Forget About 2020, Just Hold onto Its Lessons

Bring on 2021

With the new year and the hurry to forget about 2020, we are all surrounded by new years resolutions, diets, exercise programs, learning opportunities… and the list goes on and on. 

This past year has been a struggle for all of us. None of us were unaffected by the virus. 

Students and teachers across the nation have had to rethink how they approach learning, schedules, teaching, and technology almost overnight. It hasn’t been easy, but we did it. We survived. 

Surviving not Thriving

I wish I could say that we all thrived as much as we had hoped we would in 2020, but I know many of us haven’t. It’s been a fight to stay on top of the constant changes, keeping the fear of the rug being pulled out from under us at bay, and the elevated anxieties below the surface. 2020 has messed us up. A lot. 

So, I want to encourage you to reflect on the things you did this year you never thought you could do. Look back at the start of the school year- you learned new online platforms, digitized lessons plans, created interactive lessons to keep students engaged in online meetings… 

Students have stepped up to the plate to learn in a new way- remote, hybrid, online. Students learned new time management, planning, and tech skills. Students have also learned the importance of self-care and connection with others.

Now, what for 2021?

This year has shown us a lot- good and bad. Yet, we have managed to make it to the end of the year stronger than when we started. 

I am not sure what 2021 will bring, but I do know that 2021 is getting a completely different people than any of us have been before. Let’s use 2021 to help hone in on the strength we gained from 2020. This time, the New Year is going to be a year of continued training of our strengths so even when we hit another wall we know we can run right through it. 

So let’s forget 2020 and continue to hold onto it’s lessons it taught us in 2021.

Remote Learning Well-Being

We have been remote learning for a few weeks now and I gotta say, I am definitely over it. The students are too. 

Although there have been some positives coming out of remote learning and I am grateful for any tiny sliver of hope. As we wrap up the semester, my students have come up with innovative ways to share their genius hour presentations and they are learning podcasting with grace. For my other students, I am just glad they decided to sign onto the google meet. 

Something happened last week that really struck a chord with me. One of my top students snapped at me about his book group. He knows I am willing to discuss and hear them out on just about everything if they disagree. So when he copped an attitude with me I was stunned. 

The next day I received an apology email from him, unprompted. I wrote him back and accepted his apology, but I asked him if he was ok since this was uncharacteristic of him. He told me, “It was just ‘a wrong side of the bed type of day,’ and I think not having anyone around while I am home is hard. Everyone else seems to have siblings or parents that work from home. It’s getting old.” 

Gosh, that struck me about our (teacher and students) wellbeing during this remote learning. 

After having to quarantine twice this year, I recognized when I started to slip into a funk I needed to pause and check in with myself on how I was really feeling: Had I gone outside for a walk? Did I eat junk all day? How’s my water intake? Have I  talked to someone on the phone/facetime? Have I done something that I enjoy? 

Majority of the time I had answered negatively to those questions, meaning I hadn’t been really taking care of myself mentally and physically. I strongly encourage you to check in with yourself using the above checklist. 

Run through it in times of high anxiety or sadness. This isn’t easy for any of us. We are built as social creatures and while a computer screen with people on a call is ok, it’s not the same. 

These next three weeks are going to be a challenge for us as teachers and our students. Let’s do our best to keep an eye out for each other. 

The Pressure of a Label

When we label kids, it often becomes their identity through and through. This is hard when they are younger because their not given a choice. 

A label can dictate who they are friends with, the things they are interested in, the work ethic they have. This label tells teachers what to think about them before they even meet your kid. Many times this label can make or break a kids school career. 

So why do we try so hard to label students? Well, there are a lot of kids who need to have specific needs met in order to be able to function in society after high school. This allows schools to help better prepare future generations. These labels help more than they hurt. (Majority of the time) 

When a child is labeled as gifted in the second grade (more than likely that is when they were first identified) teachers are asked to help these students grow into their already big brains and wit. While some teachers are able to foster this and help a gifted child grow, there are some who unfortunately just continue to teach to the middle of the road or the low end because “Every child is gifted.” 

Parents of gifted kids, you know every child is special in their own way, but a gifted child…. That is a whole different animal. 

 The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) defines gifted children as such: 

“Students with gifts and talents perform – or have the capability to perform – at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains. They require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential. Student with gifts and talents: 

• Come from all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata. 

• Require sufficient access to appropriate learning opportunities to realize their potential. • Can have learning and processing disorders that require specialized intervention and accommodation.

 • Need support and guidance to develop socially and emotionally as well as in their areas of talent.

 • Require varied services based on their changing needs.”

This definition alone shows that gifted children are very different from their peers and need to be treated as such. So when this label is tacked onto a student they are looked at as if they should be performing better and above their peers academically. This is all well and good until teachers and parents forget that their child is still just an eight year old who is capable of doing pre-algebra. Teachers and some parents tend to forget that while their child might be capable of higher level academics, their emotional needs and social needs are still that of an eight year old. 

We can expect them to understand big adult emotions or high level emotions because they just aren’t there yet in their brain. A big reason we tend to think that they can handle these emotions is because they are functioning at a high level and we assume that they are able to handle it. Most of the time they aren’t. Teachers and parents need to be aware of the emotional load their students can and cannot handle. They are dealing with a lot of social/ emotional experiences and needs already. 

Students who are gifted struggle with being gifted and being different from their friends. They struggle not being in classes with their same age peers. They worry about being too smart. They worry about looking different. They worry about getting perfect grades, scores, and excelling at homework. Then you add in the peer groups, relationship drama and ever changing hormones. There is no way they can understand the raw emotions of a psychological thriller movie or the roller coaster of sensations experienced when watching the news everyday. 

Watch what you are exposing them to. They may appear that they can handle it based on their intellectual ability, but they are more likely to have a melt down emotionally. Parents and teachers need to keep this in mind when it comes to school work too. Make sure the assignment is still emotionally appropriate for your kids. Never let the pressure of being labeled gifted cloud your judgement on if they can handle the material on a social/emotional level. 

Student Advocating Tools

It is often intimidating to speak with teachers about students learning to advocate for themselves. I get it. Even as an advocate for GT students I am intimidated to ask veteran teachers to come up with alternative assignments for students who need more of a challenge. The important thing to keep in mind is making sure you let the teacher know you appreciate the work they put into creating the assignment and you want to do the work for the grade, but would they be willing to work with you on a different level. 

If you let it be known that you are willing to partner with them to create the assignment and it will be able to be graded against an existing rubric, they will be more willing to consider it. (If not, then I would get in contact with the GT specialist in your building to help you work with this teacher.) 

The other thing to consider is to ask the teacher if you could take the tests to show you know the material. This way you can still get the credit for the class and not worry about not having enough credits to graduate (if you are in high school). The other reason you might consider asking the teacher if you can test out of a unit is so you can move into a class that is better suited for your ability level. The pro of this for the teacher is you won’t turn into a behavior issue later in class when you are bored. 🙂 

Sometimes in class you are inspired by a concept or theory where you want to dig a little deeper or create some sort of informational piece. When this happens, tell your teachers that you want to take a different approach and learn more in order to gain knowledge on the bigger picture. Ask the teacher if you can create your own assignment if you are inspired to look at the problem differently. It might be taking a concept or theme of a book and expanding on how it relates to our world today versus finding the theme of the book and supporting it with textual evidence. If you are artistic, ask if to create a piece that encompasses the overarching concept the teacher is wanting you to show along with a written explanation. 

Let’s tackle  probably the hardest situation. Let’s say you are given a baseline assignment at the end of a unit, and you think to yourself “This is a joke, I could do this in my sleep.” While it may be tempting to do the assignment in your sleep, you probably should ask your teacher for an assignment that makes you think. Ask the teacher if there is something more challenging you can complete rather than the baseline assignment in a polite way. Approach the teacher about the assignment and say something like, “I really like this assignment and I am wondering if it’s possible for me to do _______ for the assignment. I think it would add to me knowledge of the subject and provide me an opportunity to complete the project in a new way.”  If they agree, make sure that it doesn’t feel like more work. It should be something that challenges your thinking and your skills in that area rather than the generic assignment given to the rest of the class. (If it feels like more work, you need to say something.) 

Again the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to make sure you are polite about how you approach the situation and how you react to the teacher’s answer. While most schools or districts have a gifted and talented specialist, I want you to go to them as your last option. As a gifted student and eventually a gifted adult, you have to learn how to stick up for your needs now, because it gets much harder in the real world when people might think you are just being demanding or non-compliant. A GT specialist is there to help you, when you feel you’ve exhausted other options, and also to make sure you are getting the appropriate amount of challenge in your assignments – so use them when you have to.