Based on our many years of running programs and countless conversations with girls, parents, caregivers, and educators, we know that our work is impactful, yet we’re always so deeply moved to hear how our programs and tools help people make positive change in their lives. We recently had an opportunity to chat with Anna Seabolt, a math teacher at Latitude High School who participated in our in-person professional development last summer at Mills College. (Registration for our three-day professional development training in June just opened; please join us!)
As a math teacher, why is confidence-building and strong relationships at the center of your teaching practice?
One of the main things that holds kids back as they learn math is feeling like they are going to look stupid in front of their peers. At our school we talk a lot about making mistakes to learn, but in traditional grading practices, kids lose points for making mistakes. So, in math class there are often negative consequences to making mistakes.
At the beginning of the year, kids are hesitant to put things down on paper because they are worried about these mistakes. So a big part of my work is trying to instill confidence in my students and teach them that if you have anything to say or any thinking to show, that is worthwhile. One thing that helps a lot is that I shifted from precision-based grading (right or wrong) to competency-based grading. For example, if you can write an equation based on some numbers, even if the numbers aren’t exactly right, but the equation is based on the structure, that matters. There are different ways to be smart and show competency and this approach helps kids feel more confident to put more on paper.
What drew you to sign up for Girls Leadership’s professional development training?
Social and emotional learning (SEL) goes hand in hand with building confidence in young people so it made sense. I didn’t know a lot about Girls Leadership before signing up, but I also saw that another teacher I wanted to get to know better signed up, which helped encourage me toward the program.
How has your Girls Leadership experience served your work with young people at Latitude?
Personally, that first day was about wellness and taking care of yourself before you can take care of others. That was powerful. In this job a lot of times teachers can be so altruistic, and if you don’t take care of yourself, the reality is, you can’t be your best for others. I really appreciated the mindfulness activities and found the Chinese medicine portion really interesting.
Also, I teach seniors and the kids in my class are nervous about the future. And when you are living in the future like that, it can be hard to be present. So, remembering that they don’t have the skills at this moment for self-care to be their best selves reminds me to take a step back and assume best intentions based on what they are bringing into the classroom. Another teacher said something I really appreciated — that their mantra is “SOFTEN” every time he approaches a kid — to approach gently. For example, asking how a student is doing instead of why they aren’t doing something is a far more empathic approach.
I enjoyed a lot of the professional development activities and starting each day with one of the activities and doing it with a group that was invested in the program showed the potential of how the activities could work in class.
What is one of your favorite Girls Leadership tools to use with young people?
Outside of my regular classes, I have an Advisory group that includes mixed grades. At the beginning of the year they were hesitant to get to know one another but we have done so much community building and service projects which has helped a lot.
From the Girls Leadership professional development, I have implemented a “Comfort Zone and Boundaries” exercise that has helped kids get to know each other without writing or speaking. I found that taking the emphasis off of language was helpful and having a movement activity was really fun for the students. In this exercise students move around to different zones in the classroom that indicated whether something felt in or out of their comfort zone. Some kids were yelling out things like “snakes!” or “pickles!” but this also allowed kids to show their choice without having to voice it and that helps kids who are quiet.
Why are Girls Leadership’s programs particularly important now?
Everyone has been a little traumatized after COVID. Having to wear your mask is another layer of wall to connection. And everyone is lonely and out of practice with socializing. So it’s important that we show kids how to interact again.
I can be introverted so it’s probably not surprising that I got a lot more internally out of the program. Many people felt connected to one another and there has been talk of reunion. I didn’t necessarily deeply connect in that way, but it was good to learn how to be in the world again. There were women from all over and they found this sisterhood, which was cool to watch.
It was also nice to be in the group without having to be extroverted in the group. We talked about the difference between belonging and being in a group — that you can be in a group without feeling like you belong. At the program I participated in, even if you weren’t the most talkative and people didn’t know a lot about you, there was an intentional effort to make sure that everyone knew you belonged, no matter how you presented, which was really great.
Anything else you want to share?
I really appreciated the program’s partnership with Sacred Roots and the intentionality of bringing together a diverse group of people. As a White person I am not usually the odd person out, and at this training, it was a really good thing to be in the minority — both as a White person and math teacher.