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.

Perfectionism. Yes. It can be a Problem

Perfectionism. The definition alone can tell you enough to make a connection to your own kid.

  • a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable
  • typically : the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness (Webster’s Dictionary)

Sound like your child? Maybe you even see a little bit of yourself in that definition?

So the big question is, “Isn’t perfectionism a good thing?”

Yes and no. There is a level of perfectionism we all want to strive for, but often our gifted students take it to a much higher level because of their desire to achieve more.

The healthy pieces of perfectionism we should be encouraging are:

  • An intense need for order and organization
  • Self-acceptance of mistakes
  • High parental expectation
  • Positive ways of coping with their perfectionistic  tendencies
  • Role models who emphasize doing one’s best
  • A view that personal effort is an important part of their perfectionism.

However when we start to see our gifted students heading towards more of a “dysfunctional perfectionism” we need to intervene. Here’s what “dysfunctional perfectionism” looks like:

  • A state of anxiety about making errors
  • Extremely high standards
  • Perceived excessive expectations and negative criticisms  from others
  • Questioning of their own judgments
  • Lack of effective coping strategies
  • A constant need for approval

Malow saw perfectionism as a good thing. It helps us realize more about our own human nature in what he refers to as self-actualization. “Self- actualization means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption,” Maslow wrote in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.

So based on these things, perfectionism is a concept that can be both good and bad. The other part of this is there are good and bad things when we look at traits of “healthy” perfectionism and “dysfunctional” perfectionism.

Healthy traits:

  • Need for order and organization
  • Acceptance of one’s own humanness and errors
  • Parental support and role models for high standards
  • Attention to details
  • The awareness that personal effort and high standards are an important part of one’s perfectionism

Dysfunctional traits:

  • Anxiety about making mistakes
  • Perceived pressure from others
  • “Black and white,” or forced choice thinking in many situations, such as “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” or “perfect or failing.”
  • Self-doubt
  • Lack of effective coping strategies
  • A constant need for approval, and a belief that much of one’s success or failure will be determined by outside sources, not personal effort.

Perfectionism is not a trait that is problematic, but with our gifted students it’s the intensity of emotion associated with traits of perfectionism that can lead to behavior issues, self-criticism, family fights, shutting down, resisting the activity… Our gifted students are so passionate about things they love, so when they feel like they have “failed” or it wasn’t “perfect” in their eyes, we have to be on the lookout for intense emotions and reactions to said “failure”. These are the moments where we can teach our gifted student how to cope when things don’t go “just right”. Gifted students need help understanding how to deal with the intense emotions they are feeling because they may not know how to cope effectively with BIG emotions when they feel like they have failed.

Based on “Helpful Tips for Parents of Perfectionistic Gifted Learners” by Susan T. Berry

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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.