This post is dedicated to Lee Kolbert and Lean In:Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.
This past week I had parent/teacher/student conferences. For those of you new to my blog, I teach fifth grade and my students come to parent conferences. The focus is on them. They do the talking, the adults do the listening. By the time the conference is over, there is a plan for improvement and a general warm, fuzzy feeling of joy about the progress that has already been made.
My last conference was with a student who is bright, hard working, caring. All the things we want in a student. The only area of improvement I suggested was that I want to hear her voice more. The boys in my room tend to take over the conversations and she is too "good" to call out her ideas along with the boys. I know I could make it a rule that you have to raise your hand and wait to be called on before speaking but I really have difficulty running a class like that. I like the give and take throughout the day. But quiet children tend to get lost if I don't force the issue, which I do often.
Since her conference, I have been thinking a great deal about the "good" girls. And it is mostly girls. The boys who are quiet are still more vocal than the girls who are quiet. I need to find a way to inspire these girls to speak up, "Lean In", and be a part of the running of the class. So I started to think about myself.
I know many of you will find this hard to believe, but, when I was in middle and high school, I was shy. I never talked, unless I was called on. I let others make all the decisions, tell me what I needed to do. In fact, I was so quiet, kids thought I was a bitch. That's what they told me once they got to know me. They thought I felt superior since I didn't talk to them at all. The reality is far from their beliefs. I was so insecure and so shy I was sure that, if I did contribute, I would be laughed at. So I just kept quiet.
Now, at age 50, I have no problems "Leaning In." How did this come to be? It really started with the creation of my online PLN. I started to know amazing women. Women who spoke out, who reached out, who were successful and vocal. Women like Lee Kolbert, who always had so much to offer when I was stuck on some idea. Like Vicki Davis, who was so successful and so sought after, but still so kind to little ole me. Like Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who is able to run a successful organization, while still maintaining herself. Like Refranz Davis, who breaks new ground each year and still laughs about her "faults." Like Angela Maiers, who is a well sought after speaker who still wears amazing shoes. Like...like...like.
There are so many to name. Stephanie and Karen and Julie and Donna and Toni and Lisa and Liz. Women who are strong enough to speak up and down to earth enough to laugh at themselves and each other. Where would I be without you all? Probably still the bitch I was known to be. I had no trouble standing up for my students but could never stand up for myself.
So the advice I give to my girls now is to read about amazing women. Even in fiction. Sarah from Sarah, Plain and Tall, is a fiesty woman from the 1800s who tells her husband what she wants and gets it. And he still loves her. They need to hear that.
But to all the women still leaning back....it is time. Lean in, speak up, move forward. This world is so screwed up. We need compassionate, strong women to start taking over. And men to support them when they do.
Thank you to all my women friends...those who Lean In and those who are waiting still to learn. I would not be where I am today without you!