I know you are there. Staring at the screen wondering if students will “show up” today. I know you know how to do this, but it is unknown. I know there is a doubt in your ability and if you can really call yourself a teacher anymore.
There is a piece of the puzzle that is missing for you. This piece is at the core of why you do this thankless job day in and day out. You don’t feel like a teacher as you sit in your home office thinking about the chores to be done. The odd feeling of wanting to just watch Netflix in between meetings rather than sending out yet another email to connect with your students.
And that’s just it… You are missing the connection.
Connection of watching students understand concepts for the first time. Seeing their faces light up with “Oh, I get it now!”
Connection of conversations being had that go so much deeper than your lesson plan. Realizing your students can have deep thoughts and questions when given the opportunity.
The simple connection of taking daily attendance and being glad they made it to school today. Knowing they will get at least one hot meal, human interaction, and hopefully some laughter before they head home to an empty house.
The grief you are feeling over this is ok. Be in that grief for a moment and mourn the loss of not getting to say, “Goodbye,” “Good luck,” “Have a great summer,” and “Congratulations.” You became a teacher to see your students off onto their next adventure and prepare them to take that next step. This year you won’t be able to do that… and it sucks beyond anything else.
You pour out your life and soul for this job, and while the pay is terrible, the reward is seeing students succeed in the next phase of life. Student’s succeeding and thriving is your biggest payday.
The simple fact is as a teacher we crave the connection with our students and it is at the core of what we do on a daily basis. Just because you have to miss out on this for the rest of the year, doesn’t mean you are no longer the teacher you thought you were.
You can still kick ass at teaching online and make those connections with your students through the screen.
You can be the person that gives them something to laugh about that day, and check in to see if they were able to get lunch from a drop off location.
You can still tell them “Goodbye,” “Good luck,” “Have a great summer,” and “Congratulations.” As the year wraps up whether through a screen or a postcard.
You can still do your job and reach students. You can and I know you will. It’s what you were made to do. Don’t let this loss of identity as a teacher disappear. You’ve got this. Now, go be the teacher I know you are, your students are waiting.
As an educator, I believe we all have that one kid we are trying to save.
When I say the word “save”, it holds a lot of meaning. However, in this case I mean it in the sense of trying to save a kid from themself. There are many kids that we have throughout our career, who could be so much more than what shows in the effort they currently put forth at school and home.
I have been a teacher for eight years and I have had plenty of kids throughout my career I tried to save. I can’t say I was successful in saving all of them, but I pray someday they will look back and see I meant well.
My first year in the classroom, I worked so hard with a student to help her with the confidence to believe that she was fully capable even though she was on an IEP. I gained her trust through simply getting to know her, her interests, and allowing her to use my classroom key as a fidget. The literal key she held onto in class was what unlocked that trust and she started to produce work and understand concepts in my classroom. Her confidence grew and she is not successfully in college and getting ready to graduate to be a teacher herself. Trust me there where many times I wanted to throw my hands up and give up. The fights and conversations I had with her would frustrate me beyond measure, but something kept pushing me to breathe belief into her. I am so glad I did.
My subsequent years in the classroom I had a lot of behavior issues in class. I have and will work hard with students to understand they need to think before they act and their actions have consequences. However when I was working in a middle school setting, knowing students’ prefrontal cortex is not nearly as developed and therefore would not truly understand the concept of “their actions having consequences.”
I struggled to impact these behavior students, but I hope they look back at my best efforts and see I had a point in all of it. There were many phone calls home, trips to the office, and consequences with grades. Some of those students got it together as an 8th grader, while others took longer to understand the concept, some even took until their senior year to really understand that their slacking off early in high school took away opportunities for their future. As an educator, in my peer network, I hear stories about lack of understanding in regards to actions having consequences leak into students’ college years.
Last year as a GT specialist, I had a high school student that was very into the drug scene, ditching classes, and running his poor single mother crazy with his behavior. His mother at one point asked if we could just handle it because she was done trying. As a mother and a teacher, this broke my heart. I knew I had to do everything I could to try and pull this kid back out of the trenches he was stuck in. Needless to say, I couldn’t. This was a reality I knew very early on in my career, but my heart ached knowing he knew his own mother had given up on him. He was one that was too far gone and I tried everything I could to get him back because I know very deep down he still had good in him. The fact his mom had given up on him simply enforced he didn’t have the sense of anyone caring about him.
This year I have a student I know I have to make a difference with. He is so stinking bright and is a great kid, but he is fighting with doing things to get the attention of his peers versus using his gifts for good. I have had numerous conversations with him about what he needs and how I can possibly help him. The hardest part about working with this kid is I totally get what his home life is like. I lived a very similar life growing up. The only thing I can tell him is my story and it doesn’t have to be this hard. I try to tell him things I wish I would have done instead of doing the wrong things to get my parents’ attention.
It breaks my heart when I see kids going through something similar to myself in middle and high school. Now with distance learning happening, I can’t actually check in on him or many of my other students physically. I can’t give them a safe place to escape home life troubles for 55 minutes everyday. You can bet I am going to do everything I can to reach this kid through distance learning and “save” him as much as I can through our distance learning and weekly check-ins.
As an educator, the only thing I know to do to try and save a kid is to not give up on them. We have to let them know we still believe in them and they can be good. Even if we are the only cheerleader they have, we have to do our best to keep cheering them on. There will be a lot of kids we can’t save, but that shouldn’t stop us from saving the ones we can. We make a difference. Whether it’s now or ten years from now, we make a difference.
I recently had a parent contact me about their student’s Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) wondering about the whole point of an ALP in schools. Naturally, I was eager to meet and tell this parent about how the ALP works in schools and how they can use this document at home to have conversations with their students about their goals for the year.
The day of the meeting I started to have some second thoughts about the meeting going well and really proving to this parent that ALP’s serve a purpose. Why? Well when I really took the time to think about how ALP’s are used (or not used) in schools I could start to see where this parent had some concerns.
Majority of the time, in secondary schools, ALP’s are for the benefit of the GT Specialist and being in compliance with the state requirements of having to prove that we serve these students. Now parents who are familiar with ALPs and know of their importance to their students’ growth and development appreciate this document and check in with their student on how things are going. Teacher’s might appreciate the document, but it is often put in the file cabinet next to the previous years ALPs. Now I am making generalizations as I write this because there are some teachers who do look at these plans and use them or support them in their classrooms. Teachers are overwhelmed and overworked on a daily basis, I truly understand why these plans are often not utilized.
Here is my point: Specialists create these plans and check in with our students in hopes that parents are actually checking in with their kids on goals at home. When I see a parent look at an ALP and assume that their child is fine or they don’t need to check in with them; it frustrates me. If parents don’t see the value in these goals or plans, let’s make some changes to the ALP. It’s a working document for a reason. Goals change. Social emotional needs change. I try my best to make sure students are on track, but I am one person with 86 kids plus my classes that I teach daily – all to keep track of. I need parents’ help to hold their children accountable because really the children need to learn self accountability in making sure goals are met.
If parents show an interest, I can promise your kids will own the responsibility of taking them a little more seriously as well. If students are investing in their goals and asking teachers for support they would be able to achieve growth at a whole new level. Why not sit down with your kids and have the conversation about their goals and why they choose them, check in with them and help them develop accountability and discipline for setting and achieving these goals.
In a world full of distractions – we are distracted from our children and from what is happening in their education. I believe we need to be more aware of what is happening with our students through asking questions and supporting our kids in their goals. We are always looking for ways to connect with our kids in this technology connected world, so why not try and connect with them over things they are passionate about in the ALP?
Take the time to read over their ALP with them and discuss how their goals are going to be achieved? Why did they choose those particular goals? Ask them how you can support them at home with their goals? It might give you some insight to their drive and motivation and individual intellect. It will also let you in on their social emotional needs.
As a GT specialist, I may not have a ton of pull for the ALPs other than making sure they are getting done. If you are a parent of a GT kid, you have the power to work with your kids and see that their goals are accomplished. In an ideal world, I would hold formal ALP meetings with parents, students and a teacher (similar to an Individualized Education Plan meeting in Special Education) so that everyone who works with the student at school and home is aware of the support the student needs in various areas. Someday I hope to do this, but for now the system in place is going to have to work.
Most of the country is canceling school for several weeks at a time and this has parents in a panic of what they can do with their kids in the midst of “social distancing”. As a parent to younger kids, I am worried about this as well, so I have been trying to find ways to have some structure to our weekdays in the midst of not being able to go anywhere. As a middle school teacher, I am panicking about my students ending up with screens in front of them all day long and worried they won’t pick up a book to read while their parents are still required to go to work.
So I have been gathering some resources for my own kids and I wanted to share them all in one spot to help parents looking for some things to keep their kids engaged during school closures. First up is a schedule for you to follow with some ideas of what to do for each activity.
This is from NESCA and I personally will be setting alarms with labels on my phone so I know where we are in our day. I really like the additional suggestions because I run out of ideas for my five-year-old and this helps me not just sit her in front of the TV while I stare at my phone. As a secondary teacher, I think this schedule works well for older kids too. This allows them to do productive things and still have some of their own screen time. NESCA has some great suggestions in their blog post here.
Up next are some websites with FREE access to their learning materials for parents to use with their kids. I have looked through them with a parent’s eye and they are easy to understand and fun to do with your kids. (Plus this will keep you off your phone or watching TV all day too.):
Scholastic has lessons and units broken down by grade level.
“Even when schools are closed, you can keep the learning going with these special cross-curricular journeys. Every day includes four separate learning experiences, each built around a thrilling, meaningful story or video. Kids can do them on their own, with their families, or with their teachers. Just find your grade level and let the learning begin!”
“But there is a way to get a little culture and education while you’re confined to your home. According to Fast Company, Google Arts & Culture teamed up with over 500 museums and galleries around the world to bring anyone and everyone virtual tours and online exhibits of some of the most famous museums around the world.”
Science Activities– these are broken up by grade level and are broken up by the amount of time each lesson takes.
“All of the lessons below are expertly designed to engage students, achieve learning outcomes, and be easy for teachers to use. We have short mini-lessons that are completely digital and full lessons that include an activity. All of the activities are designed to use simple supplies a parent will likely already have at home.”
“To support all quarantined families, our charter school-approved curriculum is 100% free for the next 3 weeks. Just use the button below, create a profile for your kids’ ages (2-7 yrs), and get started with super simple, no-fuss, easy to implement ideas or lessons for the kids to try each and every day.”
“They’re a way for me to help break up the day, keep the kids from asking 47 “but why…?” questions, buy myself a chance to unload the dishwasher or hit the reset button if things aren’t going so well. Activities aren’t a must to make life work at home – but they are a great tool when you need them.”
This is a good doc with links to sites that are offering FREE access to their materials while schools are canceled. She is updating the site daily! I would recommend reading the descriptions of each link and using the ones you feel are most applicable and user-friendly.
Finally just a quick graphic with some websites:
While these times are unknown and our day to day “normalcy” is turned upside down, I encourage you to look at this time of a way to reconnect with your kids. Let them show you some of the things they are capable of that we don’t get to see in action. Reconnect with them and show them they are safe. (Especially our empath kiddos, they are absorbing a lot of the stress from the outside world and they need a soft place to land.)
In the end…
I would also encourage you to limit your conversations about this virus around your kids because I can guarantee they are listening and absorbing your attitude towards “social distancing”, precautions, panic, stress, anxiety, etc. I also really encourage you to keep in check your own exposure to what you are reading, watching, and talking about. We can’t expose ourselves to the negativity and panic without starting to absorb and project those things to others.
I hope these resources are helpful and encourage all of us to take the time to focus on our kids and what they need from us right now. I hope it also helps us not remain so hyperfocused on panic and unknown happening in our world. Be safe, Be kind, Be well.
I recently assigned a poetry project in my Advanced Language Arts class. Students had to find ten poems that had some significance to them either literal or figurative. I of course pre taught figurative language, stanzas, rhyme scheme, and how to interpret a poem. Then I let them have at the books of poems I grabbed from the library and poems they found online.
The biggest part of this assignment was they had to reflect on why they chose a poem identifying it’s meaning to them and supporting that with techniques the author used to help with the meaning of the poem. This was like pulling teeth for some students because most students are not taught how to read and interpret poetry. They are simply given the poem and told how to identify parts of the poem or the figurative language.
I personally love poetry and I write my own poems for fun. It’s an emotional outlet for me when I feel the need to scream, cry, yell, or just try to understand my own complex feelings. So when I teach this unit, I try to show students that poems are not just a jumble of words or weird paragraphs. I slow down in my teaching and really help them look at the poem on a deeper level. Students are in such a hurry to move onto the next thing and just have a straight answer in their school work, but I teach them how they can each have a different reaction to a poem. This drives some students insane, but my job is to teach them as humans we all have a different reaction to the things we read and we all bring something different to the table.
Fast forward to grading these projects and I started to notice this poem by Shel Silverstein over and over again:
Now just as a reminder I teach middle school students, so Silverstein’s poems are some of the more popular because they are easy to read, funny, and most kids can relate to what he is writing about. However, when I read their reflections for this poem I was impressed and amazed at what some of them had written:
“I can relate to this poem because I feel like I let other people’s words create the decisions I make. I feel like this is a bad trait to have but sometimes I can’t help it. This poem changed my perspective on how I look at the things I think compared to what other people think I should do. I have always been the insecure girl that lets people’s words get to her but I have come to realize that it won’t all be that bad if I just do what I think. In conclusion I think this is a very important poem because it could really teach people that they don’t need anyone else’s opinions on you.”
“No one besides you can make decisions for yourself.Only you can make your decisions because you know what’s best for you. This poem is about a voice telling you to do one thing, but you know deep down that you need to follow your heart and your mind. I have had this happen where someone is doing something that I don’t want to do, but I feel like in order to fit in I should do it. I always follow my heart and know I shouldn’t do it though. In conclusion, I need to make decisions for myself and not listen to others’ opinions.”
“Sometimes the voice inside you is more powerful than your brain that tells you what’s wrong and right, or your parents advise. This poem is about how you sometimes have to stop listening to everyone else and start making decisions for yourself. I like the end rhyme and the imagery. I relate to this poem because sometimes I have to stop listening to everybody else and listen to what I am thinking. This poem makes me feel good inside because it is telling you a very important lesson. You have to consider what you are saying, not just take the advice of what everyone else is saying.”
And this one is from a kid who I know has some of their own demons they are working on, but is starting to succumb to them: (edited)
“I picked this poem because the message of it is about your conscience and I feel I have a very strong conscience. This poem is about your conscience and to listen to it…I also liked how the author used quotation marks to make it seem like the person is aiming towards your conscience speaking…”
So what is my point in sharing this with you? Our kids are crying out for help to listen to this voice and not be influenced by others or “the cool” thing to do type of people. They are wanting to find a way to listen to their own subconscious when it comes to decision making. Yet, I know for a fact the last student lets the pressures of bad influences get inside their head and causes them to make poor decisions. That students would rather have some sort of title as a “badass” than a “smart kid.” These students want and desire a way to make their own positive decisions for themselves, but they struggle because of all the noise happening outside their subconscious- sports, school, peers, social media, constant connection to people…
How do we help our kids disconnect from the world outside of them and listen to what is going in their head? How can we as parents and teachers help them understand the weight of their decisions? It starts with teaching them executive functioning skills. We often don’t take the time to teach our students how to make decisions or slow down long enough to make a proper choice. As adults, we just make these decisions and we make a million decisions throughout our day. Our students don’t know how to do this because we haven’t explicitly taught them how to do this. We can start out with small decisions they need to make with us and then start to add in bigger decisions to help them really understand how to make a conscious decision regarding an activity, vacation, or consequence.
I am not suggesting you sit down with your student and say, “Today we are going to make a decision. Step one…” I am suggesting you work through the problem of making a tough choice with them, allow them to use you as a soundboard and create an open line of communication. This will allow them to feel like they can come to you and open up about issues they are having with peers or at school, and it will allow them to practice make decisions in a safe place so if and when they are in a spot where they need to make a quick decision among peers they can be confident in doing that.
Really what it comes down to is being present with our kids in moments when they are struggling. Let them know you are a safe place to fall when it comes to making decisions and looking at the influences in their world.
If I had to pick a word to summarize this year it would be “change”. This year has had a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns, and has just been a whirlwind.
In March we welcomed our second baby girl and I decided to make a career change while on maternity leave.
This summer I spent time learning how to be a mom to two kids while still trying to keep my aspirations alive. There are a lot of things they don’t tell you when you become a mom in general, but then you add another one and it’s a whole different set of things they don’t tell you. I truly love being a mom and it’s been one of my greatest adventures yet.
I also made the decision to put my PhD on hold. I’m not sure for how long or if I will finish it honestly. I love to learn. I feel at peace when I am researching and putting a paper together- even though it’s stressful because it’s for a grade. I came to realize that I want to spend the time I would stressing about grades and research with my kids and creating memories with them. I want to spend time with them while they are little and as a family of four. My husband had to take on a lot of the parenting while I was in school and I never got to spend time with him. It affected our relationship a lot. It’s not how I want my marriage to feel, so taking a break from it needed to happen. It will be there when and if I’m ready to go back to it.
I left the field of GT to go back into the classroom and I fell in love with teaching and working directly with kids all over again. I missed classroom teaching more than I thought I would. It’s been amazing to make connections with students and even help a few of them learn to like Language Arts. I have experienced joy in working with these students and telling their parents about their successes. Yes, of course, I have had some really hard days with some really tough students, but overall I have had a really good year with these kids.
Now it’s time for yet another change to wrap up 2019. We have had a really hard time keeping and finding a quality GT Specialist at my current school, so when the position opened for the third time in less than 4 months I had to do some soul searching. The fact that this position continued to be put in front of me had to mean something. I told my principal the first two times I wanted to stay in the classroom because I missed working with kids these last four years. She understood and was supportive knowing where I was coming from and my background. Well, third time’s the charm I suppose because after a lot of thinking, praying, and soul searching I decided to step back into the world of Gifted and Talented.
I am excited and sad to go back into GT. I know these kids need me after the rough year they have had, but I will miss a lot of my kids I have been working with since August. This position is different than what I had been doing in my previous GT role which is exciting because I still get to teach kids. I am hopeful that I can make a big difference with this program at my school and help these kids.
I recently stepped back into the classroom this year after four years of being a gifted and talented specialist. There was a huge part of me that hated leaving a field I am so passionate about, but another part of me really needed to be back with kids.
As a gifted and talented specialist, I ran into many obstacles trying to service my students. Most days I ran into more roadblocks than support in my buildings. Now, don’t get me wrong there were a lot of supportive teachers that wanted to work with me, but the majority of the time they had curriculums and plans that they needed to stick to. I wish that I could say I felt useful as a GT specialist in my buildings, but more days than not I wasn’t useful. The days that I got to meet with my students were probably my favorite days. I love gifted education and I’ll never let go of that. I’ll continue to educate myself and learn how I can better my students lives that are gifted and talented through my own practices and my own research. I will use all of my training and knowledge in my classroom to challenge all of my students.
Now that I am back in the classroom as a middle school Language Arts teacher I am so incredibly happy. I love my staff. I love my team. I love my admin. Most of all I love getting to apply the knowledge that I’ve learned in the last four years of being a GT specialist to my classroom. Being able to watch extensions in action has been something I wanted to see as a GT specialist but never was able to given my position as an educational coach. I have realized as a classroom teacher how much I missed being with kids. I missed interacting with them, I missed making them laugh, I missed teaching them new things and hearing how they interpret different stories…I missed teaching.
Changing jobs as an educator is never easy. There are still days that I think about my seniors that I left behind at my old job, but I know that they are in good hands and they are making it through the year. I wish nothing but the best for them. I wish nothing but the best for my former colleagues who are also still enjoying being a GT specialist. I know that they are struggling. I know that they are struggling every day with what they do as a GT specialist. I hope they know my last four years with them have been some of the most informative and special years in my career.
Sometimes change is necessary. Sometimes change is extremely hard. As I move back into the classroom this year I really appreciate all that classroom teachers do even more. Taking a break from the classroom teaching for four years has been eye-opening. There’s so much to get done and so little time to do it, but when a student finally looks at me and says, “Oh, I get it now!”, it makes my teacher heart soar. I’m making connections with students that I haven’t been able to make in years. So to all the classroom teachers out there I’m with you now in the trenches. I know all of the work that you’re doing and I know all of the struggles that you’re facing on a day-to-day basis.
Know that if you ever need somebody to vent to or if you ever need somebody to help you with differentiating for gifted students in your classroom I’m your gal. I still love what I do as a classroom teacher but I will always love what I did as GT specialist.
This post is special since a dear friend of mine wrote it. I asked her to write about her own experience as a parent of a gifted child to hopefully show you that you are not alone in your own journey.
It dawned on me one day that I wasn’t dealing with your typical average 3 year old. Here we are riding in the car, going to the store when my son speaks up from the back seat. “Mom, do you know what 3+4+2+1+3+2+4+3 equals?” I was driving so I didn’t spout off an answer right away, honestly I was curious what his response would be, and secretly I wouldn’t have been able to give him an immediate answer. Pretty quickly he says “I do, it is 22!” He said with such enthusiasm and delight. It was at that moment I knew this kid was going to give me a run for my money.
Outside of his love for numbers Tagen seemed like your typical little boy. He loved playing outside, loved the be with friends and family. You often hear of the social disconnect some gifted children have, only really relating to those much older than themselves. That wasn’t something I really ever noticed with my kiddo. What I did notice was the emotional variations. Some days we were great about things, then the next day those same activities would throw him into a spiral. At a young age he was always very much about things being fair. If his friend got to pick their seat it was only fair that he also got that same privilege. Or if his sister got to stay up past her bedtime by 10 minutes, then it was only fair that he got to stay up 10 extra minutes as well. Regardless of the circumstances, things have to be “fair”.
Thankfully the academics haven’t been an issue for Tagen, he will get his homework done, doesn’t usually fight it, and very seldom needs my help. Socially we have worked a bit more to be accepting of others differences in abilities and know that life isn’t always fair and you won’t always get the same things those around you get. This proved to be most difficult during 3rd and 4th grade so far. Tagen was extremely bored in class, had a few teachers who weren’t sure how to work with higher achieving kids, or strong willed boys. This lead to many trips to the principal’s office and me having her number programed into my phone. My heart would sink every time I would see her number pop up. Not knowing what the issue was now. One day it was because he choose to draw a unicorn pooping out the math answer. He had finished answering the question with time to spare and used his artistic abilities to spice his white board up a bit. Needless to say his teacher wasn’t a fan and sent him right to the office. Sadly she was the only one who got to see the drawing, which was too bad, the kid has some talents in the art department. My question to the teacher, “Was his answer correct?” I don’t think she was a fan. There was another call from the office because Tagen was sitting at the bottom of the slide and wouldn’t move. A classmate tattled and rather than give a redirection the teacher sent him straight to the office. I was beginning to think this teacher had it out for my kid. Conferences during 3rd grade were rough as well, she could never seem to start them with anything nice to say. I was really starting to think I had a problem child in the making, and as a teacher myself, wasn’t about to take that lying down. I reached out to some other teachers from the past and they assured me he wasn’t the issue. It was simply that his current teacher hadn’t take the time to really get to know him and his quirks and tailor to his needs.
Now 4th grade was a bit better, the gifted specialist for his school really stepped in to help that teacher out with those boys in her room who needed the challenge. We still saw some behaviors, he did get suspended for fighting that year. Again, he believes things need to be fair, and it was only fair that he push the kid back because he was pushed. Needless to say we have had several conversations about expressing ourselves when we feel things are not fair. And again about things won’t always be the same for everyone. Tagen is in 5th grade this year and has really matured. I think it helps that they chose to move him up to 6th grade math, he is feeling more of the challenge and the teacher has taken the time to get to know him.
I know it isn’t the same for all gifted children, they all have their quirks and vices. Tagen will hopefully always be interested in learning, just leaving us with the emotional end to work more on at home. He is discovering what he is passionate about, and to my husband’s dismay it isn’t sports all that much. You just never know what to expect, and that is true for all kids regardless of their academic ability. As parents I feel like we need to support one another rather than compete over who has the more gifted or advanced child. Am I proud of him, you bet your sweet booty I am. I try not to go overboard however, I don’t want to create that monster child who thinks that just because he is gifted he is the best. I ask him daily what is one thing he failed at. He thinks I’m crazy but he is also learning that it is okay to fail at things, what matters is how you come back and respond.
Raising children is tough no matter what, raising a gifted child will bring a whole new level of soul searching. There are so many days I feel like I can’t offer him what he needs. Then I remember, he needs a mom who will give him unconditional love no matter what, a parent who will have those hard conversations with him and a role model of how to fail with grace and dignity then get back up and go at it again. Let’s take care of one another and remember, we are sending the next generation of leaders out into the world.
Dabrowski is known for coming up with 5 areas children will exhibit intense behaviors and labeled them as “overexcitabilities”. It’s important to note that these are not limited to just gifted students, and can be experienced by all children and even adults. The other important thing to note is overexcitabilities (OE) are not used for clinical diagnosis purposes, but rather are used to help children understand and manage their OE’s in a positive way.
The 5 areas of OE’s are:
Child has so much energy, never sits still for long
Child fidgets, has rapid speech, some sort of constant movement
Child avoids certain stimuli
Child has an extreme reaction to sound and/or touch (tags in clothes, texture of paper, loud sounds, different pitches of sound)
Child likes to experiment a lot
Child has unending curiosity
Child will sometimes worry about fairness and injustice
Child wants to learn everything and anything about their passions
Child has many imaginary friends or worlds that are real to them
Child will daydream a lot and has difficulty “tuning in” to lessons
Child has deep sensitivities and acutely aware of their feelings
Child may internalize experiences
Child may overreact because they hold in school stress until they reach a safe place to be able to vent
Now most children will tend to exhibit one of these OE’s versus having all of these at once. Some children will exhibit one OE more than the others, but can show some small signs of another OE.
Even just having to help your child navigate through one OE is time consuming and overwhelming for you and the child. So what are the benefits of your child having an OE?
Improved learning once OE is known
Psychomotor- allowing extra movement or fidgets while in class can help improve child’s ability to maintain attention.
Sensory- seating away from distractions, providing a calm place to refocus allows the student to experience learning in a healthy way.
Prevention of misdiagnosis
OE’s can look like ADHD, autism, SPD, etc- if we are able to identify an OE it allows you to avoid a misdiagnosis that can be cause more harm with unnecessary medicine or testing.
Improved student/teacher/parent relationships
OE’s help everyone working with the child understand the reason behind behaviors
Allows the child’s OE to be handled with empathy and compassion thus allowing them to learn how to cope and celebrate their sensitivities as strengths.
Mental health assistance
Knowing a child has OE’s helps increase the success of counseling gifted children.
Lessens the risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression because it allows parents to help them with coping techniques for their OE.
OE’s can increase with level of giftedness which allows parents and teachers assess a deeper level understand the students needs. (OE’s might be used to help identify students someday rather than current testing.)
So now what? We know what OE’s are, what they look like, and their benefits, but we should always be working on increasing our own understanding of things happening with our gifted students. Here are a few ideas:
SENG– Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted has support groups as well as articles and courses on OE’s
Connect with other parents who have children with OE’s
Facebook groups, local district or state groups
Include trainings for teachers and staff on OE’s for gifted students. Educate your staff on how to help students cope and feel successful in the classroom if they have OE’s.
Teachers and Parents
Seek out additional resources to help you work with OE’s in a positive way. See the book list below and handout.
There is a very common misconception that gifted students don’t need to have a lot of check ins when they are in class. They “have it together”. Gifted students are playing by the rules and getting their work done, they don’t need help with the work, their grades are fine… Yes, while all of this may be true, we forget they have social-emotional needs too since their work often is not a issue. So, when their grades start to plummet we become frustrated that they can’t get it together.
We have to keep in mind as parents and teachers, our gifted students need to have check-ins too. They may be able to demonstrate content knowledge and not show difficulty with the work, but they do very often struggle with social emotional issues that are bigger than they can handle. Young gifted students can be doing really well in school one day and then be crying in the hallway for an hour trying to understand why people don’t have enough food to eat. Older students might be doing great in their three advanced placement classes, but be having an internal struggle with making the decision to not go to college against their parents wishes. At any given point, a gifted student could be wrestling with the fight they had with their parents or even their friends which can derail them just as fast as a fire drill.
The trick is to check in with our gifted students before it gets to a point where we can’t get them back on track. We want to make sure we have a pulse on all of our students and their well-being, but that is difficult when you have a room of 30 students for 7 class periods a day. However, if we think of it in the sense of athletes and how often coaches check in on their star players we would notice the star athletes are checked in on often and coached on how to improve or challenge their skills. Coaches don’t let the star just go about their practice or their game because they have it all together. Coaches encourage them to push through the tough practices and praise them when they accomplish a goal.
Gifted students are complicated. They need to be challenged in their work, and they need help being in tune with their own social-emotional needs. So while in the gradebook they appear to be functioning well in their classes, they may have something bigger going on outside of academics they need help processing. Gifted students are unique in that they often are able to communicate and function intellectually, but they very often struggle with the emotional side of their brain because there isn’t a rhyme or reason behind those emotions. They need help to process those emotions in a logical way.
The flip side of this is when gifted students start to struggle academically. This is where we need to stop and ask the questions:
Are they bored? Do they need more challenging work?
Have they learned and mastered the material already?
Are they dealing with a major social emotional issues and need to talk to someone?
As you discover the answers to these questions you should be able to help your gifted student work through their needs and help find what they need right now.
Some suggestions would be the following:
Asking higher level thinking questions in class or one on one
Create challenging options for them to complete
Offer a menu of choices for completing projects
Give them the opportunity to express their needs (academically and mentally)
Check in on them
You know when things aren’t working- take the time to notice that and check on them
Encourage them to push through the tough assignments or content
Coach them using Growth Mindset techniques.
Our gifted students need to know we care about them as a whole person- not just their performance in class or on their report card. Make sure you check in on their needs outside of academics and let them know you care about their social- emotional needs can have a greater impact than any grade they receive on a report card.