Book Conversations to Build Girls’ Confidence

By Liz Garden

I sat in the conference room with twelve 5th grade girls, breathing in drama, competing voices, and the smell of cheese pizza; breathing out patience, listening and lots of love.

This “lunch meeting with the principal” had been suggested to try to address the latest drama and attempt to stop the tears, gossip, and verbal fighting that had been happening in the lunchroom and during recess.

In the moment, I was having a hard time getting a word in. Did I really think this was a good idea – to put all of these hormonal girls in the same room? I was simply trying to swing the love/hate pendulum more to the love side. Fifth grade girl drama is the real deal.

As the lunch therapy session began to wrap up, and I began thinking that this idea had been a bad one, several girls excitedly thanked me for letting them come and share their thoughts and feelings. One girl, who was usually a particularly quiet girl in class, said that no one had ever taken the time to ask how she was feeling and then given her the time and space to share.

Wait, they liked this crazy mini-therapy session?! Suddenly, I had another idea.

I called the girls back into a huddle and quickly suggested a more regular weekly lunch chat. They all nodded their heads eagerly. Much of our conversation or attempts at conversation had centered around the topic of confidence. Girls who weren’t confident in themselves but were quick to comment about other girls. Girls who weren’t confident enough to speak up for each other or themselves.

The wheels were spinning in my head. I thought…there’s a book for that!

Recently, I had participated in an adult book club for women leaders where we read the book The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. It was an interesting read and a great forum for women to have some honest conversations with other women.

After that club I learned of a book by the same authors that was written specifically for young girls. This book was called The Confidence Code for Girls: Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self. Clearly this was one of those books that had me at the book title!

“We have a book for that.”

In their new collaboration, Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids, Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller have a chapter about classroom libraries where they say, “We have a book for that!” As a school I feel like we should always be thinking with that same mentality. Is there a book that we can connect to one child or to a group of kids or to a whole classroom?

So in that moment, as we were wrapping up the girl drama therapy session and girls were saying they wanted to meet once a week, I thought to myself… ”I have book for that!”

When I shared the title of the book, The Confidence Code for Girls, and suggested that we all read it together and talk about it, I got a lot of squeals, hugs, and excited nods. We scheduled our next gathering, and I hopped onto Amazon to order multiple copies of the book.

The girls were very excited when the books arrived and I delivered them to their classrooms. Not wanting this to feel like an assignment or a requirement, I simply gave the books to the girls and said start reading it.

Eager readers fill my office

When we came together for our first official lunch discussion, I stressed to all of them that they could read at their pace, talk about whatever they wanted to talk about in relation to the book. The girls responded positively to the format of the book with the different sections, the personal quizzes, and the personal stories and connections.

As is usually the case, I feel like I learned just as much from the girls during our lunch chats as I hope they learned during their reading. First, I learned that our girls want to talk about navigating social interactions and we don’t really ever give them the time or encourage them to speak up.

Second, I learned that connecting through books is a great way to open the lines of communication between kids and adults and between kids and other kids. (Ok, I already knew the power of connecting with kids through books, but it’s always good to see it happening in front of you and have your beliefs validated.)

And finally, I learned that the script that states that girls lack confidence needs to be rewritten. We have all had a part in writing that original script, but we can all have a part in changing the beginning and the ending and all the parts in between.

Give it a try!

Find a group of girls in your school. Listen to them. Encourage them to speak up and to listen to each other. Give them a way to find their voices. Use the book I used or find another book that will bring them together.

We had so many favorite moments during our book chats, but one of the best moments was when a girl suggested that they each write their name in the front of the book, along with the year. Her thought was that when other girls read the book, they would know that they were not alone. They would know that they were experiencing this book just like the girls who had come before them. And then they would write their names in it too and pass it along to the next girls and the next girls and the next.

They all agreed to leave their mark in the book they read because clearly the book had left its mark on each of them.

I know there will be more 5th grade girl drama with a new group of girls this year. But I am excited that there’s a book for that, and I have a pile of those well-loved books sitting in my office, waiting to be read.

Liz Garden is the principal of the Dr. Leroy E Mayo Elementary School in Holden, MA. She has been an administrator for twelve years and taught at various levels for eleven years. She blogs regularly for a group she helped form, Moms as Principals. Liz has presented about her love of reading and other topics at the MA Reading Association Conference, Literacy for All Conference, and the NAESP Conference. She serves on the Scholastic Principal Advisory Board. You can connect with Liz on Twitter @PrincipalGarden and on Voxer @PrincipalGarden.


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1 Response

  1. Michelle Kanipes says:


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