Weekly Research Roundup


Each week during the 2018-2019 school year, we will highlight current research on a variety of topics related to either the year’s theme of integrity (one of our core values), or cofounder of national nonprofit Girls Leadership Rachel Simmons' book Enough as She Is. In case you missed any of them, or would like to revisit any, here is a list of the topics we addressed with links to more detailed information and resources.

Week of 5/20: Suggestions for Summer Reading

Each year the National Coalition of Girls' Schools compiles a curated list of summer reading suggestions for teachers, parents, and students. The list for parents and teachers is topped by Lisa Damour's Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Adolescent Girls. Dr. Damour will be visiting Westridge in December and plans are underway to offer a six-week course for parents in the fall focusing on the individual chapters of her timely and compelling book. In the meantime, please follow the links below to find the NCGS recommendations for rewarding and refreshing reading this summer.

Research Roundup Archive:

MAY 2019

5/13: Study Smarter Not Harder

  • As Upper School students enter into the lead-up to final exams, it's helpful to review what research has discovered about effective study strategies. Paradoxically, some frequently used strategies have been found to be less effective than commonly believed. Simply reading and reviewing notes, for example, is one of the least effective ways to study. Taking practice tests, even if you have to make up your own (a benefit in itself), forces students to apply their knowledge and can identify specific areas for further study while reassuring students about areas they have already mastered. The University of North Carolina has created a useful guide to effective studying, designed to help students study strategically. Access this guide here. The bullet points from this guide (explained more fully in the link) are these:
    • Reading is not studying
    • Understand the Study Cycle
    • It's good to be intense
    • Silence isn't golden
    • Problems are your friend
    • Switch up your setting
    • Become a teacher
    • Use downtime to your advantage
    • Use all your resources
  • By following the suggestions in this guide, students can develop confidence in their own knowledge, avoid repeating ineffective strategies, and approach exams as a learning experience, rather than an anxiety-ridden ordeal.

5/6: Leadership Identity Development in Girls

  • Much research on leadership for girls focuses on the disparity between men and women in leadership roles in business, politics, and other areas. Taking a different approach, a recent study conducted by researchers at Bryn Mawr College and the Agnes Irwin School focuses on the development of leadership identity by lower school students at an independent girls' school. Based on the idea that girls' understanding of leadership can determine whether or not they perceive themselves as potential leaders, the study examined an intentional leadership identity development program. By focusing on leadership characteristics rather than formal leadership roles, the program seeks to nurture girls' understanding of leadership in early elementary school, long before they are invited to seek formal leadership positions. In the words of the researchers, "the program itself helped to redefine leadership for the girls and led them to identify themselves as leaders in more complex and nuanced ways." Early intervention in girls' understanding of leadership can play a crucial role in narrowing the disparities between men and women in leadership roles. Read more about the study here.

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APRIL 2019

4:29: Liberal Arts in the 21st Century

  • Howard Gardner, best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, has been conducting research for the past seven years on the future of what is broadly known as liberal arts – where the specific content of study serves as a vehicle for the skills of inquiry, critical thinking, analytical reading, and effective writing. As education adjusts to a more market-driven economy, such study might appear to be more of a luxury than a necessity. Other research, however, shows that the flexibility and adaptability essential to liberal arts education can be an effective foundation for a variety of career paths. Through his research, Gardner has identified four approaches to education among the undergraduates he and his team have interviewed.
    1. inertial (you go to high school, then you go to college, on autopilot)
    2. transactional (you do what's required to get a degree, then go to work or graduate school)
    3. exploratory (you go to college for a one-time opportunity to try something new or to dabble in a new field)
    4. transformational (you go to college to examine your fundamental beliefs and values)
  • Striking a balance between the intrinsic and extrinsic value of education is a challenging goal for schools like Westridge. While Gardner's categories are not mutually exclusive, it is clear that encouraging students to have a more exploratory and transformational approach to education will prepare them best for the evolving landscape of education. Read more about this research project here.

4/22: The Value of Mentoring Girls

  • The National Coalition of Girls' Schools is dedicated to promoting girls' schools around the country through research, collaboration, and networking. Westridge's Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor serves on its board, and Westridge will host the 2019 NCGS conference, Dream, Dare, Do: Girls as Makers, Inventosr, Engineers, and Entrepreneurs from June 24-26. As part of its outreach, NCGS hosts a series of podcasts called PEP – Podcasts on Educational Possibilities. The current podcast features and interview with Dr. Nilanjana "Buju" Dasgupta about her research on the value of mentors, in particular for young women in STEM fields as the world seeks to plug the leaky STEM pipeline from its shortage of women. Listen to the podcast here. Mentoring, particularly by women engaged in work where women are underrepresented, plays a key role in supporting the aspirations of girls.

4/15: Voice Lessons: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen.

  • Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of The Blessings of a Skinned Knee and The Blessings of a B-, has published a new book for parents entitled Voice Lessons: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen. In this book Mogel addresses the need for a variety of strategies for communicating with children of different ages and stages of development. Based in part on her clinical practice, but also drawing on fairy tales, research in neuroscience, and anthropology, she offers practical suggestions for avoiding the many pitfalls that mark the path of parent/child communication, especially in light of the new challenges presented by the pervasiveness of digital devices. As Mogel demonstrates, how parents communicate with their children can be as important, if not more important, that what they communicate. With characteristic wit and wisdom, Mogel offers a guide for parents that can help them recognize new openings for effective communication in the inevitable challenges they face as their children experiment with their own voices.

4/8: Challenge Success: Helping Students Become Resilient, Ethical, Motivated Learners

  • As seniors are in the throes of deciding which colleges to attend, and juniors are embarking on the process of selecting colleges to which they will apply, the research conducted by Challenge Success, a research-based organization at Stanford University provides valuable guidance. Challenge Success is dedicated to helping students achieve their dreams while maintaining their mental health. In their words, "We believe that our society has become too focused on grades, test scores, and performance, leaving little time for kids to develop the necessary skills to become resilient, ethical, and motivated learners. For 15 years, we have partnered with schools, families, and communities to embrace a broad definition of success and to implement research-based strategies that promote student well-being and engagement with learning. After all, success is measured over the course of a lifetime, not at the end of a semester." In their efforts to challenge narrow notions of success, Challenge Success has published a research report that demonstrates that future success is more related to the match between a student's interests and the college the student attends than any arbitrary ranking system. Read the report "A "Fit" over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity." Find out more about all the Challenge Success research here.

MARCH 2019

3/18: Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls

  • The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley recently published a review of Lisa Damour's new book Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. Dr. Damour previously visited Westridge following the publication of Untangled, her earlier book, and met with students, faculty, and parents. We are fortunate to have scheduled another visit from her next fall. Under Pressure contains her characteristic blend of research and practical suggestions. Read the full GGSC review, "Six Ways to Help Girls Become Strong Women in a Sexist World" here. For a quick overview, here are the six bullet points from the review:
    • Pay attention to how you pressure girls to say yes
    • Illuminate the pressures they face in asserting their needs
    • Challenge the language police
    • Help girls embrace their negative feelings
    • Don't emphasize looks too much
    • Be aware of the extra pressures on girls of color
  • Be sure to mark your calendar when Dr. Damour's visit in the fall is announced.

3/4: Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion

  • As Westridge strives to enhance the culture of diversity and inclusion, it is important to understand the experiences of students from underrepresented communities. The Center for Research on Girls at Laurel School commissioned a research project aimed specifically at understanding, through both quantitative and qualitative inquiry, how African-American girls experience education in independent schools. The purpose of such research is to provide schools with the information that they need to create the most welcoming and inclusive experience for all students. In her research, Dr. Erica Stovall White, of the University of Alabama, found that a greater sense of connection to schools was associated with high academic outcomes. However, the study also identified factors that contributed to a lack of connection, including some expectations for girls based on racial stereotypes and the feeling of being expected to represent the views and experiences of their race. Dr. White concludes her study with recommendations for schools, parents, and students that serve to address the issues she has identified so that African-American girls develop and sustain a connection to their school and to themselves as they grow academically, emotionally, and socially. Read more about her study and the specific recommendations here.

FEBRUARY 2019

2/25: Love Beyond Your Body

  • For the past several years, the Peer-to-Peer classes have sponsored a series of events to raise awareness around issues of body image, healthy nutrition, and critical awareness of media messages directed at girls and women called Love Your Body. These efforts are part of Westridge's commitment to fostering the resilience that comes from addressing social and emotional development. Research has demonstrated that these issues play a crucial role in contributing to stress and anxiety for adolescent girls in particular. This year, in response to student feedback, the Peer-to-Peer classes are designing events that seek greater inclusivity about self-awareness and self-compassion. As a result, this year's events have been renamed Love Beyond Your Body week, with the goal of addressing a wider range of issues that seek to create a positive atmosphere to support girls and young women as they develop. Part of the inspiration for planning this year's events is a TED talk by Dr. Lindsay Kite and her program Beauty Redefined. In brief, Dr. Kite challenges the conception of beauty that objectifies female bodies. Instead, she proposes a perspective which, in her words, sees the body as "an instrument, not an ornament." You can watch her TED talk here.
2/18: Girlhood
  • Nearly 30 years ago the first significant research on girls' development in independent schools was published in Meeting at the Crossroads: Women's Psychology and Girls Development by Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan. It was followed by Making Connections: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School by Carol Gilligan, Nona Lyons, and Trudy Hammer. In a cover story in the most recent issue of Ed., the magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (where the original research was based), Lory Hough updates the research on girls' development, particular in the crucial middle school years. She documents the progress made and the challenges yet to be overcome. Read her review of the current state of research on girls' development here.

2/11: A Nation at Hope rather than Risk

  • In 1983, the president's National Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. This landmark study made the case for the need of schools to address academic reforms needed to equip students for their futures. In the intervening decades, researchers have come to recognize the importance of social and emotional learning in academic achievement. As a result, the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development at the Aspen Institute has published From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope, outlining the academic benefits of deliberate attention to the social and emotional development of students across all grade levels. Rather than endorsing a single, stand-alone social and emotional curriculum, this report emphasizes the relationship between social and emotional learning in the classroom and academic achievement. Some key findings from the report include:
    • Set a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success
    • Change instruction to embed social, emotional, and cognitive skills in academics
    • Build adult expertise in child development
    • Forge closer connections between research and practice
  • Through its focus on professional development, curricular review, and its Human Development program, Westridge seeks to be a leader in developing a program that fulfills the hope that this new report embraces. Read the executive summary of the report here.

2/4: Living Lives of Purpose and Meaning

  • Education, whether at Westridge or beyond, seeks to provide students with more than mere schooling. Recent research demonstrates that two of the intangible and elusive goals of education are the capacity and the motivation to lead lives of meaning and purpose. In her book, The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness, Emily Esfahani Smith identifies four "pillars" of meaning the lead to fulfillment – a sense of belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling. Watch her TED talk about how these pillars provide meaning in life here. In a similar vein, Stanford researcher Heather Malin demonstrates how education can provide purpose for students in Teaching for Purpose. Watch her interview about the book here. As Westridge seeks to provide an experiences that transcend a narrow definition of success and achievement, Smith's fourth pillar, storytelling, adds an encouraging reminder. In her words, "The fourth pillar is storytelling, the story you tell yourself about yourself. Creating a narrative from the events of your life brings clarity. It helps you understand how you became you. But we don't always realize that we're the authors of our stories and can change the way we're telling them. Your life isn't just a list of events."

JANUARY 2019

1/28: Building a Better Pipeline: Girls and STEM

  • The Center for the Advancement of Girls at the Agnes Irwin School in suburban Philadelphia has established partnerships with local universities and institutions to support the academic development of girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). One partnership, with the Franklin Institute, led to a conference on the role of girls and women in STEM subjects. "The conference was created through a unique collaboration between The Agnes Irwin School's Center for the Advancement of Girls and The Franklin Institute intended to curate and engage thoughtful and transformative discussion around STEM education for all girls. "These conferences produced a white paper entitled "Building a Better Pipeline." This white paper collects recent research on ways to enhance the opportunities for girls to gain the skills and experiences they need to fulfill their aspirations in fields where they have been traditionally underrepresented.

1/21: Gratitude and Self-Compassion

  • Two related articles from Mind/Shift demonstrate the value of gratitude and self-compassion, particularly for students. As students in the Upper School face a challenging week of midterm exams, these recommendations provide resources to help in managing the inevitable feelings of doubt and uncertainty that high stakes testing creates. Research on gratitude shows that writing down what one is thankful for, small and large, has long-terms benefits for both mental and physical health. Read more about the research in "How Writing Down What You're Thankful For Can Be Good for Mental and Physical Health." In a similar vein, research demonstrates that self-compassion, the practice of being kind to oneself, has more beneficial effects than the idea of self-esteem which dominated research in the 1990s and beyond. Dr. Kristin Neff of the University of Texas observes, "It's about being kind to oneself. Self-compassion is a healthy source of self-worth because it's not contingent and it's unconditional. It's much more stable over time because it is not dependent on external markers of success such as grades." Read more about her research in "How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation and Emotional Wellness."

1/14: 2018 Social Media Trends

  • Recent research by the Pew Research Center demonstrates the shifting environment of social media use by adolescents. The article "Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018" documents the shift away from Facebook to Instagram and other platforms as the dominant force. According to the research, nearly a third of adolescents regard social media as predominantly positive, while only a quarter view social media as predominantly negative. The researchers also found that Facebook remains more popular among lower income students. Read more about the results of this research here. Additional research conducted at UC San Diego uses MRI technology to study the effects of screen time on the brain. This research tracks the release of dopamine during social media use. Expert Lisa Damour, Ph.D. comments on this research and the need to focus on priorities such a sleep, family time, and face-to-face interactions, which are threatened by expanding screen time on CBS This Morning. Watch her here.

DECEMBER 2018

12/17: Educating Introverts

  • Susan Cain broke new ground in our understanding of the role of temperament in education with her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. Her TED talk on this topic became one of the most-watched. In case you missed it, you can watch it here. Inspired by the response to her work, Cain founded Quiet Revolution, which she describes as "a mission-based company whose goal is to empower introverts of all ages." Find out more about the company and its resources here. In addition, with the help of Gregory Mone and Erica Moroz, Cain wrote Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. Based on interviews with students, the book provides both encouragement and strategies for students and teachers to help maximize learning for students who prefer listening to speaking and learn best when given time and space to think and reflect. The book begins with a 10 point "Manifesto for Introverts" that includes "A quiet temperament is a hidden superpower" and "Most great ideas spring from solitude." In a world increasingly frenetic and fragmented, her advice serves as a reminder to all, introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts, of the value of slowing down and taking the time to process what we experience and learn.

12/10: The Model of Resilience

  • The Laurel Center for Research on Girls (LCRG), based at the Laurel School in Ohio, has led the way for understanding key issues that girls face in all areas of development, including their emotional, social, and academic lives. By synthesizing the results of their research, the LCRG has developed a five-part model of resilience that provides girls with the strength and skill to negotiate the variety of challenges that are inherent in the transition to independence and adulthood. The key elements of this model of resilience include creativity, a growth mindset, purpose, relationships, and self-care. Click here for a more comprehensive explanation. Each year at the holidays, the LCRG provides suggestions of gifts for girls of all ages to support them in their growth in each of these areas. See the suggestions for this year here.

12/3: Embracing Stress and Anxiety

  • Lisa Damour, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Laurel School's Center for Research on Girls has a forthcoming book, Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. Also the author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls through the Seven Transitions to Adulthood, Dr. Damour has visited Westridge and spoken to students, faculty, and parents. A leading expert on girls' development, especially in all-girls independent schools, Dr. Damour provides practical, research-based solutions for addressing the challenges both girls and their parents face. A key distinction in her work is the difference between productive stress, which can be a motivator and which can be managed, and distress, which can inhibit and undermine achievement. For a preview of her new book, to be released in February, read her recent article in The New York Times here. More information about Dr. Damour and her research is available on her website, www.drlisadamour.com

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NOVEMBER 2018

11/19: We Can't Give our Children What We Don't Have

  • Near the end of Enough as She Is, Rachel Simmons offers a chapter of advice directly to parents. Distilled from all her research, this chapter addresses some attitudes and actions that will help parents maintain relationships with their daughters through challenging times, support parents in modeling behavior beneficial to their daughters' development, and encourage parents to reflect on and examine their role in the delicate dance of parenting daughters. You can read all eight of Rachel's "rules" here. Perhaps the most challenging yet essential rule is #7: Teach comfort with uncertainty. Simmons writes, "Girls need their parents to model being able to sit with what you both don't have the answer to. They must learn to see that place of uncertainty less as something to escape from that as a normal, if uncomfortable, part of life" (Simmons, 209). Difficult as this challenge is, Simmons has found that it "lets parents pull back from historical worry and destructive future thinking, making room for openness and optimism." For a fuller account of all Rachel's rules, see Chapter 9: "We Can't Give our Children What We Don't Have."

11/12: Overcoming Self-Doubt and Closing the Confidence Gap

  • Early in Enough as She Is, Rachel Simmons makes a disturbing and disheartening claim. She writes, “Girls have never been more successful, but they have also never struggled more. Girl competence does not equal girl confidence. Nor does it equal happiness, resilience, or self-worth” (Simmons, xi). In her chapter “Overcoming Self-Doubt and Closing the Confidence Gap,” she identifies a series of reasons for this dissonance, particularly the ways in which girls respond to setbacks. Using attribution theory – “the story we tell ourselves about our setbacks” – Simmons demonstrates how gender differences can play a role. Facing the same setback, men find external factors to explain what happened, while women focus on internal factors. As a result, women’s confidence is more vulnerable, and even success does not always lead to greater confidence. As students receive comments on their progress thus far in the year, it is important to recognize this tendency. A grade or a comment that does not align with the student’s own perception can have many factors. Getting girls to consider factors other than their own shortcomings can open a door to new opportunities for learning. Read more about factors influencing girls’ confidence in The Confidence Code for Girls, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.

11/5: Challenge Success

  • Challenge Success is a research-based organization at Stanford University dedicated to helping students achieve their dreams while maintaining their mental health. In their words, "We believe that our society has become too focused on grades, test scores, and performance, leaving little time for kids to develop the necessary skills to become resilient, ethical, and motivated learners. For 15 years, we have partnered with schools, families, and communities to embrace a broad definition of success and to implement research-based strategies that promote student well-being and engagement with learning. After all, success is measured over the course of a lifetime, not at the end of a semester." In their efforts to challenge narrow notions of success, Challenge Success has published a research report that demonstrates that future success is more related to the match between a student's interests and the college the student attends than any arbitrary ranking system. Read the report "A "Fit" over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity." Find out more about all the Challenge Success research here.

OCTOBER 2018

10/22: Digital Citizenship Week: Countering Cyberbullying

  • October 15-19 has been Digital Citizenship week across the nation. An acknowledged leader in issues of technology, education, and parenting, Common Sense Media offers many valuable resources for both parents and teachers to address technology use by children across a wide spectrum, from school projects to social media. As social media play an increasing role in the lives of students, the potential hazards also expand. While cyberbullying has received some attention nationwide, Christine Elgersma has identified other online behavior that, while perhaps not rising to the level of cyberbullying, can be harmful and hurtful. In her article "It's not Cyberbulling, but...," she outlines a variety of ways, from ghosting and subtweeting to exclusion and griefing, that social media play a role in the online lives of students. For each practice, she offers "how to handle it" suggestions. Check out this article and others at Common Sense Media.

10/15: The College Application Industrial Complex, Part 2

  • Last week's article highlighted one aspect of Rachel Simmons' analysis of "The College Application Industrial Complex" in Enough as She Is – the pitfalls of valuing performance goals over learning goals and the subsequent loss of intrinsic motivation. In a similar vein, Simmons addresses the danger of forced, or inauthentic, passions. Acknowledging that finding a passion has become an expectation for high school girls, Simmons observes, "Instead of inspiring girls to discover what they love, passion pressure becomes yet another box to check, and another expectation to fulfill – and so ends up making girls feel like they've fallen short yet again. Passion has been distorted into a tool used primarily for self-focused, external achievement, the opposite of what a passion should be" (Simmons, 17). Emphasizing that "passion arrives on its own schedule," Simmons quotes Debra Shaver, dean of admission at Smith College, "Finding your passion is a journey of self-discovery. It takes time." Rather than claiming a forced passion, Simmons encourages girls to have a sense of purpose, which, in the words of Stanford professor William Damon is the "intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self, and of consequence to the world beyond the self" (Simmons, 18). While this distinction may seem small, the orientation toward purpose and intention allows for growth and flexibility, when the focus on passion can lead to narrow notions of success and achievement. Making sure that she engages in activities truly meaningful to herself sustains the purpose that allows a girl to contribute to the well-being of others.

10/8: The College Application Industrial Complex, Part 1

  • Rachel Simmons opens Enough as She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives with a chapter entitled "The College Application Industrial Complex." As her factory metaphor makes clear, she resists the vision of school as a place where students are produced and packaged for the benefit of college admissions. While Westridge recognizes its responsibility to prepare students for the academic challenges of college, we recognize a parallel responsibility to prepare them for, as Rachel puts it, "healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives." In her chapter, Simmons identifies a series of toxic messages that girls receive, and their disastrous consequences. One of these messages is "What you accomplish matters more than what you learn." By focusing exclusively on outcomes and achievement, girls lose intrinsic motivation. Drawing on the research of Stanford professor Carol Dweck, Simmons distinguishes between "performance goals" and "learning goals." Dweck found that students with learning goals, rather than performance goals, "scored higher on challenges, worked longer on tasks, and tried more solutions" (Simmons, 12). Additional toxic messages for girls and their consequences will be addressed in future issues.

10/1: Mental Treadmills - Expecting the Worst and Overthinking

  • In her chapter "Mental Treadmills: Expecting the Worst and Overthinking," Rachel Simmons documents the negative consequences of girls' tendency to exaggerate potential consequences (catastrophizing) and to overthink situations (rumination.) Both these practices can lead to avoidance and inaction that inhibit girls' development of resilience. In her essay "On Self-Respect", Joan Didion observes an experience familiar to us all, "To do without self-respect . . . is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals one's failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening." In Women Who Think Too Much (2004), Susan Nolen-Hoeksema points to the disproportional prevalence of worry in girls as young as twelve. As an antidote to catastrophizing and ruminating, Simmons suggests conversations that are objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional (ORID). This strategy can break the repetitive cycle of overthinking and promote the development of resilience-based self-respect.

SEPTEMBER 2018

9/24: Turning Self-Criticism into Self-Compassion

  • Continuing to focus on issues raised by Rachel Simmons in Enough as She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives, this week's research addresses her chapter, "Turning Self-Criticism into Self-Compassion." Simmons relies on the research of Dr. Kristin Neff of the University of Texas at Austin to demonstrate the toxic effects of excessive self-criticism and the benefits of self-compassion. Reacting against the narcissism fostered by the shallow notions of the self-esteem movement, Neff says "Far from being a form of self-indulgence, self-compassion and real achievement go hand in hand." Simmons and Neff lay out a set of steps and strategies that allow girls to confront the inevitable struggles they encounter and learn from them without losing their sense of self-worth. Neff has published her research in Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Watch Neff's TED talk here, and watch Rachel Simmons' presentation at Talks at Google here.

9/17: The Cult of Effortless Perfection

  • Westridge faculty and staff read Rachel Simmons' Enough as She Is this summer and began discussion of its key ideas during the opening days meetings prior to the beginning of school. Simmons' book draws on extensive research to explore the many forces that contribute to artificial rather than authentic expectations for girls. Ultimately, she argues that genuine growth requires self-knowledge and self-acceptance. For the next few weeks, we will address the topics of individual chapters of Simmons' book, beginning with "The Cult of Effortless Perfection and the Rise of Stress Olympics."
  • According to Simmons, her most surprising finding was that the pursuit of Effortless Perfection impairs girls' ability to form strong supportive relationships. The need to appear self-reliant clashes with the recognition that mutual friendships provide a source of nourishment. Simmons cites the work of Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal, who demonstrated that "stress causes the release of oxytocin, the so-called bonding hormone" (Simmons, 186). Watch McGonigal's TED talk, "How to make stress your friend" here. By avoiding the tendency toward isolation and embracing the value of relationships, girls can enjoy the positive benefits of stress – both success and connection.

9/10: Habits of the Heart: Enhancing a Culture of Integrity

  • Taking its title from de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life explores the tension between individual responsibility and collective responsibility. As Westridge addresses the significance of integrity this year, one focus will be how individual and collective responsibility can be complementary. Parker Palmer, educational leader and author of The Courage to Teach and A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, summarizes key aspects of "habits of the heart" in the following article from the Center for Courage and Renewal. Click here to read his five strategies for strengthening both individuals and bonds in communities. Palmer's framework mirrors closely the Westridge core values of integrity, responsibility, respect, and inclusion.

9/6: Building and Sustaining a Culture of Integrity

  • In her Convocation address, Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor provided a compelling case for the essential value of integrity in shaping the culture of Westridge. First among the school's core values, integrity encompasses each of the others. A person with integrity respects individuals, the community, and the environment; a person with integrity is responsible and reliable; a person with integrity has the strength to embrace differences that come with an inclusive community. As Westridge focuses on enhancing a culture of integrity this year, we will highlight research-based strategies for supporting the growth of our students and the community. Businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffet has said, "In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first one, the other two will kill you." For some practical suggestions on helping children build character, take a look at Teaching Integrity: Raising Children with Character and Principle.

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day school for girls, grades 4–12

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