males ?
- Are those female perspectives being seriously and broadly considered or funded by those leading education reform right now?
Not Stereotypes, but Archetypes
To answer, let’s turn away from the stereotypes of the differences between men and women—stereotypes that harm the “average” and “outlier” members of each gender—and focus on the archetypal differences. The stereotypes are easy to find. Take a look at the video Always Like a Girl. Or, consider the necessary message of the internet meme, “My daughter isn’t bossy. She has executive leadership skills.” Further, ponder for just a moment how boys who aspire to “soft skill” occupations or hobbies are belittled. Stereotypes are harmful.
Archetypes can be used differently, to articulate the values of a group while still acknowledging individual differences. The chart below shows one way of naming the positive, archetypal values for each gender. You probably won’t have to struggle much to think of some related but demeaning, stereotyping pejoratives!
Are you already thinking of individuals who fit better with the values listed for the opposite gender? Good! This isn’t about individuals. It’s about patterns and perceptions of what “should” be.
Perhaps you’re even aware of the research showing that there are greater differences in the traits and values of people within each gender than between the genders, bringing into question the need to discuss gender differences.
But…doesn’t the “Masculine” list above sum up the nature of the major emphases in initiatives underway in education in the United States? Ponder in the chart below for a moment the reality of the list on the left, which syncs with masculine values, versus the need for the list on the right, which is more in line with the feminine archetype:
But The Things on the Left are Crucial!
Yes, they are. Don’t fall into the trap of either/or thinking—the deep, deep black hole that keeps the pendulum swinging on education reform. Think about the items above polarities, interdependent sets of values that over time, need each other. “Solve” them by move toward either side and you get the downside of both. Here are a few articles on some huge polarities that are often framed as problems.
- Teacher responsibility for student achievement and student responsibility
- Holding teachers accountable and supporting teacher growth through professional development
- Three polarities to keep in mind for leading change
- “Grit” and readiness
I’ll be speaking on polarities as a tool for leadership at the Women in Leadership Conference. You can read articles about polarity thinking being an essential tool for leadership from both Harvard and the Center for Creative Leadership.
But the Left-Hand Initiatives are Research-Based-Practices!
Yes they are. So are those on the right. For example:
Teacher-Student Relationships have an effect size (the impact on student learning outcomes) of .72. Compare that to technology solutions such as computer-assisted instruction (.37) or web-based learning (.16) or simulations and gaming (.33). These figures come from John Hattie’s seminal meta analyses of the influences that have the greatest impact on student achievement in his Visible Learning for Teachers (Corwin, 2012).
Similarly, formative assessments also have a major influence (.90), but compare that to the power of motivating students by teaching them to understand what they are supposed to be learning and to monitor their own progress towards mastery (1.44). See why both the left and the right columns are needed?
Again, Why Just Women in Leadership?
Here are my reasons:
- Read about the biases against women at conferences. Look at this document from men who have pledged not to present at conferences where women are significantly underrepresented. Understand the mathematical odds of having all-male keynotes or panel members—and understand that it isn’t happening by chance! Look at who is telling the teaching profession, nearly 80% female, what to do; it isn’t hard to find institutes and conferences where 90% of the presenters are men. Hmmm…
- Women need to gather for insights into common experiences, to pool our collective wisdom, to find ways to first laugh and then surmount the obstacles we face.
- Women need support groups or accountability groups or kindred spirits or professional networks or whatever name suits you. One of the other speakers at this conference is my “Gripe and Grow” partner. We’ve pledged not to gripe to each other about the gender stereotypes, inequities and other frustrations we’re dealing with unless we finish the conversation with learning points and action steps.
Nothing will change unless, together, we articulate what needs to change.
Let’s End with History
The struggle to be heard is nothing new. Over 250 years ago as John Adams was working on the founding papers of our country, he and his brilliant wife Abigail penned this exchange of ideas:
If you have any doubt of the magnitude of the struggle before men gave up their “masculine systems,” watch the movie Suffragettes!
Come to New Orleans in November and begin, or further, your journey as an empowered woman in education leadership.