Building Confidence by Tussling Creatively with Challenges

As you certainly have figured out by now if you’ve read earlier messages from me, I remain very enthusiastic about, and committed to, our mission at Ellis, which is to educate girls and young women to become bold, authentic, intellectually vibrant changemakers. We strive to have this mission at the core of everything we do at Ellis. To achieve that goal, we spend a lot of time thinking about what we ask of students to do, and how we work with them to support their success.
One of the most important tasks we ask students to do is to tussle creatively with problems—problems of all sorts, from solving complex math problems to figuring out how to design a new solution to an engineering challenge, to puzzling over a tricky language translation, to thinking about a new way to test a scientific hypothesis, to parsing a particularly complicated story, to digging for the most comprehensive information about a perplexing moment in history, to learning lines for a play, to creating a work of art that means something to them, to figuring out how to outplay an opponent on the soccer field. This kind of tussling builds all sorts of muscles that are useful to our girls in school, but that we know—even more importantly—will serve them well in all parts of their lives. This tussling builds confidence, grows creativity, develops leadership and teamwork skills, and feeds intellectual curiosity.  

When we do this well at Ellis, students are stretched beyond what they already know. Great problem-solving experiences ask students to try new approaches, to experiment with different ways of thinking, to work with others who think differently from them. It can mean students experience some frustration when their approaches don’t work at first, or when they disagree with how someone else is approaching the problem. It’s tempting for teachers and parents to want to step in quickly to show students a more effective approach, or simply solve the problem themselves. But we know that can undermine our efforts to build strong young women, signaling to them that we don’t have confidence that they can solve problems themselves.  

As we kick of 2024, my wish for all our students is that we continue to provide them with great opportunities to tussle, and then support, encourage, and celebrate with them as they do so!