The Benefits of Outdoor Leadership Opportunities for Girls

By Andy Arick, Dean of Outdoor Leadership & English Teacher

It’s a new semester, and in my world that means a new group of middle-schoolers starting their first days of my Outdoor Leadership course. By now, some of them have an idea of what this class entails—they’ve seen other classes pitching tents on the lawn or wandering around with compasses as they navigate an orienteering scavenger hunt. But as I tell all my classes at the beginning of a new semester, while they will learn plenty of outdoor skills in this course, the primary skills I want them to take away from the class are about leadership.

In order to do this, the girls start by taking a self-assessment about what roles they tend to play in a group or team. They answer a series of questions to determine if they fall into one of four categories: Achiever, Leader, Friend, or Brain. The Achiever is task-oriented and feels successful when she is getting things done; the Leader thrives when she is in charge of a team and is good at convincing others that her ideas are the best way forward; the Friend focuses on the relationships within the group and knows how to check in on how her teammates are doing; the Brain loves problem-solving and doesn’t mind diving into the complicated details of a task.

The girls take this survey not to compartmentalize themselves into a single role. (We are all a combination of these.) Instead, we take this assessment to get a sense of what primary role(s) they bring to a team. Knowing how she tends to operate as a team member gives each girl an idea of how she will tend to behave as a leader. And in that a leadership context, each of these team roles comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. 

Discussing these roles also helps the girls realize that there are distinct styles of leadership. Being a leader won’t look the same for everyone. Our class is structured around team challenges. One of the first is the Pipeball Challenge, where two teams try to move a rubber ball into a bucket about 20-feet away, using only fragments of PVC pipe to roll the ball to the teammate next to them. Each group is randomly assigned a team leader, and it’s always fascinating to watch each leader’s unique strengths come through as she encourages her team to complete the challenge faster than the other. The Achievers aren’t afraid to lead by example; the Leaders know how to organize their team efficiently; the Friends realize when it’s time for everyone to slow down and take a deep breath so they can communicate; and the Brain knows how to maximize the team’s practice time to show everyone the best technique.

Students leave Outdoor Leadership knowing more about themselves as team members and leaders. Realizing that leadership does not have to look one particular way—that you don’t have to emulate the most seemingly confident classmate in the group, room, or grade—is essential for each girl to grow into the leadership style that suits her best. This is an ongoing process that will never be completed in a single semester or school year, but our Outdoor Leadership curriculum challenges each girl to begin this journey that will continue as she takes on the many leadership opportunities offered to her at GPS.