Change

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.

How to Advocate for Gifted Students

Something I see a lot of in my work is how parents are unsure of or they are uncomfortable in speaking up for the the needs of their gifted child. Why? I am not sure. Sometimes parents are teachers in the school district trying not to be a teacher and a parent at the same time. Sometimes they don’t know what their child needs in the classroom. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable asking important questions to learn what is being taught in the classroom.

It’s a sad moment for me when I have a room full of parents and two of them are near tears telling me the difficulties they are having with their students in the school system. I breaks my heart as an educator and a parent.

There is a need to strengthen gifted and talented policy and advocacy within our nation in order to ensure we are providing gifted and talented students with the resources and support that they need in order to be successful. The gifted programming at local school districts will not improve if the state doesn’t come out with strong policies and regulations on gifted programming and assessment (Brown, Avery, VanTassel-Baska, Worely II, and Stambaugh, 2006). There is a desperate need to have a more universal identification process across the nation, but as of right now there is typically a universal standard within states themselves. This is a good start; however, many districts are still confused about how identification should work when following the state guidelines.  Brown, Avery, VanTassel-Baska, Worely II, and Stambaugh (2006) also state, “Knowing what works and what does not is crucial for states in exercising both quality control of programs and services and developing new initiatives.” (p. 22) While every state may have different policies and regulations, it is important to see what has worked and what hasn’t in other states in order to help provide the best programming options for their demographics.

The other major piece of this is the maintenance of the policies in place from the state level. This needs to not only include identification procedures, but also putting into practice the required Advanced Learning Plans and training our teachers how to work with gifted students. The development of policies and practice is complex because of the lack of funding for the research needed in order to develop those policies (Plucker & Callahan, 2014). Policy and programming need to be sure to address the student potential versus adequate progress and stronger policies. This would help insure gifted students abilities are being addressed rather than holding them simply to adequate growth (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).

The biggest action that need to be taken is there needs to be a consistent amount of support from parents, teachers, and administration in implementing these policies and advocating for gifted students. The strength of a strong advocacy group is knowledge of what gifted students need in order to be successful in their education and future career (Delcourt, 2003; Enerson, 2003).

To ensure the advocacy group has the correct and latest information there needs to be more professional development, endorsements, and parent informational meetings at a local level.

  • Advocacy groups also needs to have:
  1. A continuous working knowledge of decision making process at the state and local level in order to be successful (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher, 2011).  
  2. Have several members become experts on gifted and talented education when speaking with legislators as this would help strengthen the advocacy group. (Delcourt & Enerson, 2003)
  3. Have consistent goals in advocacy groups in order to accomplish changes in the legislature (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher; 2011). When parents and educators have different goals in mind and are presenting them to the local and state representatives, it leads to inconsistency.

The needs of gifted and talented students and advocacy groups are more successful when team members collaborate in order to reach the same goal (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher, 2011).

One of the biggest limitations of this type of advocacy is the depth of studies on how policies are implemented at a state level and how they are maintained throughout the state with a goal of providing equal opportunities for gifted and talented students in the United States.

An overview and analysis of gifted identification and practices in place at a state and district level appears to be a major weakness in the world of gifted education.This would help with the misunderstood responsibilities of the schools and school districts, lack of programming options, and help increase teacher preparation (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).  The current advocates of gifted education have done a lot of work on defining gifted education, looking at teaching pedagogy, and creating learning standards for the classroom; however, when school districts decide what shape gifted education is going to have, without a strong policy in place at the state level, the policy implementation is left to the ideas of the state education department in conjunction with the district and what they deem right (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).

This work done in a local advocacy group can help provide insight into policies we need to change or create in order to ensure the field is identifying a diverse population of gifted students. This gives an advocacy group information and data to use to start making changes at the state level in gifted education. Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher (2011) quoted Gallagher and Gallagher (1994) in at the end of their study:

Failure to help gifted children reach their full potential is a societal tragedy, the extent of which is difficult to measure but which is surely great. How can we measure the loss of the sonata unwritten, the curative drug undiscovered, or the absence of political insight? These gifted students are a substantial part of the difference between what we are and what we could be as a society. (p.4)

Policy and advocacy has a long way to go until there is a cohesive movement for gifted and talented students, but if  the research is utilized to evaluate existing policies and implement new ones this could go a long way toward helping our gifted students feel like their needs are being met effectively.

What can you do now? (This is for anyone looking to help advocate for Gifted students- parents, teachers, administration, GT specialists)  

  • Join your local school districts Gifted and Talented Advisory Board or Advocacy Group.
    • If your school district doesn’t have one- contact the director of Gifted Education or Advanced Academics to talk about getting one started.
  • Research what your state policy is for Gifted Education
    • Look at the funding, what districts are required to do for GT, and what policies look like for implementation.
  • Talk to your schools Gifted and Talented Specialist
    • How are they working with teachers to help gifted students, identifying students, and working one on one with your student?
    • If your school doesn’t have a GT Specialist, ask who is in charge of your student’s ALP.

References

Life of a gifted senior

This week has been pure chaos. Chaos on in the best way but also in a way that is draining emotionally as an educator. Working in one of the largest high schools in the district and having one of the largest GT caseloads on my team I am usually pretty inundated with paperwork rather than constant meetings with students or staff. When I walked into the building Tuesday I had no idea what was in store for me the rest of the week…

The first senior I needed to meet with I was told was never in class I was asking to pull him from. I checked his attendance and a began to panic. This was a senior who is usually just tardy to classes every now and then, but he had missed close to 30 classes total for just his morning classes. I called the counselor to see if she knew where this boy was or what was going on. She was able to get ahold of him and told him that I needed to speak with him. When he walked into my office, I could tell that his spirit was simply gone, broken. (Some background on this student- last year happy- go- lucky goofy kid, very social, and maybe a little lazy and too chatty at times.) He sat down and told me he was working until midnight and having a hard time waking up. Knowing the answer, I ask him why he was working so much, and his answer was his family needs help. So I asked the question I needed to know the answer to, “How are you feeling about everything going on?” He started to cry, “I am scared of the future. I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Move to Wednesday, I had two seniors panicking about their essays for one of the largest full ride scholarships in Colorado. These two girls are some of the sweetest and most brilliant writers I have had the pleasure to work with and I was honored to see into their world better through their essays about things that have had an impact on them or allowed them to change a circumstance in their life. One of their short essays made me tear up because I related so much to her words about how she connected to books and how they helped her see bigger worlds beyond her own. Both girls were worried the essays weren’t good enough and they were doubting their own confidence in their ability to write. I was able to breath that belief back into them, reassure them that they have what it takes to compete for this scholarship.

Fast forward to Friday, the teacher in charge of our “Teacher Cadet” program asked me to teach her students a unit on Gifted Education. I was so excited to teach them and let them know how we identify and service gifted students. The lesson was fun and inspired great questions from the students and the classroom teacher. I left feeling great about the information I had been able to share, plus it was an awesome way to start off Friday. About an hour later the teacher called me and told me about one of my students who usually misses her class. She explained to me that the student didn’t want to open up to her or the counselor, and she wanted to talk to me about everything going on. I immediately went to find her.  She opened up instantly to me like she had been waiting for someone that doesn’t know her all that well to spill out her emotions too. Home life is volatile. The relationship isn’t going well. Being told she can’t graduate, she isn’t smart enough, never good enough… The list went on and on. My heart broke into a million pieces watching this senior who is fully capable of taking on the world believe the terrible things she hears every day, and is starting to tell herself and believe that she will never amount to anything.

Later in the morning, I ran into a senior I hadn’t touched base with in a while. I asked her how she was doing, “Well I am here….” I told her to come and see me during her independent study so we could talk. Again, another senior being told she isn’t going to pass or won’t do well by a teacher in front of her peers. She is struggling with her mental health to begin with and then to have a teacher tell you these things while those same thoughts are playing on repeat in your own intrusive thoughts is hurtful.

Senior year is stressful enough for kids. It’s even harder as a gifted child who is suddenly panicked about being good enough to just be accepted to a college or in some cases just make it to graduation. My emotional state at the end of the week was spent because these kids needed an adult to breathe belief back into them. I was happy to take on that role, but remind your kids, your students, and your loved ones, gifted or not, that they can do whatever they set their mind to. They are capable and can overcome what seems like the impossible.

Creativity and Underachievement

“Why won’t my students be more creative?”

“Why does my avid sketcher at home constantly draw, but never produces at school?”

“How can I motivate my student to produce work and be productive in school?”

When we look at encouraging creativity in the classroom or even at home with our gifted students we have to consider how often we are actually fostering creativity in the classroom in a positive way. Creativity creates a vulnerability for students. It opens them up to criticism and more often than not, criticism is what happens when students try to be creative in their work.

There are two types of creativity environments:

  • Friendly: creativity welcomed and valued, emotionally safe, high autonomy, welcoming and pleasing aesthetic
  • Hostile: incompetent, judged, law autonomy, competition

It’s on a continuum.

We all have a different lens through which we see things and do things. The lens of motivation, in particular, varies the most. This is the lens allowing us to initiate, continue, and complete tasks.

This is different than Power. Motivation is internal.

Parents and Teachers often state the missing element is motivation or the students are lazy. When looking further into motivation, it has been found that motivation is easy on things they enjoy- if they find it personally meaningful they find the motivation to complete the goal. They tend to only work on a task for a grade, if they found that it was valuable to keep a certain grade or better their grade. Even then, it is hard to motivate students with a grade or hurting their GPA.

Well, we say, “Everyone has to do things they don’t like.” While this may be true, we have to remember when we say this to our students (gifted or not) they feel high levels of helplessness. They don’t believe that they can do it- they then deflect. They lower their performance to make the failure hurt less. This fear of failure compounds and adds to the helplessness of being able to complete tasks they aren’t motivated to do.

Relationships play a huge role in this. There is a power imbalance when it comes to creating the “right goals”. If adults admit the work has no value it devalues the student themselves, “You don’t matter, but your compliance does.” I see this specifically with Advanced Learning Plan goals we ask our students to set. If the goals aren’t meaningful to the student, and there is the follow up on those goals, why should they bother to care about them?

We really need to work on a few things with our students who are creative and underachieving in school settings:

  1. Student sense of self
  2. Understanding the difference between permanent and changing self
    • They shift memory and think that school doesn’t belong at home
  3. Shifting self from context to context
    • Context Variable self- we tend to be better about this as adults, but as an adolescent, they are still learning this. “Different card, different context”
    • The “Real Me”- occulance and how it relates to your life if you can’t connect it to the context in your life it has no use so you don’t pay attention to you. We cannot use or remember the information if we don’t understand it’s importance. Which leads to-
    • Annihilation of Self- failing to be drawn into the world. Students will pay attention to the wrong things or fail to pay attention at all and then try to “fit” what they were paying attention to into the wrong context.
  4. Lens of power
  5. Social power: falls on a continuum from hard power to soft power. The target of the power feels little freedom when it comes to hard power (“I am your parent/teacher so you will do this.”)
    • Soft power types: building a sense of connection.
    • Hard power: forceful and negative consequences
  6. Power of rewards: There are systems used often but not successful as they get older.
  7. Power of Reactance sometimes lowers their ability to find the motivation to do the work. “Push me, I am going to push back harder”
  8. Underachievement as power: student felt little value. It became a way to control the power by underachieving.

So what can you do to help?

  • Relationships are so important not only for students but for parents too. Parent support groups about underachievement are extremely beneficial in order to help parents feel like they are not alone in the struggles they are having with their child in school and at home. I would encourage parents to connect with parents of gifted children so they can have support from others in the trenches.
  • Communication within the family themselves is crucial. Make sure there are open lines of communication between all family members involved in the child’s education. The key with this is making sure parents are not attacking the student, but rather talking things out with the student in regards to the issues happening in a particular class. Hear them out. Listen to understand what is happening, not to fix right away.
  • Review of grading practices- grade are an issue. Dialog about grading practice-with the teacher and the student- how do practices impact the teachers and the students? What do we want our grade to reflect?

Resources: Presentation from the 2018 CAG by Jennie Mizrahi, EDD

Services

Consultation is available by appointment only. Please fill out the contact page and I will be in contact within 24-48 hours. I ask that you be as specific as you can in your initial email, this will allow me to prepare for our consultation appointment better.

Services: 

For Parents:

  • 1 hour consultation- $50
  • 30 minute follow up- $25

For Educators (Classroom Teachers or GT Specialists):

  • 1 hour consultation- $75
  • 30 minute follow up- $20

For School Districts or Administration:

  • 1 hour consultation- $100
  • 30 minute follow up- $50
  • Professional Development Workshops- $175
  • Teacher Coaching- $75

Consultation: This would be our initial meeting where we discuss what your concerns, needs, and desires are in regards to your initial email contact with me. In this initial meeting, we would also discuss what your hopes and goals by working with me. I will then talk about a plan we can set in motion with follow-ups and check-ins as we work towards the end goal.

Follow-Ups: This is pretty self-explanatory but based on the consultation and plan we set in motion we will meet for 30 minutes to follow up on the progress being made, changes to the plan, or concerns as we move forward. The follow-ups can occur as often as you would like, I am here to support you in the endeavor of working and advocating for your gifted child. If something should come up prior to our follow up meetings, I am always available to talk to ahead of time.  

Professional Development: Are you looking for a way to educate your staff on what a gifted student is and what their needs are? Are you looking for ways to encourage your staff or team to differentiate instruction for your higher learners? Maybe you want to be trained on how to identify a gifted student? (Colorado only, please) Really, what it comes down to is what do you feel like your district, teachers, advanced academic department, the administration is needing? I can help.

Teacher Coaching: Do you have a classroom full of gifted students and you want help in making sure you are meeting their various needs and gifts? Let me come in and watch you work and provide feedback. Maybe you want help creating Advanced Learning Plans that have more meaning.