GT in PTAs?  Include all special needs!

Advocacy remains critical to the survival and growth of gifted education.  Despite decades of research, and though gifted students exist in all populations, many states continue to neglect funding and accountability for educating gifted and talented learners.  National and state organizations for the gifted have brought about positive changes, but even in states with GT laws and funding in place, educators need parent support to maintain and improve services at the local level.

Parents are critical to gifted advocacy, but to advocate effectively, parents need to form groups, learn about gifted education practices, and partner with educators.  When starting a local nonprofit is not an option, is there another way to facilitate partnerships and advocacy?

For the past decade in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, parents in several school districts have worked in joint committees to help PTAs increase support for all special needs and learning differences – including both disability needs and gifted needs.  When strong PTAs are present, creating one of these combined committees can offer parent-school collaboration, awareness of gifted needs, and a recognizable presence for positive advocacy.

                History of PTA (Parent Teacher Association)

In 1897, two mothers began a movement to “eliminate threats that endangered children” (PTA.org).   After merging with the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT), the organization became the National PTA.  For some, the “PTA” name may conjure up images of bake sales, but the strength of PTA advocacy has improved public education and children’s health in numerous ways, including the creation of Kindergarten classes, improved child labor laws, improved public health services and immunization, lunch programs, improvements in school safety and juvenile justice, and the inclusion of arts in education (PTA.org).  National PTA prioritizes collaboration, diversity, and inclusion, and at all levels, PTA units advocate for the support and accountability needed for a free, appropriate education for every student, regardless of income.  To use the PTA name and resources, school PTA units must follow rules set at the National, State, and Council PTA levels.

                Special Education PTAs

In some areas of the country, the unique challenges of educating children with disabilities have led to the formation of Special Education PTAs, or SEPTAs.  SEPTAs include a wide range of disability needs, and all members share the goal of including disabilities in PTA advocacy and support.  Creating a dedicated PTA unit allows parents to prioritize specific goals, but it can also limit opportunities to increase disability awareness within campus PTAs.  Separate PTA units also require a reliable flow of volunteers to maintain nonprofit paperwork, to update Bylaws and Standing Rules, and to fill the board roles necessary to keep the PTA unit in good standing.  Parenting children with disabilities can be exhausting and all-encompassing, and not all school districts are able to maintain a separate SEPTA.

                SAGE (Special and Gifted Education)

In 2004, in response to requests for the opportunity to collaborate, the PTA Council in Plano, Texas formed a committee called “SAGE,” which stands for Special and Gifted Education.  Precedent existed for combining gifted needs with disability needs: the Council of Exceptional Children (CEC) was founded in 1922, and its advocacy includes both special education and gifted education.  CEC is a professional association for educators, however, and SAGE provided a unique, new way for parents and educators to partner and collaborate within existing PTA units to support all special needs and learning differences in public schools.  For gifted families, SAGE finally recognized gifted learning differences as an educational need.  National PTA includes Special Education in its support and advocacy, and it includes Gifted Education resources in its Special Education Toolkit (National PTA).

The SAGE concept has spread to additional Texas area PTA Councils, and its volunteers hope the vision will continue to grow!  In the meantime, any school or Council PTA nationwide can vote to add a SAGE position to its board – and it’s easy to get started.

Procedures and Approval

                Parents or educators interested in adding a SAGE committee to a PTA unit should identify a volunteer willing to serve on the PTA board for the entire school year.  Both parents and educators can serve.  Since few individuals have knowledge about all special needs in a school or district, the volunteer should be open to input from other parents and educators.  When a volunteer is ready, the board can follow PTA procedures to add SAGE as a new board position.  In Texas, for example, if the intent of the motion is clear, does not conflict with or repeat items in the bylaws, and follows Texas PTA procedures and guidelines, the board can vote to recommend the amendment, and general PTA membership can approve the change by majority vote (Texas PTA).

Is your PTA board reluctant to add another position?  Do board members need help understanding why SAGE is needed – and more importantly, why SAGE can benefit all students?

Benefits for Gifted Educators, Parents, and Students

Nonprofits draw strength from numbers, and through SAGE, parents and educators of students with all special needs can maximize their volunteer impact.  Combining forces allows for stronger committees, events, fundraisers, and publicity.  Additional benefits of SAGE for gifted education include:

Support for educators.  Is your gifted program staff stretched thin?  PTA committees can mobilize parents for volunteer tasks, saving planning time for educators.  PTAs can donate recess equipment, supplies, or professional development resources.  In districts where gifted specialists serve multiple schools, specialists are sometimes left out of usual PTA appreciation for educators; including gifted education in PTA committees can fill gaps and provide encouragement and volunteers.  When general education teachers, specialists, and administrators have the support required for students with special needs, they are better able to meet the needs of all students on campus.

Education for adults.  Increased awareness can increase empathy and inclusion for all students with differences.  Through SAGE, PTAs can partner with districts in hosting events for both parents and educators, and they may be able to seek approval for Continuing Education credits for teachers.  For the gifted area of SAGE, topics could include gifted characteristics, social-emotional needs, dealing with stress and anxiety, gifted underachievement, enrichment strategies, self-advocacy, and more.  To help parents become informed partners in supporting gifted services, a district can work with SAGE to facilitate “Gifted 101” workshops for parents.

Beliefs about the gifted.  For parents and educators of gifted students, the most significant benefit of SAGE may be the shift it can bring about in perceptions of the gifted.   When gifted education joins forces with Special Education, people ask: why is the “G” in SAGE?  What do gifted students have in common with students with disabilities?  Why should giftedness be considered a special need?  Answering these questions can increase awareness and lead to important conversations, support, and positive action.  SAGE volunteers see firsthand that “gifted students are different learners” and are “often misunderstood.”  One SAGE leader explains that “SAGE can help to shine a light” on gifted challenges “so they are not viewed in as much of a negative way.”

Inclusion of Twice-Exceptional.  Parents of gifted children with disabilities can feel isolated in both gifted support groups and disability support groups, especially when “dealing with ‘invisible’ disabilities, like processing disorders,” as observed by one SAGE volunteer.  As a public school district gifted specialist explains, “it is imperative to make sure that educators and parents are aware that many children are twice and thrice exceptional.”  Through involvement in SAGE, twice-exceptional families can feel fully included, and parents and educators can work with a single organization that supports and advocates for the full range of their students’ needs.

Support for services.  When funds for any educational services are at risk, it is important for parents to mobilize and to be heard.  PTA offers a powerful advocacy voice for public education, and it draws that power in part from membership numbers.  When gifted education is represented through SAGE, PTA legislative chairs can help monitor legislation and include gifted services in their advocacy, and more parents of children with learning differences see the benefits of joining PTAs.

Support for students with disabilities.  The above benefits focus on gifted education, but SAGE has even more benefits for families of children with disabilities.  Many parents of gifted children have friends or other family members who live with disability challenges, and SAGE allows these parents to support and advocate for disability needs while supporting the gifted needs of their own children.   SAGE disability support can include:

  • hosting disability awareness simulation programs for students and teachers
  • funding disability-accessible playground equipment
  • appreciation treats for Special Education teachers, dyslexia specialists, and other staff
  • advocating to increase accessibility during schoolwide events
  • advocating for playground fences to address wandering
  • building inclusive parent support communities
  • hosting meet and greet events with Special Education department leaders
  • donating sensory-friendly classroom equipment
  • bringing or promoting speakers to help parents understand Section 504 and the ARD process

…and many more.  Unlike the role of Treasurer or Parliamentarian, the role of a SAGE Chair is flexible and can be adapted to meet the needs of your campus.

                Advice for Success

                Are you ready to start SAGE in your school district?  Below are some tips based on successes (and challenges) shared by SAGE volunteers from five districts.

Use committees.  SAGE volunteers agree: committees can help ensure that all special needs are represented and consistently included in SAGE.  One volunteer advises, “target each group separately although invite all.”  Another volunteer recommends including both Special Education and gifted services in committee leadership.  As a committee grows, adding additional leadership roles can maintain consistent inclusion of all needs in SAGE.

Focus on shared needs.  While it’s important to raise awareness about specific diagnoses, it is still critical to remember the needs shared by all students.  In the Richardson ISD “Understanding Differences” program, for example, students are reminded that although students are different on the outside, they all have hearts and feelings on the inside.  Both disability needs and gifted needs can lead a student to feel that he or she does not belong.  Both extremes often require modifications to the general education curriculum in order for the student to learn in school, and both can be misunderstood by some educators, parents, and other students.  As one former SAGE chair also notes, “both groups may be bullied because of their differences.”  SAGE families and educators can work together to support schools in addressing social-emotional needs along with academic needs.

Maximize publicity.  When SAGE volunteers work hard on an event, low attendance is discouraging.  To expand the reach of SAGE, PTA Councils can add a SAGE Chair to their boards, and he or she can distribute SAGE news to district PTA Presidents and SAGE Chairs.  Council SAGE volunteers may also wish to build relationships with local professionals and organizations.  To increase support for gifted services specifically, parents can form a gifted committee within SAGE and can explore partnerships with local gifted support groups and GT Specialists.

Listen and learn.  SAGE volunteers recommend learning about the needs of the community.  Since challenges can differ from school to school and from district to district, volunteers need to learn “what your parents need from the group.”   SAGE volunteers can and should listen to educators, as well, and can use this knowledge to improve support.  By sharing and including perspectives of both parents and educators, SAGE can “help open lines of communication and bridge gaps.”

Ideas from campus parents can help SAGE grow, as well.  As one SAGE chair describes, “I had parents asking me if dyslexia would be included, vision services… with each question came a new group represented under our umbrella.”  To build partnerships, SAGE can meet with administrators for all special services and can ask “what SAGE can do for them.”  Another volunteer recommends seeking input from everyone within a school: “staff, principals, janitorial staff, and cafeteria workers.”

Be persistent.  When starting SAGE, volunteers may encounter “pushback from unexpected people/places… some parents are not as open as others.”  Experienced SAGE volunteers recommend respecting boundaries, but they advise leaders to “be persistent,” and not to “get discouraged immediately because it takes a LOT of time/effort to build a solid SAGE program.”

Advocate to include parents in district planning.  Parents are eager to support teachers, but they are also eager for partnerships and collaboration with school and district administrators.  When PTAs request that campus and district leaders include SAGE representatives in planning, the resulting collaboration can improve communication and may help prevent small challenges from becoming bigger ones.  A former High School PTA President explains, “the more that the district works hand in hand with SAGE, the greater benefit the district, parents, students and educators have.”

Schools and districts may wish to form a gifted advisory council or focus group to allow all stakeholders to provide feedback and input on improvements to services.  The Davidson Institute offers advice for educators on communicating with parents, and some of their tips can apply equally to educators working with parent groups:  they suggest working together to develop a plan for learning, maintaining contact to make sure the plan is working, offering support, and seeking out specialized training (Davidson, 2004).  SAGE committees can help open the door to request this communication.

Lead through positive examples.  To encourage SAGE volunteers, the Wylie ISD PTA Council has included a “SAGE Spotlight” in Council meetings:  “we would highlight one campus and something they were doing” for students with special needs, gifted needs, or for the educators of those students.  Several SAGE Committees maintain a social media presence to promote positive news and to raise awareness.

Help increase PTA memberships.  When PTA advocates for public education at any level, membership numbers count.  To ensure that SAGE is included within PTA, SAGE leaders will want to encourage all supporters to join their local PTA units.

                Words of Caution

Open minds, respect differences.  Without bad intentions, parents and educators of the gifted can damage partnerships with the language they use.  SAGE volunteers must take the time to become familiar with person-first language and sensitive subjects for families of children with special needs.  When advocating for gifted funding, avoid comparisons with funding for disability services.  While it’s true that gifted services do not receive enough funding, comparisons to Special Education funding can seem dismissive of the serious, lifelong impact of disability needs.  Given the differences in educational goals and anticipated outcomes, such comparisons can be both hurtful and counterproductive.

Build relationships.  Not all parents of children with disabilities initially understand why gifted children need services.  To make the SAGE collaboration work, gifted volunteers must build partnerships by continuously including, supporting, and partnering with parents who focus on disability needs.  When this did not happen in a district for a period of time, a parent with disability needs reflected, “in my experience I don’t see the two joining [forces] in any area …on this journey with special needs, gifted has never been a part of it.  It is hard for me to even relate.”  To address this, she suggests creating publicity and events “that show unity” within SAGE.  Though gifted needs may represent a quiet crisis nationwide, for SAGE partnerships to succeed, it is critical for parents of the gifted to also advocate for and support disability needs.

Prepare for positive leadership.  In educating children with differences, misunderstandings and setbacks are inevitable.  Stress levels rise for all involved, and not all parents exercise self-restraint when discussing the need for improvement.  SAGE leaders should be prepared to set expectations for constructive communication, and they may need to moderate group discussions and social media posts to ensure that bridges are built and not burned.  Educators can help by creating opportunities for parent group collaboration that promote positive support and advocacy.

                Public Education for All

The mission of PTA is “every child. one voice.”  For all of us who believe in the importance of public education, advocacy for vulnerable populations is becoming more and more critical.  To ensure that these students do not fall through the cracks of an already strained public education system, they “need advocates and people concerned with how they are functioning in the district.”  By representing special needs and learning differences in PTA committees, and by including gifted needs among those differences, parents and educators can help PTA to include the ability needs of every student in the PTA advocacy voice.

Though educators and parents already work together in many wonderful ways, SAGE offers a strong, unique, and necessary opportunity to support one another in achieving best practices for the education of all students.  We hope you will join us.

References

Interview credits:  Many thanks to Tina J. Puckett, Alicia Post, Dragana Pavlesic, Liz Gluckman, Sandra Colston, Christina Rigby, Jennifer Brown, and Caroline Winfield for their assistance, their willingness to be interviewed about SAGE, and their incredible work for students with all special needs and learning differences.

Council for Exceptional Children.  CEC Milestones.  Web.  https://www.cec.sped.org/About-Us/CEC-Milestones

Davidson Institute for Talent Development (2004).  The teacher-parent connection: tips for working with the parents of a gifted student.  Educators Guild Newsletter, 1(3). Web. https://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10319

National PTA (Parent Teacher Association).  History.  https://www.pta.org/home/About-National-Parent-Teacher-Association/Mission-Values/National-PTA-History

National PTA (Parent Teacher Association).  Special Education Toolkit.  https://www.pta.org/home/family-resources/Special-Education-Toolkit

Texas PTA (Parent Teacher Association).  Adopting or Amending Standing Rules. http://www.txpta.org/standing-rules

 

About the Author: 

Emily VR is a graduate of Harvard Law School.  Her articles have appeared in the Gifted Education Review, the WeAreGifted2 blog, Tall Poppies magazine, and The Fissure Blog from NuMinds Enrichment.  She is a supporter of public education, of meeting disability needs and gifted needs, and of diversity in gifted education.  She is currently serving on the board of the RISD Council of PTAs as SAGE Chair (Special and Gifted Education), and she completed the Graduate Certificate in Gifted Education through the University of North Texas.

Advertisements

Balancing High Expectations with Emotional Support

You change your tone of voice–it’s more demanding now: “Because I said so.” Immediate frustration–her eyes begin to well. Now you’re met with stonewalled resistance.  You know there’s a better way. New strategy. New tone: compromise. “Look, sweetie, if you study your vocabulary words then you can have technology time.”

Still nothing.

You pivot again. This time, pleading: “Come on. If you won’t do it for me, do it for your teacher; she’s works so hard.” Finally, with nothing else working, here comes guilt: “I work every day so that you can have the things you want, and you have one job–to do well in school.  What if I ‘just didn’t want to’ go to work one day?”

Ultimately, this whole conversation ends in some degree of defeat. You think you’re being supportive, but actually you spend 25 minutes of painful, step-by-step hand holding–where you do the majority of the work.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN DEMANDING AND ENABLING

It doesn’t matter if you have a six-year-old or a sixteen-year-old, parts of this conversation have taken place in your home. When we ask our kids to do something–like complete schoolwork, write thank you notes, or clean their rooms–there is a wide range to how we ask. On the far right is ordering and demanding (“Because I said so”) and on the far left is defeat and enabling (“Fine, I’ll just do it.”)

We’ve heard the arguments: if you push too hard, you’re a tiger parent, driving your kids to succeed with stress that ultimately drives them away[1]. If you enable, you create entitled kids who lack resiliency[2].  Fortunately, there is a middle ground, and it is a choice that is quickly gaining popularity.[3] The choice is empathy.

As a quick, working definition: empathy is where you feel with the other person. This is different from its cousin, sympathy, where you feel for the other person. Showing empathy allows us to love our kid for who they, where they are, while still holding them accountable with high expectations.

THREE STEPS TO EMPATHY & ACCOUNTABILITY

But what does it mean to show empathy?  The following three steps are simple to type, simple to read, but only manifest with patience and practice. But I promise you, as someone who practices, fails, and reattempts these steps every day, the times that you get all three steps right are the greatest moments of parenting and bonding you will experience with your child.

Step One: Remove the self.  At first, this step sounds like you simply leaving the room.  Although that may be necessary to gather yourself, this step is actually about removing your sense of self (aka — your ego) from the equation. Too often, when our kids get angry, we get angry. Any parent can attest that this never ends well. Meg Meeker in her 2017 book, Hero[4], implores us NOT to take our child’s anger personally. Our child may be angry that free time is being used or that he has to do something less interesting than video games and playing with friends. This frustration will be pointed at you, but your child is not angry with you. So, when your kid gets angry, remove you from the equation–know that they are angry at something, but not necessarily you.

Step Two: Meet your child where he is (without judgment). Put the following words in your mouth: “You’re right.” Now, say them with feeling and sincerity–you’ll know if you’ve got it because the pitch of your voice will go up, not down. Once you’ve got it, try the following phrase, but while you’re saying it, imagine talking to someone who just lost his or her job.  “You’re right; that is tough. I’m sorry you’re having to go through that.” This practice is not meant to belittle you, it’s just that this exact phrase meets the individual right where he or she is at, without putting any personal spin on it.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me the personal spin does come in, and I often say things like, “Don’t worry, it’s not that bad,” or “You got this. This is nothing.”  Although well-intended, these phrases do nothing to build the other person up. Quite worse, they undermine the other person’s feelings. If you’re six, then cleaning your whole entire room is an insurmountable task comprised of endless hours of work; you saying, “It’s nothing, you got this,” is not helpful. Instead, meet them where they are without judgement.

Step Three: State your expectations (they will figure it out).  When students are asked what grade they think they will earn on an upcoming assignment, they are surprisingly accurate. In fact, the third most accurate indicator out of 195 other indicators and influencers[5]. Why? Because kids know what they’re capable of and what they’re willing to do to get there.

Want another example? Pretend that your kid says he’ll only score a 70 on an upcoming spelling test; so you ask him, “Why didn’t you choose a higher score?” He answers with things that fall outside of his control–the words are too hard, the teacher doesn’t like him, he only has one day to study.  However, if you ask, “Why didn’t you choose a lower number,” your kid will respond with everything he does have control over: “I’m not dumb. I know how to spell over half of these. Some of these words are easy. I’ve already studied some.”[6]

These examples may be focused on grades, but they really do drive the point that kids know what is expected, what they are capable of, and what they are willing to do to get it.

For the parent who has utilized the first two steps (remove the self and meet your child without judgment), the third step is to layout clear expectations. There is no anger because you are removed from the situation; instead, you simply state the fact that “In this house we don’t do half of our homework”, or “We clean our rooms on Saturday,” or “We always put forth our best effort.” Don’t budge, your child will figure out what they are capable of doing.

This is not a new concept. Many schools have caught on to this tactic by utilizing a system called PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support[7]). You’ll know if a school has a PBIS system if the hallways are covered with posters that say “At Smith Elementary we show respect, follow directions…” The school is making it clear that these are the expectations, and the students then learn to rise to this level. You love your children, and Brene Brown tells us[8] that love is manifested through accountability, so state your expectations without wavering–they will figure it out

LET’S REVISIT THE CONVERSATION

Let’s return to that opening conversation–this time eavesdropping on what you might say using our three-step approach to empathy,

“What homework do you have to do? … “You have to memorize all 20 of these words?” … “You’re right; that is tough. I’m sorry you have to do all that.” … “When’s the test?” …. “What do you think you’re going to get?” … “A 70? Hmm…why didn’t you say 50 or 30?” … “Okay, so you know how to spell some of them. What would you need to do to score a 90 or a 100?” … “It sounds like you know what to do in order to do your best work.” … “In this house you are expected to do your best work.” … “Well, you just told me what you need to do, and it sounds like you know how to do it.” … “I won’t do any of your work for you, but let me know if you get stuck.”

HERE’S TO AWESOME KIDS

Then we delegate, give directions, or teach others, there is a continuum of support ranging from demanding to enabling. Either one of these extremes is counterproductive, stagnating affective growth and decreasing chances of both short and long-term success for the person we are ultimately trying to help. Somewhere in the middle, is a place of empathy–a form of genuine understanding where we remove ourselves, feel with the other person, and hold those we love accountable while showing respect. Continue to practice these three steps with me, and you will experience the rewards that come with cultivating resilient, caring, respectful, fun, interesting, and successful kids.

 

About the Author

Justin Vawter is Co-Founder and CCO of NuMinds Enrichment (headquarters in Addison, TX). He has taught and brought inspiration to his students for almost a decade–ranging from 6th graders to college-bound seniors. He holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of North Texas, and has served as both a curriculum writer and professional development author/presenter. His passions include travel (most recently a Western European and Central American excursion), long-distance running, triathlon, and implementing new ideas into the classroom. As of today, he has finished over a dozen triathlons, including the IronMan, and seven ultra marathons. Publications include submissions to The Delta Blues Symposium and The Dallas Morning News. He can be reached directly at Justin@numien.com.

[1] examples found in Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley (2013)

[2] The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups by Leonard Sax (2015); The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World by Amy McCready (2015).

[3] “Alan Alda Wants Us To Have Better Conversations,” Hidden Brain (audio recording), released 1/22/2018

[4] Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need (2017) by Meg Meeker

[5] Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie (2011)

[6] Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything–Fast, Michael Pantalon (2011)

[7] PBIS.org

[8] The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown (2010).

Letters to Those Silently Suffering: Let’s Talk About It – Bringing Light to What Stigma Forces Us to Keep in the Dark.

by Vanessa Sanford

*This post is intended to help parents and educators learn the impact of Stigma and how it effectively gets in the way of learning compassion and courage. Stigma silences our hurts. This letter educates us on how to protest against Stigma in hopes it may save a life–maybe the life of someone you love. Vanessa M. Sanford, LPC  practices in Frisco, Texas, and specializes in multiple areas of counseling for children, teens, and adults. 

 

Dear Stigma around Suicide Prevention and other Hard Conversations,

This is my Breakup Letter to You,

I know we have been together for a long time. As a matter of fact, you have been controlling lots of people. I have quieted my real feelings to keep you around. I guess I thought if you were running the show, I would be safe and hidden from pain. I am finally brave enough to call you out on hypnotizing us to only focus on our kids grades and achievements, or on being perfect with our bodies and décor.  I want to provide a disclaimer about this breakup letter. It is going to be imperfect and messy and vulnerable. I have thought a long time about how to say this to you, but couldn’t find the perfect words. So here goes…

I am no longer willing to see pain and then run or hide or numb or ignore or cliché my way from it. I have come to realize I can do hard things. I want you to understand I can trust myself more than I trust what you require us to believe “but what will people think?” and “we can’t talk about that” and “that doesn’t happen to us.” I have come to realize your superficial pressures teach us all to lie. When someone says, “How are you?” We are taught to say, “I am fine, and you?” Well, Bless your little heart, Stigma. Your rules are what keeps us sick and silent and scared to tell the truth. You have taught me to glorify fear and to avoid risk, failure, pain, or struggles. You have taught me to stay in my comfort zone, not to trust courage, but hide from anything imperfect. You want me to only put my best Christmas-card-captured-moments online to sell to everyone: “No struggles here.”

Well, I am sure you are criticizing this break-up letter, but I am continuing anyway.

I am beyond mesmerized by those who defy you. We will never forget when 9/11 happened. We saw broken hearts show up with open arms and help, donate, pray, and be there openly for one another. It was so tragic and beautiful to see such love and connection. When hurricanes and earthquakes or any natural disasters happen, we all just put you away and do whatever we can to help our brothers and sisters. I am forever grateful you stay quiet during these times.

Please know I am so confused, Stigma. Why, why, why are you so quiet during natural disasters and terrorism, but so ferocious when many of our brothers and sisters are silently suffering with internal terrorism and emotional disasters and contemplating suicide? Without you, the image I see is open arms and broken hearts leaning into the suffering of others with charity and empathy. When you are around, the image I see is our hands over our mouths and our eyes shut as we run away from suffering.

Here are some questions I have for you: Why won’t you let us listen to someone’s pain so they feel heard, not hurt, especially when they are contemplating suicide? Why must you create such pressure for us to interrupt and spray out “know better advice” all over someone desperately needing light into their darkness? Why do you confuse us into talking instead of bravely listening to understand and staying curious as to what they are feeling? Why do you dangle carrots of numbing and judgment and criticism all over so that we get distracted from having hard and awkward conversations about suicide and how to prevent it?

YOU just tell people to get over it, move on, deal with it, or suck it up.  You tell them, “my story is harder than yours,” or “that won’t happen in our family,” etc. I no longer want to subscribe to your cult. I no longer want to participate in keeping people silent. I want to learn to be brave in discomfort instead of staying comfortable in resentment. I want people to know they are not alone in their loneliness. I want leaders and parents and teachers to understand we all are sick and tired of being scared.

What an insult it is, Stigma, that you have led me to believe I am not capable of these hard conversations. I urge you to stop leading companies, churches, classrooms, sports, dinner tables and bedtime routines. Shutting others pain down for us to stay comfortable is something I will no longer do. I will listen, even if I am scared and do not know what to say. Glennon Doyle says, “fear is love holding its breath. It’s our job not to convert fearful people but to love them.” Yes, Glennon, I agree. I have to unlearn how to fight fear with fear. I have to learn how to lovingly see fear and not join, but to also respect that I cannot force or pressure or blame others into letting go of it. I know there are lots of places and people who role-model this, like the Suicide Hotline Center and therapists, hospitals, and artists. Where truth and love and fear are spoken, and expressed imperfectly and messy, but not silenced. I am learning not to shut down in fear and to also respect how powerful fear is. Fear can keep us safe, but not by the standards you want us all to uphold. So Stigma, I now know your Full Name: Stigma-Comparison-Judgey-Avoider of Hard Things-Love-holding-its-breath.

I have been going behind your back for years planning my escape. I am officially ready to leave because I have found enough people not buying into your lies. I am so mad at you for betraying all those that died because they were silenced and felt alone. I was deceived by advertisements you promoted to buy your product. Stigma, I challenge you to look closer into how YOU have role-modeled what to do in struggle. Just in case you didn’t know, September is Suicide Prevention Month. That’s right, I am breaking up with you during this important month spreading awareness on suicide. I want to shout as loud as I can to those suffering in silence, “You matter, you deserve to be heard.” I have also learned when people feel suicidal, they really just want to kill their pain. They do not understand if they die, their pain actually doesn’t even die. It spreads to all those that love them. We don’t understand pain when we follow your lead. The options you have provided us are to run away and hide, get scary and big and loud, or please our way out of pain. You haven’t taught us to lean into pain, to get curious, and to be gentle and loving and non-judgmental. I am learning these things now that I am not with you anymore.

You know Stigma, I was watching this rap artist named Logic perform on the Video Music Awards

He did not follow your rules. He stood up and spoke out. He even titled his song the Suicide Hotline Prevention Number, 1-800-273-8255. He sure did! I thought it was brilliant. You know what? People stood up and clapped and were inspired by his courage. People were so moved, the Suicide Hotline Center reported a 50% increase in calls since that performance! Can you believe that? He stood outside of his comfort zone and spoke truth. He was asked why he made this song, and he said that lots of fans would tell him all the time how his lyrics changed or even saved their lives. He said he would be grateful outwardly, but on the inside, would feel confused and wonder, “I didn’t create this art to save people.” He goes on to say, “What can happen if I took myself out of my comfort zone and made a whole album about everybody and everybody’s struggles including my own which is one I’ve never done. What if I silenced my own fear and I say, ‘I’m scared talk about my race. I’m scared to talk about the state of this country but I’m going to do [it] anyway. I’m going to persevere. Man, how many lives can I really save then?’” So, now that I am breaking up with you, I have a lot of time on my hands. I may even become a rap artist, like Logic.

I also watched a Netflix series not too long ago called 13 Reasons Why. It is about a girl in high school who commits suicide and leaves reasons why she did it. There was so much of you, Stigma, around this series. So much fear and concern from lots of professionals and parents that thought this series was dangerous and put ideas into kids heads about suicide. Dear Stigma, I will bravely admit that I liked that series. It goes against your rules of offering an emotionless, sterile, and easy way to talk about suicide. It goes against the story ending in a pretty bow with all struggles heroically returning us back into our comfort zones. It defied you. I liked that about it. It was messy and scary and too real and I watched some of the episodes in panic with my hands over my eyes. I cried and talked and thought about the characters as if I knew them. You know what else I liked about this series? Stigma, you were actually in the series! There were characters that kept silent and were just bystanders to pain. That is what you do best. Then, there was some starting to learn the importance of being Upstanders. They went against the silence and tried to speak up and do the right thing and not ignore someone in pain. What a lesson! I invited others to talk about this too, and we did not stay in silent judgment. We disagreed and shared fears and worries of how this will negatively impact or glorify suicide. I thought about what myths are already out there about suicide and if this series makes these narratives worse. I was aware many teens had seen it before their parents. We are all hungry for a safe place to tell truths like, “I am having a bad day and feel sad” instead of “I am fine.”

Stigma, your rules have stood in the way of too many lives.

I read a book recently called Braving the Wilderness, The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, by Brené Brown. She is a researcher and storyteller, and I feel this book helped me break up with you, Stigma. She talks about the difference between fitting in and belonging. She says, “Even in the context of suffering – poverty, violence, human rights violations – not belonging in our families is still one of the most dangerous hurts. That’s because it has the power to break our heart, our spirit, and our sense of self-worth.” Being able to detach from Stigma means I get to lean more into self-worth and true belonging. Brown goes on to say that based on her research, there are three outcomes when we feel broken…

  1. You live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it and/or inflicting it on others;
  2. You deny your pain, and your denial ensures that you pass it on to those around you and down to your children; or
  3. You find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and others that allows you to spot hurt in the world in a unique way.” (Brown, 2017, p. 14)

Did you know suicide doesn’t only destroy the lives of young teens? Sometimes even the obituaries in the newspaper do not tell the whole story of how a person really died. Many elders, treasures full of wisdom and cherished stories, take their lives. They painfully feel ignored and of no value. They kill themselves too.

I also watched this TED talk by Shane Koyczan.

He soulfully shares his story of being told messages he was unworthy and how this silenced his inherent right to feel love and belonging.  His story is gut-wrenching and brave because he talks about learning his worth from within, and about letting go of what others think. It made me cry and think about all the people that are made fun of, laughed at, ignored, and shamed because they are different. Stigma, you make being different a bad thing.

I am not as sad as I thought I would be to break up with you. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, songs, books, art, poetry and even rap have been defying you all along. I will try to be more creatively defiant when in fear. I have learned that the opposite of anxiety is not calm, it is self-trust. I would even add that the opposite of courage is self-betrayal. I feel free to believe in myself and believe in others without you by my side. I am aware you will still be around, and I am sure I will bump into you since we live so close to each other. When I see you, I will not say hello or ask how you are doing, out of self-respect. I might just give you a nod–or not.  I will have to remind myself you are charming but dangerous. You are so good at lying to me and others, forcing us into silence. You focus on what others think. I choose to loudly treat myself and others with love and kindness.

Dear Stigma, please do not write back. This is like one of those emails that clearly states DO NOT REPLY.

Love when in Fear,

No longer Silent

 

Dear Lives Lost to Suicide,

We miss you every day. We miss what you would have been like if you had received help, if you weren’t told to be quiet and hide your pain.  

 

Dear Lives Contemplating Suicide,

We want to hear about your pain. YOU don’t have to die. Tell a professional, parent, teacher, doctor or someone you trust. Keep telling until someone hears you. Write, draw, paint, cry, scream, sing, dance your way out of the silence and into the lit driveway of Love.  Help is waiting for you! Listen to Logic’s song and memorize the title and call it. Just be messy, imperfect, and vulnerable. Know asking for help is Brave and Right.

 

Dear Lives Afraid to Speak up about a Loved One Struggling,

Please remember, it is better to say something, even if it is imperfect, then to say nothing at all. Say something like, “I don’t know what to say, but I love you and am so glad you told me. Let’s find someone who can help.” Stop saying, “They are just saying that for attention.” Stop ignoring or gossiping or seeing someone struggle from afar and do nothing. Do something, anything. We all need to know we matter. Lead with Love not Fear.

 

Dear All Ready to Break up with Stigma Alongside Me,

I hope we start to learn that hiding behind Stigma hurts not only ourselves but others. What if we all realized that when we see someone struggling and make fun of them or ignore them or don’t know what to say so we say nothing, that this is exactly what Stigma wants? It’s not going to be easy but I found help in this quote I found in Brené’s book Braving the Wilderness, “Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not good enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially your own. No one belongs here more than you.” (Brown, 2017, P.158)

Professional Disclaimer: The artists mentioned in this article are not a replacement for professional help for those struggling with suicide or rape, but they are powerful artistic expressions defying Stigma’s rules. Artists create expressions every day that are controversial. It is okay for people to not like them. Stigma loudly protests against messy and imperfect storytelling and we start blaming and fear-mongering. In regards to The Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, it is my professional opinion this is an eye-opener and it goes against what Stigma wants when it doesn’t offer a positive ending. Suicide, in real life, isn’t a positive ending. Listen to that uncomfortable feeling this series triggers and consider it a great starting point for others to recognize how they handle discomfort and pain: do we blame and shame, or increase our understanding and not silence ourselves from helping? Whether it is a helpful series or not, teenagers were glued to every episode quietly and secretly in their rooms. That tells me that this isn’t something okay to talk openly about with parents. This also tells me kids are hungry to find some place to understand this more. It is messy but also brings light to such a dark topic. It is okay that professionals disagree on this. The hope is to disagree and seek understanding, not stay quiet because it could possibly offend someone. Suicide is pervasive and sad and confusing, and we need more parents getting comfortable in the uncomfortable so kids can trust their parents to get out of their rooms and into an open space and talk about this together. This post is not intended to substitute for professional help, and I encourage individuals considering suicide to reach out to a professional who understands (1-800-273-8255 / https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/).

Resources for Parents of Teens: www.granthaliburton.org

References

Logic song and interview https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2017/08/28/the-story-behind-logics-powerful-suicide-prevention-anthem-1-800-273-8255/?utm_term=.4d54c1ade468

Shane Koyczan’s TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/shane_koyczan_to_this_day_for_the_bullied_and_beautiful

Netflix Series, 13 Reasons Why

*please check out the extra episode explaining the reasons behind the series

“Come out, Come out, Whoever you Are” article by Glennon Doyle in October 2017 issue of O Magazine

Brown, B. (2017) Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Random House.

 

Reluctant Gifted Learners: Solving the Puzzle

by Emily VR

Parents and teachers of gifted students: if you are reading this post, you are probably looking for help.   Whether you teach in a classroom or at home, you have hoped to inspire your student(s), to foster a love of learning, and to help develop skills needed for future success.  The problem?

Your gifted student is producing disappointing work.  Crappy work.  Or at least, right now, mediocre work.

If you are new to gifted education, or if you thought “gifted” meant “kids who always make ‘A’ honor roll,” you may be confused.  (Hint: that’s not what gifted means.)  You’ve tried various strategies: introducing topics you find interesting yourself, providing challenging work if she earns it (by finishing her regular assignments with good grades first), focusing mainly on improving her areas of weakness, and giving her same-level activity menus, the same as the other students.  After all, you want to be fair.  Your campus offers extracurricular contests and awards.  Surely some of that should be inspiring her, right?  What’s wrong with this kid?

Unfortunately, these approaches won’t benefit the gifted students who need help the most, and in some cases, are almost guaranteed to make things worse.  What should you consider trying, then, as you teach this puzzle of a student?

(1)    Separate ability from achievement

For gifted underachievers, remember to examine evidence of their ability needs separately from their current achievement.  Though it seems counterintuitive, an underachieving gifted learner may actually need higher-level work in one or more areas of strength.  This can be especially true for students in certain special populations, including twice-exceptional students (gifted with one or more disability) or the exceptionally to profoundly gifted.  Just as it isn’t unfair to the class when one student needs disability accommodations, it isn’t unfair when we make necessary curriculum modifications to meet gifted instructional needs.  Gifted abilities involve different learning needs, and a student’s level of instruction should be based on need, not earned.

How, then, do you determine instructional needs for underachieving gifted students?  You can collect data from different sources, such as past and current school performance, the student’s parents, ability assessments, above-level achievement assessments, campus gifted specialists, pre-assessments, credit-by-exam testing, and documentation of any disabilities.  Consult with a gifted specialist and/or familiarize yourself with gifted curriculum recommendations to help determine when to consider using depth and complexity, a type of acceleration, or other modifications to meet needs.

(2)  Consider misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis in the gifted

For gifted children, the risk of being misdiagnosed with a disability is so significant, the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) educates parents and professionals through their Misdiagnosis Initiative.  One such scenario: unmet gifted needs can be misinterpreted as attention issues.  (Can any of us sit attentively through a year of content we already know?)  Asynchronous development, or uneven development across different areas, is listed in several sources as common in gifted children.  Unfortunately, gifted students can also be at risk of missed diagnosis: their abilities can compensate for and mask disabilities, resulting in invisible struggles, work avoidance, and underachievement.  For a thorough exploration of both situations, consult Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (2nd edition) by Webb, Amend, Beljan, Webb, Kuzujanakis, Olenchak, and Goerss (2016).

For twice-exceptional students (gifted with one or more disabilities), some educators focus primarily on remediating areas of weakness, rather than accelerating and enriching areas of strength – yet experts recommend the opposite.  To maintain motivation and self-esteem, “the strongest emphasis has to be on developing the areas of strength” (Castellano & Frazier, 2011).

(3)  Learn the basics about giftedness

Would you set a broken arm without medical training, or repair a PC without knowing how it works?  If you are teaching a gifted-identified child, it is important to know the basics about gifted characteristics, needs, and recommendations.  Though some gifted education topics are still debated, best practices have been established based on decades of research.  Your district or state gifted organization may offer training, or you can explore resources through organizations such as the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF), Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), and the Davidson Institute.

If teachers and parents are aware that high intellectual ability comes with specific characteristics and academic needs, that ability needs are not necessarily evident from current achievement, that ability level can vary significantly within the gifted-identified population, and that gifted-identified students require curriculum modifications in order to learn — they will be off to a good start.

(4)  Discover differentiation and acceleration

Effective differentiation requires more than a menu.  Are you familiar with content, product, and process differentiation, and do you know when each is helpful and needed?  Do you start units with pre-assessments, incorporate depth and complexity, and use student data to assign reading passages targeted to your gifted student’s comprehension level?  Are you familiar with the research on the benefits of acceleration, do you know when to consider different acceleration options, and are you willing to consider curriculum compacting, when appropriate?  If not, these topics offer exciting and important opportunities for professional growth as an educator.  Differentiation strategies that benefit most students – such as menus with on-level activities – are often insufficient for gifted students who need more challenge.  Effective differentiation may require adding to your toolbox of instructional strategies, and it may initially require help from instructional specialists or other educators.

An important point: children with above-level needs need different work, not more work.  (Gifted expert Lisa Van Gemert calls extra work “more-ferentiation,” or “differentiation’s evil imposter.”)  If we require students to trudge through inappropriately easy work each day before allowing work that helps them learn and grow, is it a surprise when some of them lose interest and motivation?

(5)  Individualize

Needs can vary significantly from student to student, especially for “special populations” in gifted education:  twice-exceptional, CLED (culturally, linguistically, or economically diverse), students facing gender obstacles/challenges, students in rural settings, or extreme gifted levels.  Gifted students have different ability and achievement levels, strengths, weaknesses, personality characteristics, and obstacles to achievement.   Because of these extreme differences, “students must be assessed and planned for on an individual basis” (Shore & Enerson, 2007).

When differentiating for gifted learners, teachers and parents may wish to ask:  am I targeting the evidence-based needs and interests of this specific student?  Or am I only prioritizing goals for the entire class (or my own preferences)?  See educator Ian Byrd’s post on narcissistic teaching for questions to help avoid this pitfall.

(6)  Consider possible stressors

According to many parents and educators, gifted children experience life more intensely.  A number of psychologists and educators who work with gifted children observe behaviors associated with overexcitabilities (OEs), or intensities, in this population.  Several OEs can cause distraction and distress in situations where other students seem unaffected.  Understanding social and emotional gifted characteristics can allow both teachers and parents to improve the learning environment and help students cope.

During group work or activities, do your gifted students or children have regular access to other children who understand and share their differences, or do they feel isolated and misunderstood?   Time with “intellectual peers” is considered important for both academic growth and social-emotional development.  Ability grouping provides this access in classrooms, and local gifted parent support groups can schedule events to foster friendships.  Gifted homeschoolers can connect through local gifted groups or organizations such as the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.  In schools with gifted services, including an affective curriculum can also give students an opportunity to learn coping skills in a safe environment.

A note about competitions: while some gifted children enjoy competing, “schools that support a competitive environment” can “promote antilearning cultures” and may have a detrimental effect on gifted children (Cross, 2016).  An “emphasis on competitiveness at the individual level can interfere with peer relationships and lead to rejection” of gifted students, but “[i]f competitions are unavoidable, having low stakes and distant competitors (i.e., at other schools)” can reduce stress (Cross, 2016).

Socioeconomic status is considered a strong predictor of academic achievement, and gifted students from low-SES households may need additional school support and require special considerations for identification (Matthews & Shaunessy, 2008).  Additional awareness and support for culturally diverse gifted students is necessary to prevent underidentification and to help mitigate the potential negative effects of social pressure for some populations (Matthews & Shaunessy, 2008).

(7)  Incorporate other talents and interests

Does your student seem motivated only by interests or abilities outside of school subjects?  If your un-academically-motivated student has a passion outside of school, differentiation based on student interests might increase motivation at her desk.  In his book Parenting Gifted Kids, author and educator Jim Delisle describes how he tapped into one underachiever’s entrepreneurial interests to differentiate the student’s lessons, resulting in improved student attitude and performance (Delisle, 2006).  Advancing Differentiation by Richard Cash explores several strategies for motivating learners: teachers can survey students and group them based on interests, can allow students to opt out of assigned work by substituting “passion projects” based on individual interests, can encourage students to help design lessons or projects, and can engage them in solving authentic problems and creating resources for other students (Cash, 2011).  Parents can search for extracurricular activities to spark motivation and increase self-esteem, especially during and after difficult school years – like a chess camp, robotics class, or hands-on enrichment classes that finally challenge a student and validate her problem-solving abilities.

In Ken Robinson’s book The Element, he explores the benefits of finding the “meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion” (Robinson, 2009).  As parents and educators, though we have an obligation to guide students through state-mandated concepts, if we want to encourage long-term success and help students find fulfilling careers, we should consider using strategies that respect both their abilities and their interests.

(8)  Preserve relationships

Parents of twice-exceptional children in particular will tell you: while it is important to set high, achievable expectations, excessive pressure on a student can damage both parent-child and parent-teacher relationships.  In discussing motivation and underachievement, psychologist James Webb emphasizes that “probably the single most powerful factor in motivation is the personal relationship” (Webb, 2007).  Webb advises “building upon the relationship,” connecting with the child, and helping the child to develop confidence and self-esteem (Webb, 2007).  As gifted students get older, if they show strengths in multiple areas (multipotentiality), it may help to choose between advanced opportunities to preserve time for their passions and their mental health (Taibbi, 2012).

In research on gifted high school dropouts, some researchers cite a negative attitude toward school and teachers as a contributing factor.  They found that a perceived “good teacher” is “the most positive element of school,” that fewer students dropped out when their teacher “was flexible, positive, and creative,” and in recommendations for prevention, note that “student and teacher relationships should be improved” (Renzulli & Park, 2002).

(9)  Explore motivation

When a child loses motivation for schoolwork, stress levels rise for everyone involved.  Underachievement frustrates teachers and parents, and it can feel like a tailspin to those who see a student’s underlying abilities.  Most of all, it can hurt a student’s self-esteem and future opportunities.  Causes can include a stressful classroom environment, inadequate work level challenge, a need for disability help, a fear of failure, mood disorders, social stress or pressure, language barriers, economic stress, or home stress (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007).  Some causes require special services and an awareness of specific challenges impacting special populations.

For gifted motivation in general, Carol Whitney and Gretchen Hirsch recommend considering the “Four C’s”: Challenge (is the work challenging enough?), Control (how much control does the student have over his/her learning?), Commitment (does the student feel a sense of belonging and importance, and does she know the value of activities?), and Compassion (is the child understood and supported by parents and teachers?).  In A Love for Learning, Motivation and the Gifted Child, the authors offer tips for educators and homeschoolers: setting high but achievable expectations, basing part of the curriculum on the child’s interests and learning style, focusing on “personal best” rather than competition, rewarding the process as well as the product, providing good feedback, staying flexible, providing hands-on and relevant explorations, continual assessment, and remembering self-care for teachers (applies to parents too!), to keep their own motivation fresh (Whitney & Hirsh, 2007).  Additional recommendations for the school environment include strategies such as “promoting belongingness to the class and school,” building “warm and supportive teacher-student relationships,” articulating the relevance of lessons, and pacing learning appropriately for gifted students (Liem & Chua, 2006).

* * *

If these approaches sound like trial and error, to some extent, they can be.  Once a strategy begins to work, some students can be moving targets: children grow and change, and adjustments may be needed.  Don’t give up hope, and don’t blame yourself for a student’s struggles: if underachievement were easy to prevent and fix, there would be no need for articles, chapters, and books on the subject.  If parents and educators learn what they can and they keep trying, their investment of time can lead to improvement and positive outcomes for gifted students.  (As always, please do not take my word alone – read further!  The below list offers a few places to start.)  In addition to teaching and nurturing these students, we can help them by continuing to listen to them, by learning from and about them, and by remembering to be flexible throughout their education.

book

References and Further Reading

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., and Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (Eds.) (2015).  A nation empowered: evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students.  University of Iowa.

Byrd, Ian.  On grouping gifted students.  Web. http://www.byrdseed.com/on-grouping-gifted-students/

Cash, R. (2011).  Advancing differentiation: thinking and learning for the 21st century.  Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.

Castellano, J. A. and Frazier, A. D. (2011).  Special populations in gifted education: understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds.  Waco: Prufrock Press.

Cross, J. R. (2016).  Gifted children and peer relationships.  In M. Neihart., S. I. Pfieffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know?  Waco: Prufrock Press & NAGC.

Daniels, S. and Piechowski, M. M. (2009).  Living with intensity: understanding the sensitivity, excitability, and the emotional development of gifted children, adolescents, and adults.  Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.

Fiedler, E.D., Lange, R. D., and Winebrenner, S. (1993).  In search of reality: unraveling the myths about tracking, ability grouping, and the gifted.  Roeper Review, 16(1), 4-7.

Gross, M. U. M. (2000).  Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted Students:  An Underserved Population (section on “Reversing Underachievement”).  Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page; originally published in Understanding Our Gifted, Winter 2000.  Web.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/underserved.htm

Johnson, R. (2017).  The lunch bunch: affective curriculum for elementary gifted students.  Gifted Education Review, 1(4), 1-3.

Liem, G. A. and Chua, C. S. (2016).  Motivation in talent development of high-ability students: research trends, practical implications, and future directions.  In M. Neihart., S. I. Pfieffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know?  Waco: Prufrock Press & NAGC.

Lind, S. (2001).  Overexcitability and the gifted.  The SENG Newsletter. 2001, 1(1) 3-6.  Retrieved from http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/overexcitability-and-the-gifted

Manning, S. and Besnoy, K. D. (2008). Special populations. In F. A. Karnes and K. R. Stephens (Eds.), Achieving excellence: Educating the gifted and talented. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Matthews, M. S. and Shaunessy, E. (2008).  Culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse gifted students.  In F. A. Karnes and K. R. Stephens (Eds.), Achieving excellence: Educating the gifted and talented. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Renzulli, J. S. and Park, S. (2002).  Giftedness and high school dropouts: personal, family, and school-related factors.   National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.

Robinson, A., Shore, B. M., & Enerson, D L. (2007).  Best practices in gifted education: an evidence-based guide.  Waco: Prufrock Press & NAGC.

Taibbi, C. (2012). All AP? Not for me! Why gifted students shouldn’t take the highest level classes. Psychology Today. Web. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gifted-ed-guru/201201/all-ap-not-mewhy-gifted-students-shouldnt-take-the-highest-level-classes

Tolan, S. S. (1996). Is it a Cheetah? Retrieved from http://www.stephanietolan.com/is_it_a_cheetah.htm

Tomlinson, C. A. and Allan, S. D. (2000).  Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms.  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Whitney, C. S. and Hirsch, G. (2007).  A love for learning: motivation and the gifted child.  Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.

For parent groups in Texas:  if your group is interested in bringing after-school, weekend, or camp enrichment experiences to your area, to help gifted students meet one another outside of school, NuMinds Enrichment (founders of this blog) offers a variety of options.

logo-facebook

Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops!  For more posts, please visit the September 2017 GHF blog hop about Teaching a Reluctant Gifted Learner: Ways to Reach and Teach the Gifted.

21740624_10159393298125002_7965350251184179119_n

Young Minds, Grown-Up Worries: 5 Resources for Parents and Educators

by Emily VR

For some children, the usual milestones and recommendations rarely seem to apply.  Whether because of disability differences, gifted ability differences, or both, parents and educators gradually learn to expect the unexpected.

Because of these differences, children can also surprise adults with early worries about big-picture, life-and-death concepts.  In some cases, this can be the first sign of high-ability needs.  How do you cope with a two-year-old’s concerns about death, heaven, and an infinite universe?  How can you handle a student so concerned with social justice that she argues with her peers, or an emotionally sensitive child who cannot sleep because of stress over homelessness and foreign wars?

When the usual parenting and teaching advice doesn’t help, consider checking out the below resources to help young children with mature worries.

Living With Intensity.  Danels, Susan and Piechowski, Michael (2009).  Living with Intensity explains Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and the “Overexcitabilities” (types of emotional and physical intensity), and it offers perspectives from a number of professionals on coping with intensity in children and adults.  Learning about the imaginational and emotional “overexcitabilities” may help parents better understand the thoughts and emotions behind a child’s concerns.  Much of the book focuses on the gifted population, however, anyone with a child or student experiencing extreme or advanced worries may find the coping strategies helpful.

Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope.  Webb, James T. (2013).  Like Living with Intensity, psychologist James Webb’s book discusses giftedness, but it offers help for anyone struggling with discouragement over weighty questions. Webb tackles the subject of existential depression with compassionate, thoughtful perspective and a number of ways to cope.  Though geared toward adults, several strategies can be used by parents and educators to support children, such as focusing on ways to live in the present moment, bibliotherapy, journaling, and helping children to feel they can make a difference through causes related to their concerns.  (Parents and educators can help children get involved – check out Hoagies’ Blog Hop on Child Activists for ideas!)

The Mama’s Boy Myth:  Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes them Stronger.  Lombardi, Kate Stone (2013).  Mothers with sensitive sons can find both relief and validation in this well-researched book.  Lombardi debunks stereotypes and misconceptions about close mother-son relationships and sensitive boys, and she shows how nurturing the emotional sensitivity of male children can actually benefit both the child and our society as a whole.

Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers.  Third Edition.  Halstead, Judith Wynn (2009).  Books and workshops on parenting gifted children frequently recommend bibliotherapy as a technique for coping with life’s stresses, and it can help adults, as well.  Halstead’s classic book offers a number of suggestions that can appeal to the interests, strengths, and struggles of gifted-identified readers.  (For a few additional gifted bibliotherapy recommendations, check out the NuMinds Vodcast on this topic!)

Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth.  Prober, Paula (2016).  This recent book by Paula Prober, a licensed professional counselor and former teacher, can support parents with all types of sensitivity in their families, including the emotional sensitivity associated with creative abilities. Prober’s Rainforest Mind metaphor reassures and validates readers as she guides them through strategies to both cope and reframe negative associations they may have formed about their sensitivity.

Though our first instinct is often to protect our children and students from pain, under Dabrowski’s theory, experiencing certain intensities can lead to the development of empathy and altruistic behavior.  Stress about current events can also provide opportunities for discussions about essential topics, such as conversations about racial bias, equality, and the importance of truthfulness and peaceful problem-solving. Parents of young children with extreme worries may find it necessary to filter or restrict certain adult topics in news or fiction, however, even when a child is capable of grasping the concepts.  The AAP has released recommendations on the impact of violent media and video games on children, and websites such as Kids in Mind, Common Sense Media and Compass Book Ratings can help screen adult content in films and books, which can be helpful for young children with high comprehension levels.  In any discussion with children, but especially those involving life’s big questions, children will learn by example and appreciate an adult’s honesty with them.

For educators:  parents and experts agree on the importance of understanding individual differences and diagnoses when helping children through difficult behavior.  For example, classroom strategies which work for typically developing children could trigger panic instead of compliance in a child with certain disabilities.  To work through behaviors influenced by big-picture worries, both parents and educators will want to start with a compassionate understanding of how a child may process his or her world differently.

Counseling Notes

As adults, we play an important role in helping children to learn from their pain.  According to counselor Vanessa Sanford, “the way for kids to be wise, kind, resilient, and brave is to learn from pain and worries and struggle, not run from it.  Kids need to see parents allow the compassionate space for kids to make meaning out of struggle and believe they are capable of hard things instead of fixing or protecting kids all the time.”  She explains that this “doesn’t mean we want kids to get hurt, but we do want to send a message, ‘I am here, I see you, I know this is scary, but you are brave and we can do this together.’”

How can adults create this space?  Sanford explains, “courage must be a component… Courage to hold a safe space for kids to express their worries and not shut them down… Courage to not have the answer, but to just allow kids to explore their own way around worries. Courage to ask for help when an adult feels over their head with the struggles. Courage to believe the adult is capable of handling this and that the kid is too. Courage to practice empathy and compassion instead of just running to logic and cognitive space. When kids have grown up worries, they need to know the ones they are trusting with this are safe and allow enough space for emotion. Logic can return into the conversation once emotion is seen, valued, respected, and [it is] explained that we all feel messy and complicated feelings. Normalizing this for kids is so powerful and invites them to continue opening up about these worries,” she says.

According to Sanford, parents need the empowerment and encouragement to know “that they can do hard things. Their kids can do hard things. That if their kid has existential questions, the most important thing to consider is how brave and vulnerable the parent [must be] to role-model so the kid can feel safe, respected, valued and loved.” Though we cannot stay forever at their desks or bedsides, when our children and students struggle with their first existential questions, as adults, we can model empathy and provide those safe spaces for them to process their feelings – which can help them for the rest of their lives.

divider 5

Note:  Some worries are too big for children, parents, and educators to handle on their own.  If a child’s worries are interfering with his or her quality of life, or if adults see warning signs of mental illness, it is important to seek professional help, just as we would for physical injuries or illnesses.  Parents may find it helpful to search for counselors and psychologists familiar with known conditions or diagnoses impacting their children.

For more help, this video from Dr. Brené Brown explains the benefits of empathy and the difference between empathy and sympathy. 

Many thanks to Vanessa M. Sanford, LPC for her invaluable contributions, interview, and video link.  Ms. Sanford practices in Frisco, Texas, and specializes in multiple areas of counseling for children, teens, and adults. 

 

What strategies have you found successful in helping your child or students cope with existential stress?  Let us know in the comments below.

The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!  For additional posts in the Philosophical / Spiritual Anxiety Blog Hop, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan!).21078458_10212344733746027_8908226935862427228_n

 

Summer Learning: Exploring National Parks

by Emily VR

Parents and caregivers:  if you haven’t visited a National Park or National Historic Site recently, there is probably one near you, and it might make the most memorable day or weekend trip of your summer.  These places offer a unique, hands-on opportunity for kids to explore, learn, and satisfy their thirst for adventure while getting excited about nature and history.  (Park and Historic Site finder here.)

Does your child thrive on physical activity?  In National Parks, kids and their adults can climb to mountain waterfalls near the continental divide, watch the sun rise over layers of geologic time in the Grand Canyon, or canoe through lakes and rivers rich with both natural and human history (multiple parks).  Young park visitors and their families can trek past rock formations in Mammoth Cave and Carlsbad Caverns, explore forest and desert habitats, scale ladders to abandoned Native American cliff dwellings, and learn about the earth’s crust through the force of geysers and volcanoes.

IMG_8002

Is your child obsessed with paleontology or archaeology?  Kids can see dinosaur skeletons still embedded in rock at Dinosaur National Monument, or they can examine ancient petroglyphs in New Mexico.  Budding history buffs can trace American history – walking right where it happened – from settlements like Historic Jamestown to the buildings and battlefields of the Revolutionary War and Civil War, important sites in African American and Native American history, and memorials from the Civil Rights movement.

Interpretive program

Many sites offer Visitor Centers with educational exhibits and/or guided programs by Park Rangers, and at any Park kids can practice photography or journal writing.  (Tip: some sites have limited tour availability and recommend advance reservations – check the website before you go.)  For young adults, National Parks can offer even more in-depth learning and internship opportunities: the Mosaics in Science program, for example, provides on-the-ground, science-based NPS work experience to youth underrepresented in natural resource science career fields.  NPS includes accessibility solutions for guests with disabilities, and it offers several resources for teachers, as well.  Visiting Parks can even be good for your health: the benefits of exercise and spending time in nature are so significant, this year marked the 2nd annual Park Prescription Day around the country – an opportunity to reflect on both self-care and the value of our natural environment.

mountains2

To help younger kids process and remember their experiences, you can ask about the Junior Ranger program – most National Parks, historic, and battlefield sites offer educational activity packets (available from a Park Ranger, often at the main Visitor Center).  Activities vary by age, and additional programs are available in some parks.  (Tip:  some activities ask kids to record details from the site, so you may want to pick up packets early in your visit.)  Kids can earn collectible “Junior Ranger” badges after completing assignments – in my family, these have been treasured souvenirs of adventures together.

National Parks are inexpensive, and in some cases, free:  fourth graders and their families can sign up for free access to the National Parks for a year, and NPS offers free U.S. military passes, free Access passes for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities, and a few free entrance days for all.  Until August 28, 2017, seniors can pay $10 for a lifetime Senior Pass.

For some learners, it can be hard to find inspiration in textbooks and articles alone, and many students thrive on hands-on immersion.  Let them dive in and surround themselves with learning, and consider visiting natural wonders and historic places during your family adventures.  Your children can expand their knowledge and discover new interests – and together with you, will make lifelong memories.

hearts

p.s.  If your family feels (as mine does) that these sites should be preserved for future generations, you can visit https://www.npca.org/advocacy and contact your elected U.S. representatives to request protection for National Parks land and funding.  For children, writing letters to Senators and Representatives can be a multidisciplinary learning experience, too.

p.p.s.  If you are in a National Park this summer, consider sharing that experience with the NuMinds community by participating in their #NumiTravels campaign. Find more info at NuMiTravels.com!

Children of STEAM: Our Future

We started Camp Pursuit because we’re passionate about education and we believe that passion can lead to a great many things. Our vision is to give students a curiosity-fueled platform to explore different aspects of STEAM in a fun and thoughtful environment where they have the chance to dive into the many different creative outlets that come along with science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. A choice-based learning environment driven by high-interest themes, rather than arbitrarily designated subject areas, exposes students to key concepts and skills ACROSS the aspects of STEAM. Aside from the benefits learning new skills give children, it also builds the desired skill sets CEO’s are looking for in the long run.

When asked, CEO’s said “Approximately 60% of job openings require basic STE[A]M literacy and 42% require advanced STE[A]M knowledge. Nearly two-thirds of job openings that require STE[A]M skills are in manufacturing and other services.” Unless your kids start a business as their first job and entrepreneurship becomes their career, a CEO in their future will look to them to have a knowledge of STEAM. If they end up being super successful as an entrepreneur, they’re going to need to know enough STEAM to keep up with the demand of our culture.

It’s not just CEO’s who we look to for answers when it comes to the children we work with and their future. In our research, we found that non-STEM careers have a projection of 9.8% growth whereas STEM careers reach 17% projected growth. In 2010, STEM workers made up 1/18th of the workforce and earned about 26% more than those who didn’t work in STEM. These numbers are rapidly growing and are expected to grow even more in the future.

So why is it so important for your kids to attend Camp Pursuit? Your kids are our future. STEAM education teaches them to work with others, have patience, not give up, look outside of the box, and create something new. We want a future where your kids are equipped for growth. STEAM is growing, and your kids are growing in a parallel path.

Overthinking: Weakness or Strength?

by Emily VR

Some children (and adults) seem prone to making quick, impulsive decisions.  At the other extreme, some seem to be held hostage by choices, evaluating and reevaluating options long past the point most of us would consider helpful.

For adults somewhere between, watching a child “overthink” can trigger frustration.  Parents and teachers may worry about a child’s stress, delays, and possibly sleeplessness as a result of runaway thinking.  Adults may not know how to provide help.

Consider this: in some cases, what if a student’s tendency to “overthink” might be a sign of an unmet need for higher-level analysis?  A sign of advanced, untapped problem-solving ability, ready to be channeled and harnessed?

Below are a few resources for helping students (or adults) feed a hunger for problem-solving, some of which may help guide deep thinkers toward constructive analysis.  Though perceived overthinking is not limited to children with gifted-level cognitive needs, they are sometimes described as exhibiting this behavior, so GT-friendly strategies are included below.

Teaching about Thinking

Critical thinking can be taught, both at school and in home.  Educators continue to develop new and innovative ways to incorporate Bloom’s Taxonomy, critical thinking skills, and other ways to “think about thinking” (metacognition) in the classroom.  Simply developing an awareness that humans move through different processes in our thinking – and that to some extent, we can deliberately control those processes – may bring peace of mind to some children who worry about their thinking.

Blooms

Image: Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.  Creative Commons Attribution license.

Teachers can create assignments that help develop thinking skills and awareness of the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, strategies for validating information, methods to compare and contrast, and ways to sequence and prioritize information (Cash, 2011).  For more ideas about teaching critical thinking, please see the resources below.

Habits of Mind

The Habits of Mind were developed to help students “appreciate the value of and to develop the propensity for skillful problem solving using a repertoire of mindful strategies applied in a variety of settings” (Costa & Kallik, 2008).  In a district in my area, the GT program includes the “Habits of Mind” in the curriculum, providing instruction on deliberate skills to help students overcome or compensate for social-emotional challenges such as perfectionism, masking, and impostor syndrome.  Some of these strategies may help all students to develop analytical skills and to make better use of their thinking.  The Habits include Thinking Flexibly (“putting on a different kind of thinking cap for the moment”), Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations, Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision, Finding Humor (may help ease stress, if worry is a trigger), and Taking Responsible Risks, among others.  The authors of Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind outline ideas for teaching the Habits in the classroom, as well as strategies for creating a “mindful language of learning” that parents can try at home (Costa & Kallik, 2008).

Affective Curriculum

Talking with other students who share their challenges, particularly with the guidance of an adult, may help students “self-reflect, reflect about others, learn expressive language, explore careers, self-regulate, make decisions, and progress with developmental tasks” (Peterson, 2016).  An affective curriculum is designed to address the well-being of students, and it may help with some of the social and emotional needs that can sometimes lead to perceived overthinking.  For ideas on how an affective curriculum can be used in a “lunch bunch” setting for gifted-identified students, check out The Lunch Bunch: Affective Curriculum for Elementary Gifted Students (Johnson, 2017).

Differentiation and Acceleration

Teachers: does your curriculum go beyond rote memorization, providing opportunities for cross-curricular analysis?  Does it allow students to dive deeper into topics of interest, and/or to explore and compare additional examples of a concept?  Do students have choices in assignments and opportunities to respond in ways that tap into their individual strengths?  Are pre-testing, curriculum compacting, or other acceleration strategies used for students that already know the material?

If the answers are negative, consider pursuing campus or individual professional development on differentiation strategies, including research-proven strategies for modifying the curriculum for gifted learners.  For more information on differentiation and curriculum modification, please see the resources below.

Working with Perfectionism

While perfectionism can cause stress, and can sometimes lead to perceived overthinking or “paralysis,” some experts note that it can also bring “intense satisfaction and creative contribution, depending on how it is channeled” (Schuler, 2002).  It has been noted that in gifted students, research shows “a lack of challenge may contribute to the development of perfectionism,” which calls “for an increase in challenging curriculum that support for curriculum compacting, acceleration, enrichment, and teaching at a more conceptual level” (Neumeister, 2016).  In writing about gifted children, authors Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith offer a strategy that can help all perfectionists:  instead of aiming for perfection and constant success, children (and adults) can shift thinking toward a “pursuit of excellence.”  This might involve the celebration of trying new things (despite temporary failure), a deliberate choice between activities (rather than focusing on the absence of equal talent in everything), and the decision to focus on trying again, if desired (Delisle & Galbraith, 2002).

Enrichment

If school hasn’t (yet) satisfied a student’s need for knowledge and exploration, consider enrichment opportunities, either online, locally, or at home.  A wealth of parent ideas can be found through gifted parents’ blogs (such as those in Hoagies Blog Hops), and your area may offer classes and clubs in your student’s areas of passion.  Local universities sometimes offer summer camps geared toward students with special interests and learning differences.  For more information about STEAM-based, passion-based learning through NuMinds Enrichment (founders of this blog), check out their mission here.

Final thoughts:

Adults may want to consider whether an overthinking child is actually overthinking.  Some types of decisions require careful analysis and the anticipation of all likely (and less likely) outcomes.  Is overthinking causing the child stress?  Does it have a negative impact on his/her quality of life?  Or is it leading to better, more carefully considered decisions?  If a child feels happier with detailed analysis, in some situations, could that be a strength?  (We certainly appreciate that architects and aerospace engineers anticipate ways things might fall down…)  With the conflicts and deep differences in our world, more and more, we need problem-solvers able to consider a multitude of perspectives.  For your student, could you seek out and provide guidance on selecting pursuits where his or her strengths are needed and valued?

Please remember to take children seriously.  When adults listen, children may be more receptive to learning which information might be helpful to consider in detail and which might require less attention.  If a child is suffering, please seek expert help (beyond the scope of this post) – but in some cases, careful thinkers may need guidance, not repair.  We may discover that our children and students can come up with innovations and solutions that work better than our own.

overthinking

This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Overthinking.  Our blog is proud to participate in Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hops!  Please click on the graphic above (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to read other Hoagies’ Blog Hop posts!

 

References and Further Reading

Cash, R. M. (2011).  Advancing differentiation: thinking and learning for the 21st century.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Costa, A. L. and Kallick, B. (2008).  Learning and leading with habits of mind:  16 essential characteristics for success.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Delisle, J. and Galbraith, J. (2002).  When gifted kids don’t have all the answers.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Neumeister, K. S. (2016).  Perfectionism in gifted students.  In M. Neihart, S. I. Pfeiffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know? Second Edition.  A Service Publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Johnson, R. (2017).  The lunch bunch: affective curriculum for elementary gifted students.  The Gifted Education Review, 4, 1-3.

Peterson, J. S. (2016).  Affective curriculum: proactively addressing the challenges of growing up.  In K.R. Stephens and F. A. Karnes (Eds.), Introduction to curriculum design in gifted education.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Schuler, P. (2002). Perfectionism in gifted children and adolescents.  In M. Neihart, S. M. Reis, N. M. Robinson, and S. M. Moon (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know?  A Service Publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Stephens, K. R. and Karnes, F. A. (2016).  Introduction to curriculum design in gifted education.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Roberts, J. L. and Inman, T. F. (2015).  Strategies for differentiating instruction: best practices for the classroom.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

 

** I would like to thank Monica Simonds, M.Ed., for making me aware of the benefits of and instructional strategies for the Habits of Mind, for incorporating them in the GT curriculum, and for her work to nurture the social-emotional needs of students.

 

To Thine Own Self Be True, Except During Testing

A guest post by Rebecca Gray

It’s spring and standardized testing is in full bloom. The poppies of the classroom, gifted students, are often overlooked during this time of assessment. Advocates for GT learners can ensure the diverse breadth of gifted students are accommodated before and during high stakes testing.

Once testing season rolls around, anyone with a learning anomaly faces increased anxiety and scrutiny as administrators, teachers, parents, and legislatures begin the process of accountability to the state. Gifted students may be seen as an asset or as a liability at this time. It all depends on their giftedness. High achieving GT students make schools, administrators, and teachers look good with their commended scores that surpass the norm. A different story emerges, however, when the twice exceptional student enters the picture. The intensities, hyperactivity, inability to sustain attention during a prolonged silent 4 hour test, anxiety and overanalysis of simple, easily answered questions becomes a liability for all stakeholders who stand a chance to gain or lose based on outcomes of high stakes testing.

Gifted students encompass much more than one test can marginalize. Academic giftedness, in its many forms, shares a broad swath across a diverse educational landscape. In many school districts, gifted students receive services based on identification of need just as students on the opposite end of the same bell curve receive accommodations based on their identified learning differences. Accommodations on one end of the bell curve should be well balanced with accommodations on the other end as well.

Proponents and advocates of gifted students expect accommodations to be made for GT students in the self contained GT classroom. The same must be said for standardized testing as well as in the preparation for state mandated assessment. Allowing the accelerated learner to bypass often onerous review exercises, frees up opportunities to explore curriculum geared toward the GT student’s special interest and intellect level. In addition, targeted accommodations may be made to ensure gifted students test in an environment conducive to success.  The test setting can be accommodated and the test proctored by a teacher or administrator well versed in the intensities and exceptionalities of GT students. For a testing administrator, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to allow the simple testing accommodation of small group testing for identified GT students.

Gifted students cannot turn off intensities and exceptionalities with the flick of a switch. High achieving GT students have the capability to bring high scores to the standardized testing table. Accommodations geared toward the needs of the diversity of gifted learners allow them to achieve favorable outcomes on state mandated assessments. Allowing students a testing experience conducive to success should be a right, not a privilege, for all.


Rebecca Gray is a mom of two gifted girls, an educator, and advocate for gifted learners. She can be reached at rebeccaminergray@gmail.