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Leadership and Confidence

Student standing at podium to give speech



At Harpeth Hall, each student develops the confidence to lead in her own way. She is aware of the value of every individual and embraces her responsibility to shape the community for the better. The words "lead confidently" in our mission guide us to create intentional opportunities for development far beyond being captain of a team, the star role in a play, or a club officer. Our faculty nurture our students' leadership in and out of the classroom. At Harpeth Hall, we affirm that every day, every girl is a leader.


From learning to lead oneself to learning to lead many, the middle school leadership program is grounded in respect, integrity, individuality, kindness, and trust.

Students sharpen their leadership skills through a variety of experiences including public speaking, classroom debates, participation in SEEK, on the athletic field, on stage, and in interactions with the greater community through our Public Purpose program.

Middle school life balance classes build on this work and are organized by theme:

• 5th grade theme: Learning to Lead Myself

• 6th grade theme: Learning to Lead within a Community

• 7th grade theme: Learning to Lead as a Team

• 8th grade theme: Learning to Lead a Community


Every day, girls lead in all areas of upper school life. Harpeth Hall’s leadership program evolves alongside students as they mature and further develop their independence and identity.

Faculty support students as the girls strengthen and hone their unique voice in order to learn effective communication and how to best support and advocate for themselves and others.

Our upper school students serve as role models throughout our community through public speaking, classroom participation, clubs, and organizations and as  global advocates through our Public Purpose and Global Scholars programs.



11 Traits of Excellent Leadership

These traits inspire, guide, and empower Harpeth Hall girls to be better versions of themselves and contribute their talents to the benefit of others.

  • She exemplifies integrity.
  • She respects others and herself.
  • She engages actively in her learning.
  • She believes her actions make a difference.
  • She acts when she sees a need.
  • She inspires others through her dedication.
  • She listens thoughtfully to the ideas of others.
  • She communicates effectively.
  • She identifies when to lead and when to follow.
  • She embraces a commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, and equity both in and out of the classroom as a means of forming a stronger and better school.
  • She understands that learning to lead confidently is a life-long endeavor.


Jess Quote for Confidence Page

I believe that we must give girls' as many opportunities as possible to build their confidence. Life experiences can be tough enough if we don't have the confidence in ourselves and the ability to persevere.

— Jess Hill, Head of School

Armistead Quote for Confidence Page

Our students and faculty are now benefiting from a cultural shift away from perfectionism, fear of failure, comparison. We've named these inhibitors in our community, and we address them openly and regularly. The students thrive on this work, too, and are the best carriers of culture.

—  Armistead Lemon, Director of the Upper School 

Meg 2 Quote for Confidence Page

I've had the opportunity to speak to the sophomore class about self-confidence, which meant a lot to me. I was able to share my own experiences with self-confidence, and I gave them advice on how to navigate the challenges of academics and social life.

—  Meg '20

Spencer Quote for Confidence Page

If you let something hold you back, be it fear or criticism, the only person you are hurting is yourself. Harpeth Hall has made itself a safe place to ask questions, take risks, and make mistakes.

—  Spencer '21

Kate Quote for Confidence Page

I can say with certainty that the faculty advisors, and the young women with whom I served on the student confidence committee, allowed me to  broaden my perspective, and to view my weaknesses as tools and my fears as goals.

— Kate '19

Meg Quote for Confidence Page

Self-confidence can look different for everyone, which is something I hadn't really considered before.

—  Meg '20

Harpeth Hall's confidence committee aims to close the confidence gap between females and males, beginning in the school setting. We foster environments that promote healthy risk-taking and celebrate failure. We also educate students to identify inhibitors, both internal and external, that undermine confidence and give them tools to face and work through them. Through this work, we help girls thrive and develop the confidence to take action.  

Live Honorably



The central goal of Harpeth Hall's confidence committee is to help girls to confront common inhibitors to girls' confidence.



The Problem:

We want students to strive to be great and to be detail-oriented, but perfectionism in these positive traits has gone too far. Perfectionists tend to procrastinate, totally avoid action or risk out of fear that they will not be perfect, but they’re also more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and reduced feelings of self-worth.

The Harpeth Hall Approach:

We work to help students see that their grades are not indications of their self-worth. Students need to look past the numbers to appreciate not only the new skills that they learn, but also the work ethic and resilience that learning requires. 

We push students to look at things in perspective. How would another person approach this task? How would one advise a friend who was facing the same struggle? What are the consequences if this isn’t perfect? Could you manage those consequences? Will it matter tomorrow? Next month? Next year?

We encourage students to be willing to compromise with themselves. One can maintain high standards while still being realistic in their goals. To mitigate perfectionism-induced procrastination, we teach them to create a realistic schedule and take one small step at a time. 

Fear of Failure

The Problem:

We all deal with struggles and failures. A great deal of evidence, however, suggests that girls are especially likely to fear failure. This can lead girls to avoid risk and value image over learning. This aversion to healthy risk-taking can prevent young women from taking action or trying new things. By the time young women go to college, many are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and stress.

The Harpeth Hall Approach:

We encourage students to see that struggle and failure promote healthy risk-taking and develop the tenacity and perseverance needed to gain confidence. The trajectory of success is not a straight line. There are many twists, turns, and backwards movement.

At Harpeth Hall, we’re rethinking the way we talk to our students about struggle and failure. Rather than focus on the end result, we encourage students to think about what they do well and how they might improve along the way. Rather than praising natural talent, we emphasize the importance of resilience and work ethic.

We’re helping students to see that all learners, their teachers and coaches included, struggle and fail sometimes. If we can desensitize concepts like failure and struggle then our students can learn to take failure in stride rather than seeing it as a reflection of their self worth.


The Problem:

Comparison is an inevitable part of living in community, and can be a helpful way to set goals and improve. But more often, it tears at your confidence or relies on bringing someone else down. Today’s young women not only compare themselves to others they know. Through social media, they also compare themselves to every other beautiful, smart, athletic, and seemingly popular teen in the world. One of our favorite quotations at Harpeth Hall is from President Theodore Roosevelt who said, “comparison is the thief of joy.”

The Harpeth Hall Approach:

We help students to see the whole picture and share the whole picture. We create a healthier community when we are more open with our ups and downs, knowing that everyone is fighting her own battle.

We work to instill a grateful and thankful attitude in our students. Such gratitude greatly reduces the urge to compare ourselves to each other. The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

We encourage students to avoid comparing performance and grades with one another. One way we do this is by sharing useful phrases with students. A student might say “I did better than last time,” “I didn’t do as well as I wanted,” or simply “I don’t share my grades.”

Sensitivity to Criticism

The Problem:

This is an issue for everyone - women and men - everyone wants to be liked, and no one finds criticism fun, but what we know from research is that women have a harder time bouncing back from criticism. Why is this the case? For one, often without legal means, political power, or financial means, women survived for centuries on likeability. Second, girls are praised early on for good behavior, following the rules, sitting still. It feels scary when it’s absent or when that feedback is not always positive.  

The Harpeth Hall Approach:

We emphasize that substantive, complex work should be getting both praise and criticism. Many of us labor under the misconception that good work will be met mostly with praise, but this is simply not the case in the real world. Praise makes us feel good in the short term but it does not build confidence. 

As educators, we build in feedback along the way so that girls see the value in criticism and seek it out. We also encourage students to look back at previous feedback and keep that feedback loop alive and well, which will also promote a growth mindset.

We teach students to learn to love feedback. Go after it. Feedback can make a person stronger and tougher and better at what they do in the long run.

Negative Self Talk

The Problem

Students and adults often use self-doubting language. “I’m probably wrong," you might think. “I have a stupid question," you might say. “I’m just not good at this," you might tell others. By doing this, we feel like it lowers expectations on the front end. The problem with that is that when we speak like this, we are not as believable. Our audience may tune us out or assume that what we are saying is not important even when we have something valuable to say.


The Harpeth Hall Approach

We teach students to notice their inner critic and identify where they’re most negative, be it at home, on the athletic field, in the classroom, or in social environments. Young women need to recognize this voice for what it is: It’s the voice we all internalize based on outside influences, learning, and conditioning.

We tell students about the importance of humor and humility. Laughing at oneself and at what is causing stress or frustration can take away the power of that negative voice that exists in all of our heads. 

We encourage students to practice self-care. Exercising, walking, writing in a journal, and meditating can mitigate the worst effects of negative self-talk and improve student mood and attitude.

Origin Story of the Harpeth Hall Confidence Committee 

In the winter of 2014, former Director of the Upper School Armistead Lemon, had an "aha" moment. After listening to a thought-provoking senior speech about the need for women to be bolder and occasionally break the rules, she saw an article in The Atlantic called "Bridging the Confidence Gap." Ms. Lemon, who was then an English teacher before becoming the director of the upper school, knew that at Harpeth Hall needed to be more intentional in building confidence in its students. The girls needed to know it was confidence, more than competence, that defined a person's success after graduation.

Ms. Lemon, in collaboration with Jess Hill, then the director of the upper school and now head of school, invited a group faculty members to be part of a new Confidence Committee. Using their experience and wisdom, the team worked together over the summer of 2014 to research the idea of building confidence in all Harpeth Hall students. Over the next few years, their commitment to promoting self-assurance across Harpeth Hall's campus deepened. The group worked regularly with upper school students to lead discussions about inhibitors to girls' confidence and to help students develop tools to mitigate those obstacles. They worked with faculty and parents to help ensure that students received consistent messages about the value of struggle, the gift of failure, and the risks of perfectionism and comparison. The team presented its work at several national conferences, including The National Association of Independent Schools and The National Coalition of Girls' Schools. 

Today, the Confidence Committee has extended its work into the Harpeth Hall middle school and overseen the creation of a Student Confidence Committee. This student group, which includes more than 30 members, has taken the lead in promoting girls' confidence on Harpeth Hall's campus through events and creative initiatives. The Confidence Committee looks forward to developing and expanding the ambitious work in the years to come.