Why we need to check in on our GT Students

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.

Growth Mindset for Teachers

As a teacher you have a ton on your plate every day. You have planning, grading, meetings, parents to call back, students demanding attention… The list goes on and on. I get it. I was an English teacher for 3 years before I became a Gifted and Talented specialist. I remember the long days of grading, planning, and meetings that never really seem to matter. I also remember learning about “Growth Mindset” during my first year of teaching, (I was working on my Masters degree in Gifted Education) and thinking I really wanted to instill growth mindset into my students and tried to help them learn that not all mistakes are bad, that we can learn from them. I never thought about how to instill a growth mindset in my own work though.

As a gifted and talented specialist, I am continuously working on teaching my gifted students how to grow from mistakes or challenges they face at home or in school. I am also encouraging my teachers to work on this skill with all of their students, but the thought occurred to me- Why am I not teaching my teachers how to have a growth mindset? Our students watch our every move and if aren’t demonstrating a growth mindset, why would our students?

So after looking at a few different things and how to work with professionals on cultivating a growth mindset I found the same themes to help teachers work on their own growth mindset.

  1. Learn new technology
    1. Notice I say learn it, not master it. The point of growth mindset is to challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone and try  something new to learn from it. As teachers we do not need to be experts on up and coming technology, but we do need to keep up. Technology is going to be a big part of education for a long time.
    2. All I am asking is for you to learn how to use it, create with it, and integrate it into your lessons. If you get stuck, ask a kid to help or a fellow teacher who is familiar with it.
  2. Continuous growth
    1. As educators we need to be working on learning more about our content, teaching techniques, engagement strategies, classroom management, etc. in order to keep our license valid. In order to cultivate a growth mindset for your content or a concept you have been struggling with, you need to take those classes, attend those professional developments, sign up for a books study. I personally set up book studies at my school to help teachers learn something new and allow them to practice it with a growth mindset.
  3. Be Curious
    1. We teach our students to be inquisitive about the content, but when is the last time you let yourself ask questions about the content you are teaching? Use the strategies from inquiry-based learning in order to explore ways to teach new concepts or even old concepts students may be struggling with.
      1. Steps to take: Look at the problem, ask questions of the problem, explore the possible solutions through deep questioning.
  4. Flexibility
    1. As educators we know we have to make adjustments to lesson as the drop of a dime (or surprise fire drill), but when it comes to our own agenda, planning or grading we can be little stubborn. Ask a colleague to come in and watch a lesson or critique an assignment you are giving in order to grow your own practices and repertoire.
  5. Try something new
    1. It doesn’t have to be technology related.
    2. Maybe offer a menu of project choices that students can choose to complete for a summative assessment.
    3. Plan cross curricular with another department. Imagine how much fun a biology teacher and art teacher could have when learning about and drawing plants. History and Language Arts is always a great combination, but throw in some acting using historical context for character development and you have a unique project that meets a lot of standards. What about a math teacher and a music teacher working together to complete a class composition using different algebraic equations?
  6. Listen
    1. How often do we truly listen to what our teams are saying or suggesting? Really think about it. We are quick to interject and give our own thoughts without really hearing what our colleagues are saying or trying to get across.
      1. Slow down and open your mind to new ideas. (If it’s an old idea that didn’t work last time, think of ways to  tweak it to work now to meet the needs of students). This will help create a sense of community among peers who will feel heard and understood.
        1. How? Well to start, don’t interject the moment you hear something you disagree or agree with. Be in the moment with your peer- don’t start to think of a response, don’t let your mind or eyes wander- look and listen. Then collaborate.
  7. Reflect, Reflect, Reflect.
    1. Evaluate your work. What went well? What didn’t? How did the students respond? How did you respond? Was the outcome of the time spent what you wanted it to be?
      1. “I never have time to reflect, it’s always on to the next thing.” Yep I get it. I feel the same way. Possible solution? Talk to your department head and ask if you can take time on professional development days or professional learning committee to take time to reflect on the last few lessons you did.
      2. Why? Well if you know anything about growth mindset, we know that the brain is malleable meaning it can change. When we take the time to examine strengths, weaknesses, triumphs,  failures and goals- our brain can learn to adjust and it will keep you on track.

If you are able to implement a growth mindset and demonstrate to your students what it looks like they are likely to follow your lead. If anything, learning how to use the growth mindset in your own professional setting will help you become a stronger individual not only professionally, but also outside of work. These seven things will help you grow and change the way you look at problems, failures, successes, and changes across the board.

So what is the biggest thing you want to work? I would love to hear how you are going to incorporate growth mindset into your classroom, with your team, or with your own professional development.