How Can We Raise Our Girls to Succeed? Elizabeth English Has Some Ideas
Success stories

How Can We Raise Our Girls to Succeed? Elizabeth English Has Some Ideas

This content was created by Girlboss, in collaboration with The Archer School For Girls.

What do young women need to thrive in their personal and professional lives to become the best version of themselves? How can they discover their own passions and navigate the challenges of growing up as a woman today? These are the questions that Elizabeth English is on a mission to answer. As the Head of School at The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, she is focused on fostering the next generation of leaders. “I knew immediately that it was an extraordinary canvas on which to build a really contemporary girls’ school and a place that was unafraid to call itself a feminist institution,” says English of the 28-year-old school.

We sat down with the veteran education leader to brainstorm a better academic future for our girls.

How can programs like Archer help set girls up for success in their careers? 

“Kids are frustrated, and they find school boring. It’s an innate human need to create, and to do. So, we have eight or nine ‘signature programs’ that are specifically designed to give our students opportunities to apply skills in [the real world]. For example, engineering and design, or writing for our newspaper and online news site, or running a gallery and film festival. It’s all designed to teach our girls that you don’t get anything done unless you learn how to work with people, and you aren’t successful unless you make mistakes. There is no such thing as perfectionism on the road to something great.”

What are the benefits of an all-girls school?

“Archer students are able to show up and be their authentic selves. They wear a uniform, so they love not having to worry about what they wear or whether they have makeup on or not. They’re liberated from that male gaze. We want them focused on who they are, what their purpose is and where their passions lie. Girls are skipping down the hall, arm and arm—and it sounds completely corny, but that just wouldn't happen in middle or high school with boys present.”

How do you think the American education system is failing our girls?

“Our schools need to focus on media literacy, especially in late stage capitalism, where so much of the media that we consume is designed to make us feel uncomfortable and buy things. Educational curriculum is controlled state by state, and there is no federal curriculum. I don't know that most kids in this country are learning to deconstruct media images and understand their impact on them. And that really concerns me.”

How do you teach girls about gender bias?

“They're going to encounter it, and they need to understand that it’s not about them. We don't want our girls to internalize that gender bias. So, when someone interrupts you, or takes credit for your idea, or calls you by your first name while everyone else has been given an honorific, that's not about you, that's gender bias at play. There are just too many women showing up at work every day thinking, ‘What's wrong with me? Why don't they take me seriously? People think I'm angry.’ We make them conscious of those inevitable problems in society.”

How important is mentorship from a young age?

“Every student needs at least one adult outside of their family who sees them and takes an interest in their potential—and for women in particular. ‘If you can see it, you can be it,’ which is something that actress and former Archer parent, Geena Davis, used to say. And we believe that wholeheartedly at Archer too. We partner younger students with older students, so that 6th graders can see the 11th and 12th graders who are comfortable in their own skin and doing things that they never dreamed they would do. Kids listen to other kids much more than they listen to adults. We also put successful women who are Archer alums, like Josie Craven, the senior director of development for film and TV at Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine, in front of students to talk about their career path and to demystify what it takes for a woman to live her dream and be successful. We have to teach mentorship to young women as an intentional skill. You have to make a conscious decision to ask someone to mentor you and give you a handout.”

How does perfectionism hinder our girls in school?

“Girls are outperforming boys at every level of education, from elementary school to PhD programs. When we see our girls achieving at levels they never have in the past, I really see that as a symptom of the perfectionism and compliance that our girls are socialized to emulate. I see girls achieving but at a very high cost to their mental health and to their self image.”

At what point do girls lose their confidence and begin to deal with self-doubt?

“It’s happening younger and younger. It used to be like 11 or 12. Now, I'd say it's probably 9 or 10. This constant consciousness of, ‘People are looking at me and I’m supposed to look a certain way, sound a certain way and do certain things. It’s a shame.' I've never met a girl who said, ‘I loved my developing body, and I loved getting my period, and I loved getting hair all over. All of these things are judged, and now, I don't feel comfortable in my body.'”

What can we do as a society to prevent this?

“Consciousness raising. You are enough as you are. And all of those pressures you feel, and the things that people say to you, even your own parents inadvertently, and the focus on your weight and your appearance and your skin and your hair, it's designed to make you uncomfortable, and you need to take your power back.”

Tomorrow’s leaders begin at The Archer School For Girls. Archer’s mission is to help empower, support, educate and inspire the next generation of young women. Learn more here. And follow The Archer School For Girls on Instagram at @archerschoolforgirls.