Sharing my experience of mentoring teenage girls on Problem solving and Decision making skills.
What is The Leadership Lab and Why is it Important?
India is home to tremendous cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity. Adolescent girls in countries as diverse as India are at a critical juncture. The intersectionality of their age and gender can create an opportunity for empowerment, enabling them to build their voice and agency, while on the other hand, this complex intersectionality can be a catalyst for strong, unequal gender roles and expectations to take hold. Moreover, the status-quo is difficult to change - particularly when long held beliefs and unequal power dynamics prevail - and doing so requires fierce activists who wholeheartedly work to make their visions a reality. The Leadership Lab of She For Change is a chance to create a group of young female leaders who do just that.
It is to ensure that adolescent girls at this critical juncture are given opportunities to enrich their learning, build their skillset, and put essential life skills into practice in the context of real-life scenarios that makes the work of The Leadership Lab so critical. The Leadership Lab engages female mentors to plan, lead, and reflect on sessions on essential life-skills for cohorts of adolescent girls in India. With a diverse group of mentors and mentees, the program creates an opportunity for young girls to build confidence as leaders and to disrupt unequal power dynamics.
Problem Solving & Decision-Making Session Format
In my most recent session on Problem Solving and Decision-Making, I led mentees through a series of steps for these processes to be used as guidelines, engaged them in role-play and sample scenarios, and facilitated a discussion based on their reflections. Throughout the session, we referred to a W-E-L-Q chart, writing down what mentees wanted to know, examples they may have had from past experiences, what they learned during the session, and questions they had before, during, and after the session. A chart such as this allowed the mentees to express and visualize their learning and for me, as the mentor, to grasp an understanding of what they already knew and still wanted to know about these topics. The teacher in me brings this intersection of showing, interacting, and discussing as a method of engaging diverse learners in various ways. The gender activist in me brings the focus toward how problem solving and decision-making can be used to build these young girls’ leadership and confidence.
No session, however, is a one-way street. While mentors can plan well-thought-out lessons, it is the mentees whose eagerness, engagement, and curiosity to learn makes sessions successful. Through this session, girls engaged and asked questions, embraced the roles given during the role-play activity, and brainstormed together to imagine creative and innovative solutions to real-life examples. From my session on Problem Solving and Decision-Making, three main highlights stand out:
Problem Solving Role-Play Activity: Girls eagerly volunteered for the various roles (NGO representative, student, parents, teacher, and village elder – sarpanch). While taking on such roles, they fully embraced the viewpoints of the role given and engaged in a healthy debate regarding problem solving and finding potential solutions. Their engagement and ‘playing the part’ was so evident in that I had to re- shift the conversation from expressing and justifying viewpoints to working together to develop solutions that accounted for these diverse perspectives and roles.
Decision-Making Scenarios: The scenarios we discussed were real-life examples for the girls – scenarios in which they may realistically find themselves. The relevance of the examples created a space in which girls could offer what they had done, what they are thinking of doing, and what they would do in such circumstances. They were put in positions to think critically about situations they may have experienced and imagine creatively about situations in which they may one day find themselves, all while learning from each others’ experiences.
W-E-L-Q Chart: While real-life, hands-on activities are crucially important in order to boost student engagement, equally important is providing the opportunity for them to express their questions, curiosities, and new learnings. The W-E-L-Q Chart provides a way of incorporating each of these in a verbal and visual way. Referring to this chart before, during, and after the session encouraged further engagement from girls – both those who were eager to share with the group, as well as those that may have been more reserved but still had questions and thoughts to share.
What Made the Highlights Successful?
Why do I think that these three aspects were so successful? Each of the above portions of the session engaged the girls in ways that allowed them to draw connections to their own lives, placed them in positively challenging scenarios, and facilitated opportunities for them to discuss and learn with and from each other. When students engage in authentic, relevant, and interactive learning, they are more likely to remember, use and practice those skills.
While creatively planned sessions must be coupled with mentee engagement, so too are the sessions influenced by the heterogeneity of the group. This particular cohort represents great diversity in regard to age, geographic area, family background, interests, and socioeconomic class. It is these collective minds that come together to engage, discuss, and reflect. Each girl’s unique story plays into the viewpoints and perspectives that she brings to the session. Thus, the intersectionality of age and gender is only augmented with such diversity, enriching the ideas presented throughout the session and the roles and standpoints the girls took on.
Lessons for Future Sessions
A session that elicits true learning and engagement, and therefore leadership skills, is not one activity alone. It is the combination of the teaching (steps of problem solving and decision- making), engagement (role-play and sample scenarios), and reflection (W-E-L-Q chart and discussion) that provides a comprehensive overview and practice of skills. While each of these activities may look and be conducted differently in each session, its essence and ultimate goal is the same – to create spaces for adolescent girls to learn, engage, and build essential life skills. By doing so, these girls are equipped with the necessary opportunities, skills, and resources to become the leaders of tomorrow and fiercely work to make their visions realities.