Educating and Growing Together

Andii Verhoeven • 6 May 2021

Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. It’s a famous quote, but have you ever really thought about what this means?

WAGGGS believes Guiding and Scouting can inspire young people to dream bigger and to discover meaning in the difference they can make to the world around them. Guiding and Scouting empowers them with the confidence, self-belief, resilience and life skills to take the lead in their own lives. And it’s you, their leaders and role models, who inspire this journey and light this fire.

Take a moment to think - what do you need to start a fire?

What does this mean for us as educators? Some people say you start a fire with the spark – no. You start by creating the space, clearing the ground and preparing. In Guiding and Scouting, we create the space for a self-led learning environment, using the Girl Guide and Girl Scout Method.

Our young members learn in small groups, and through the experiences they, because experiencing something makes learning relevant, and through the life of the small group any learning experience is enriched with deeper learning about how to be with others.

Then you set a spark, you nurture the flame with your breath.  Did you know the word “inspire” comes from a Latin word meaning “to breathe or blow into”? As leaders, we try to inspire young people by opening up their worlds, creating chances to connect with others, their environment and to the global Movement. Guiding and Scouting can’t happen in a vacuum – nor can fire.

We give the fire the fuel it needs to get stronger, but not too much! Young people learn in their own way, in their own time, and need different opportunities and levels of support. As leaders the method helps us respond to each girl and boy in our groups. We hold back from “telling” and “teaching”, to protect the space for our group members to discover, lead and grow for themselves, just as we don’t smother the fire with too much wood.

As the fire gets stronger, we step back. As leaders we can always challenge ourselves by asking how we create even more space for our groups to take the lead? How can we take one more step back? We can do this by always reflecting on how we can keep the method alive in our work with young people. Take a look at WAGGGS’ tool Prepared to Learn, Prepared to Lead if you want to reflect more on this.

So, in Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting, what do we see in the fire?

The WAGGGS vision is, all girls are valued and take action to change the world. We have a lot to do before this vision can be realised. There isn’t a single country in the world where gender equality is a reality. And although in some societies the impact of this is more visible than others, girls everywhere face barriers to taking leadership, raising their voices, and reaching their fullest potential.

Baden Powell set a clear purpose for Guiding and Scouting,  “the education of the oncoming generation to international goodwill”. To meet this purpose, we have a responsibility to make sure all the oncoming generation have the specific opportunities they need to develop their identity and values, and grow the courage and confidence, leadership practices and skills for life they need to be changemakers and build the world they want to see.

How do you learn to be a changemaker? You practise! When we create space for young people to make a difference in their communities they learn they have agency and influence. By experiencing their own power, and developing our core values of integrity, citizenship and spirituality, they are more likely to lead purposeful lives shaped around creating positive change in the world. And, to take us a step closer to the WAGGGS vision, they are more likely to recognise and challenge even the hidden inequalities, and work on the unconscious bias and stereotypes that we all share. Only if we call these out can we work towards true gender equality. Every single person can make a difference.

So how can WAGGGS help you light this fire?

Can you think of a moment when someone inspired or empowered you? Do you think that person realises how much of a difference they made in your life? For WAGGGS, that means practising leadership. We can all be trained in different leadership competences, but WAGGGS believes what really counts is how you practice leadership; your core attitudes and behaviours as a leader every day and in every role you play. Research shows young people, especially girls, struggle to see themselves as leaders.

We’ve developed a new leadership model that can help you practice, by working on six leadership mindsets. The mindsets will give you new “ways of being and thinking about the world”. They will help you draw meaning from your experience, reflect on these experiences in different contexts and translating this into impact. It’s a model that works for everyone - from five-year-olds to senior decision makers, and it builds leadership confidence.

We believe if we mainstream this leadership model into everything we do, and into the experiences we offer both girls and adult volunteers across the Movement, we will see a transformation in how the Movement works. By being more aware of our behaviours, together with deepening our understanding of how to design inspiring learning environments using our educational method, we can reach our potential as non-formal educators, and create the safe space for learning that will empower young people to reach theirs.

Good luck lighting fires!