Leadership Week


Today, we are asking more and more of our young leaders. I believe strongly that schools should lead the way in educating for a better world and that our young leaders should be at the vanguard of these changes. I feel we have a responsibility to give the girls the skills to shape the future in a positive way. One key way the girls learn about leadership is through ‘doing’ and therefore we believe leadership opportunities should be spread across the whole school and not just restricted to the Sixth Form and Year 6. 

This week is Leadership Week. It is an opportunity for girls from Years 7 to the Sixth Form to apply for leadership roles in the school. To celebrate Leadership Week, we have invited in outside speakers to work with the girls, to give them a greater understanding of what we mean by leadership and encourage them to be bold and take up the challenge of a leadership role at some point in their school life.

Last week, former alumnae Megan Reitz spoke to the whole school on leadership. Megan has just completed her doctorate on leadership and has worked with companies such as BP, News International and the BBC to help them understand what makes a good leader.

Megan had three simple messages. First every girl should consider a leadership role. Too often we suffer from the “imposter syndrome” where we think we are not good enough or capable enough to do the role. All good leaders question their ability; it is this reflection that makes them better at leading. Rising to the challenge and being taken out of your comfort zone encourages you to demand more of yourself and therefore be better as a result.

Secondly, all leaders need followers and sometimes being a follower is as important as leading. All great movements begin with someone leading, inspiring others to follow and in that action of being followed allows the change to occur. This is something our Girls Leadership Team would endorse; their campaign to make a difference to girls’ education was widely supported by the school and allowed them to raise money for a school in Uganda.

Finally, girls should observe in others what makes a good leader. She encouraged them to look in their everyday life. Girls in their Form who lead a sports team, take on a major role in a school play or lead on a school project. She asked what were their characteristics and what made that person stand out? We can learn every day from each other. There is no one trait that makes a great leader but watching people who have the ability to make a difference, no matter how small, can encourage others to try.

We want girls to recognise and develop the skills of leadership and ask them to apply for positions of responsibilities where they can drive the agenda for change. Leadership is not a popularity contest at Bedford Girls’ School. It should not be reserved for a few popular individuals who win the most votes. In applying for the positions and then being interviewed the girls are forced to consider what the role entails and whether the role plays to their strengths. I look forward to working with our new young leaders and seeing how each girl shapes their role to the betterment of the group, to make a positive difference to the lives of others.

Responsibility, Learning, Recognition & Joy

In my role as a Head, I am fortunate enough to meet and share information and ideas with a variety of business leaders. Kevin Roberts, Worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi recently told me that in life, whatever you do, whatever you choose, you should always seek out four things: responsibility, learning, recognition and joy. Four important words and ones that resonate with everyday life at BGS. Our Open Morning was no exception.

First our Head Girls, in the Junior and Senior School, took on the responsibility of speaking to a large audience of prospective parents and girls, explaining why they chose this school and what it meant to them. Harriet Clough, BGS Head Girl said “An important part of coming to Bedford Girls’ School is that it helps us flourish, and grow into the women of the future in this complicated and fast-moving world”. Anna Sherwin, Head Girl of the Junior School, felt that “the best thing about BGS is the opportunity you get to do the things you love. I also like that you get the chance to know lots of different girls throughout other year groups and the feeling that you belong to the school”. It was Anna’s maiden speech, but listening to her speak with such confidence you would never guess.  I know an all girls’ environment has helped give them the confidence to be who they are and take on the responsibility of leading the school.

The value of learning at our school was also very evident at our Open Morning. James Potter, our Director of ICT, demonstrated the power of teaching and learning with new and emergent technology. He demonstrated how iPads and apps can add a new dimension to teaching strategies and to what girls gain, holistically, from being in our classrooms. In doing so, he showcased The 13th Legacy, a book our current Year 9s have collaboratively written and is now selling on Amazon, with its own website built by the authors. Most of all he showed how teaching is changing in the 21st century and how BGS is in the vanguard of these changes.

Open Morning also affords an opportunity for our girls to receive the public recognition of their hard work and talent they so richly deserve. Our musicians played beautifully, our sportswomen showed why BGS is so successful in sport and our drama students performed confidently their parts for the next school play, the RSC production of the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is also an opportunity for girls to act as our guides showing the many different features that make up our school, answering questions honestly and sincerely. The parents were impressed by their genuine pride in the school, their willingness to give up a Saturday, and speak so positively about BGS. They were a credit to us.

Unsurprisingly then, that there was a palpable sense of joy in the building. People were really enjoying what they were doing, whether it was performing, touring, demonstrating or answering questions; it was all done with enthusiasm, good will and most of all joy. As Nicole Chapman, Head of Chelmsford County High School for Girls, said last week in The Daily Telegraph: “Girls in a single-sex environment can totally be themselves. They don’t have to pander to anything to do with being a girl. If they love to do really sporty things, if they love their Maths, Science or IT, no boy will push them out of the way.” No one is pushing our girls out of the way, they are seizing every opportunity and that is what gives me the most joy!

Playing your part

I think one of the greatest challenges for any teacher is not to underestimate the potential of a pupil. It is a skill to be able to set ambitious goals that demand much from the pupils without overwhelming them and making them feel a failure if they are unable to realise them. To challenge and engage is something we are continually striving to do at BGS and never more was this evident than with our first House Drama Festival.

We have asked girls in the Lower Sixth to direct and produce part of a play which is performed by girls in Year 7. For both sets of girls this provides a challenge. Both are entering a new stage in their education with all the excitement and nervousness that this produces and both have been asked to engage with people they do not know and produce within four weeks a part of a play.

I have to say there was some nervousness when I set this challenge but once again the girls are rising to the occasion. The first rehearsal was on Thursday and I was very proud by the manner in which the Lower Sixth took on board their responsibility. They ran the House meeting confidently, and introduced to the Year 7s, what I hope becomes a part of BGS’s history – a House Drama Festival. The Year 7s, I hope, enjoy forming friendships and connections with the elder girls, and will remember what they learnt from being directed by the Lower Sixth, and use this knowledge when they become Sixth Formers and direct the Year 7s in 2018.

It is of course early days. The after school dress rehearsals begin this week. Producing plays is always full of highs and lows; unlearnt lines, costumes or props that don’t materialise, pre play nerves but I hope the girls learn how to lead but most importantly how to work in a team to produce the best from the players in that team.

The girls are rising to the challenge, they are engaged and I look forward to the results.

Selecting the leaders of tomorrow

Last week we interviewed for our new Girls’ Leadership Group and selected the next Head Girl of Bedford Girls’ School. Being Head Girl is a challenging role. Not only do they act as a role model for younger pupils and represent the public image of a BGS girl, they must be adept listeners who can bring about change in response to the voice of students while balancing this with a mature understanding of the values and purpose of the school.

Such a demanding role requires a broad range of skills. In addition to reviewing their application forms we spend a day looking for specific skills, testing each candidate through a series of tasks and activities such as an in-tray activity, an interview, a five minute presentation and ambassadorial skills such as entertaining outside guests.

All the girls shine in different ways and choosing the candidate with the most complete skill set is challenging. We are fortunate to have such a talented pool, but appointing just one Head Girl means that many girls who would thrive in the role have to learn the difficult lesson of resilience when they have not been selected.

Today, we are asking more and more of our young leaders. I believe strongly that schools should lead the way in educating for a better world and that our young leaders should be at the vanguard of these changes – driving the agendas for a progressive, compassionate and strong global community where progress, creative thinking and innovation take centre stage to the collective benefit of us all.

The outgoing Girls’ Leadership Group certainly did this, campaigning for a culture of kindness, supporting the rights of women to be educated, getting up to dance for the one billion rising campaign and embodying the Bedford Girls’ School values of Bold, Imaginative and Reflective in way in which they can be truly proud, as, indeed, we are of them.

Our next Girls’ Leadership Group will build on the legacy of their predecessors to take on their own campaigns and to ensure their voices, and the wider student voice, are not simply listened to but heard. I look forward to working with them over their tenure and seeing how each girl shapes their role to the betterment of the group, to make a positive difference to the lives of others.