There's been a bit in the media recently about how boys and girls learn differently. I know we can agree that all individuals learn best in different ways; whether that is gender-based is harder to agree on but there do seem to be some general trends in the way many boys and many girls learn. As a teacher at an all girls' school, I can assure you that these are just trends and there are many, many girls who buck every single one of them (just as there are with boys!)
In my class of girls, there is every type of learner. There are girls who benefit from constant movement and there are girls who like to sit still when working. There are girls who love loud rambunctious music when they learn and there are girls who like it to be quiet. There are girls who love to talk ideas over and there are girls who love to be quiet and listen. There are girls who prefer to lead and girls who prefer to follow others. I believe it is my job as an effective teacher to
a) cater to these differences and
b) encourage my learners to not let these preferences "define" them.
I want them to be aware of their strengths and learning preferences but not use these as a crutch or an excuse for staying in their comfort zone. I encourage my quiet girls to try being the noisy one every now and then and my super chatty -girls to try being the quiet one on for size. Likewise, I expect all learners to be leaders in some situations and followers in others. No doubt the local boys' schools has just as many learning styles in each class and I have no doubt that the same can be said of the local co-ed school.
I am quite sure I have no fewer learning styles to cater for than my friend who teaches up the road in a co-ed class. So if it is not about the learning styles of boys and girls being different, why do single sex schools exist and why am I teaching in one?
I teach at a girls' school, not because I believe girls learn in a completely different way to boys and should be taught different content, that's just silly. An effective teacher can manage many different types of learners in their classroom.
I teach at a girls' school because I see the differences in the way girls and boys experience society. Despite all the great work done by women such as Kate Sheppard, the world is far from being a level playing field. I teach at a girls' school because as a community our school is deeply committed to discrediting all the myths that girls are consciously or sub-consciously fed out there in the wider world. We work so hard to empower our girls and ensure that before they leave us and move into high school they know they can do anything! They leave us believing that being a girl is completely and utterly awesome and that they have the power to achieve whatever they want and really make a difference in their world.
In our school, girls are never inadvertently given messages that any field is best for boys or even "off limits" for girls. They participate whole-heartedly in a huge range of activities and are surrounded by fantastic role models; inspiring women and men. I am proudly feminist.
That is not to say that we are anti-boy. Not at all. We are simply pro-girl. Our culture is very "Girl Power" and our girls are thriving! As a Year 8 teacher, I get lots of feedback from parents and students who have moved on to co-ed high schools. They consistently tell me that their daughters were very well-prepared for a co-ed world and their girls are confidently giving the boys a run for their money!
I know there may be readers out there who are reading this and shaking their heads. Of course, there are co-ed schools which are mindful of the messages their girls are receiving. That is fabulous! Sadly, for many girls the message isn't getting through and the statistics are available to prove that girls are not feeling empowered, wrongly or rightly to participate in many fields. In many cases, when they do they are not paid equally and their contribution is simply not recognised in the way it is for their male counterparts. Put simply, we should not tolerate the status quo.
Our school and its "girl power" culture empower girls to meet their potential. They know there is power in being a girl and they have the confidence to use it to make a difference in our world.