Over the last several years, GSACPC has been committed to the vital work of researching, evaluating, and implementing the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the organization.
In that spirit, the Authentic Leadership Community (ALC) worked together to revise and update the Leadership from the Inside Out booklets, incorporating the principles of DEI. DEI refers to the practice of intentional inclusion regardless of one’s background or circumstances.
We’ll review how to add simple techniques that emphasize the concepts of communication, growth mindset, goal setting and more in your troop meetings to support inclusivity through a discover, connect, and take-action process.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a person with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment, or a history of one, that substantially limits one or more life activities; or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
The Social Security Administration reports that more than 1 in 6 American children are living with disabilities. Most common among school-age was Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder, next Autism Spectrum Disorder, then learning disabilities, and mental health illness. This means that around 20% of girls ages 5-17 are living with a mental or physical disability.
However, not all disabilities are visible or physical. Cognitive disabilities and/or mental conditions, especially those with learning differences1 and neurodiversity2, may not be apparent just by looking at or talking to someone.
A part of making Girl Scouts a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization is thinking about how the policy applies to this subset of our population. The umbrella term of “differently wired,”3 allows us to center on creating ways to make what we do inclusive for all girls. Often, when we make changes for inclusion, it benefits all.
Understanding the foundation of DEI is only the first step in achieving an inclusive troop environment. To ensure that all girls are given a safe space regardless of disability or background we must incorporate techniques which prioritize acceptance, joy, and celebration of self.
Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
Researcher Carol Dweck coined two terms when working around students’ attitudes about failure.
- Fixed mindset refers to one’s belief that intellect and ability are stagnant -“I can’t recite the GS Promise and Law!”
- Growth mindset refers to one’s belief in their ability to learn and develop skills - “It may take some time, but I’ll learn to recite the GS Promise and Law!”
As you can imagine adopting either of these mindsets can impact achievement throughout someone’s life.
Incorporating Growth Mindset
The power of “yet”
When girls say they “can’t” do something, simply add the word “yet” to their statement. This gives them the power to believe in themselves, which in turn activates the growth mindset.
Example: “I can’t tie my shoelaces…yet.”
KWL chart or similar visuals
One tool that can be used to incorporate the growth mindset is a KWL chart. Here is how you can utilize this during a troop activity:
- Create a chart with three columns: One labeled K for “Know,” W for “Want to know,” and L for “Learned.”
- At the start of an activity, ask girls what they already know about the topic and put it in the K column.
- Write any questions regarding the topic in the W column.
- After completing the activity, have the girls reflect and write what they learned in the L column.
This can be a great way to organize ideas while working on a take-action project.
One of the greatest gifts you can give girls is helping them attain self-knowledge – learning who they are, how their brain works, and what they need to do to create the life they want. You can empower them to understand this and feel good about who they are. All girls can use this knowledge to connect with others from different and varied histories, life stories, physical and/or developmental abilities.
Especially important to this discovery is the way you communicate with girls. Here are some suggestions of how to lead conversations, adapted from the novel Differently Wired:
Check your thoughts/beliefs. When faced with a challenge, identify the thoughts/beliefs that could influence the message you give your troop. Modeling authenticity, honesty, and transparency could be beneficial for your girls.
Make open and honest communication a core value and work towards it constantly. Commit to prioritizing this and create a safe place for sharing and discussing relevant topics; your girls get to choose what and how much to share. This is something that could be incorporated as a check-in at the beginning of meetings or events.
Make conversations about strengths AND challenges a part of the experience. Create a closing ritual to end meetings/events by asking, “What went well today and what was hard today?”
Don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Keep in mind how to talk with your girls in an age-appropriate manner but aim to have discussions that help them feel respected and seen. This will help them feel secure in coming to you when challenging topics/issues come up.
Within all of this, parents/guardians can be your best source of how to approach working with the challenges their child experiences; you don’t have to do it all alone.
Set girl-led troop goals. Connect what is learned (reference the KWL chart) to future goals. This can help the girls figure out what they would like to accomplish. A good example is product sales and what to do with the proceeds.
Use girls’ strengths to improve weaknesses. You can help your girls grow by using one of their strengths to support a weakness. Say a girl in your troop enjoys math but is unsure how to talk to others; they can collect money from a customer at a cookie booth to help strengthen their conversational skills. When your girl ventures outside of her comfort zone to grow, make a point to acknowledge it. They may not be aware of this accomplishment until you point it out!
The above information and suggestions are non-specific. How you apply them will depend on the level of girls you’re working with, where they want to go, and what they want to accomplish.
This blog is written by Rebecca Oakes. Rebecca Oakes holds a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling. She has been sharing her authentic self as a GSACPC volunteer for 14+ years, including various troop capacities, and seven years with our Authentic Leadership Community (ALC) group. Rebecca is also the mother of two neurodivergent children.
ALC is centered around Authentic Girl Scout Leadership principles, formerly known as Leadership from the Inside Out. “We are committed to helping you discover, unlock and develop your leadership superpowers so that you can guide and empower your girls as they grow into leaders themselves.”
Links to Explore
- Citizen Badges
- Template to create your own disability badge/patch - Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Disability Awareness
- Mental Health Awareness Patch (International Bipolar Foundation)
- How to Build and Maintain an Inclusive Girl Scout Troop
Have any questions or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Such as three “D’s” – Dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia
2 Variations in brain development such as autism or ADHD
3 Used by Deborah Reber, author of the book Differently Wired.