Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Working with Your Gifted Child’s Teacher

I have a dear friend in Ireland whom I met through Twitter because we were both mothers of gifted children and shared a sense that we could make the world a better place by sharing our experiences about what we have learned throughout their lifetimes. Recently, she wrote a blog post concerning how her relationships with her children’s teachers affected their time in school. It made me begin to think of similar experiences I have had with my children's teachers.

I am not a teacher. My background  in sociology and experience as a parent have taught me that parent-teacher relationships are critical to the quality of education your child receives in school. It’s like a symbiotic relationship cubed. I am a firm believer in the “it takes a village to raise a child” approach to parenting.

Teachers can be difficult when dealing with gifted children. I have witnessed it in the classroom and have experienced it as a parent. However, parents can also be insensitive in the manner in which they approach teachers. It doesn't have to be this way.

I’d like to offer a few suggestions to parents to help you improve your relationship with your child’s teachers. First, remember that teachers are human, too; they have feelings that can be bruised and can react just like anyone else. Second, when it comes to gifted education, very few teachers have had any exposure to it while in college or subsequently through professional development. This is a worldwide problem in gifted education.

When you first meet a teacher, don’t assume that they are experts in every facet of education. Your first experience probably involved an elementary teacher soon after your child was identified as gifted. Your initial reaction was to learn everything you could about what it meant for your child to be gifted. Do not assume that this is the teacher's top priority.

Unless your child is fortunate enough to enroll in a program specifically designed for gifted children, his or her regular education teacher will be under many demands that you do not even realize. In today's world, the pressure to get all students to proficient on standardized tests can overwhelm a teacher. Budget cuts to education only make matters worse. Increased class sizes, supply shortages that often fall on the teacher's shoulders and student behavior which has been on a downward spiral for over a generation can take their toll on a teacher.

Enter the new gifted parent. I want my child accelerated. My child’s needs aren't being met. Why can’t you provide differentiated instruction? My child is bored in your class. Get the picture? Right away, the teacher is put on the defensive. They may agree with you, but certainly don’t feel like facing demands before they get to know your child.

Share your child’s educational and developmental history, and provide the teacher with information you have found concerning gifted education. Their response to your efforts will be a good indicator as to their willingness to work with you. If they respond negatively, it may be time to look for other alternatives.

Is this your job? No, but a little bit of understanding can go along way in building a positive relationship with the teacher. Will every teacher respond to this approach? Absolutely not. But making the effort could make all the difference for your child and that is what is most important.

I have found it invaluable to get involved with gifted advocacy. Organize parents and meet with each other not only to advocate for gifted education, but to also support one another. Bring teachers and gifted administrators into your group. Express your desire to work together. Join state and national advocacy groups and educate yourself. Become a resource for the teacher rather than an adversary. Learn about what other school districts in your area offer in regard to gifted opportunities. By networking, parents can often enlighten educators as to what is available.

It is possible for you and your child’s teacher to work together. Developing a relationship based on mutual respect can go a long way. If that relationship does not develop, consider other educational options for your child. At the end of the day, your child's well-being must be the main consideration.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Returning Creativity and Innovation to America’s Classrooms

It’s been nearly 20 years since Americans started facing the fact that other countries’ students were out-performing their students in the classroom and on standardized tests. In subsequent years, the results have gotten worse … much worse. What has happened to creativity and innovation … once thought to be hallmarks of U.S. education? After years of pouring in billions of dollars and re-vamping the educational system numerous times, Americans and their politicians seem to be mystified as to why things aren’t getting better.

Well, I can think of a few reasons why. How about teaching students ‘how’ to take tests and score better does not make for better students. And when kids spend the majority of their time in school taking tests, there’s precious little time for actual teaching. Or, why didn’t anyone consider looking at the educational systems in those countries that were doing better to understand what they were doing to promote learning and analytical thinking. Who in authority truly understood the endgame? I’d say it was a perfect storm from my point of view.

Test scores can improve, for a while, if the student only has to memorize answers and then recall them for tests. But, what if the student could ‘figure out’ the answer without having seen the question before? What about those ‘aha’ moments as referenced by Jan and Bob Davidson in Genius Denied? Why do the answers to these questions seem to confound educational policy wonks? And how great of a role does politics play in the nation’s education policy? Answer those questions and you’ll soon realize why we’re in the mess we’re in!

So, what does this have to do with gifted education? It has a lot to do with it! Why do we ignore at best and obstruct at worst the educational needs of our best and brightest? This speaks volumes to why the U.S. educational system is in such disarray! Being smart or even aspiring to have the answers is demonized in our society. In countries that far out-score our students, intelligence is valued and nurtured; not categorized as elitism. Why do Americans rationalize giving athletes full scholarships to play games in college and hedge on providing the same benefits to their best performing academic scholars?

Creativity and innovation are never going to be found lurking in the corners of classrooms that are being pushed to make Annual Yearly Progress targets. Schools will continue to be places where students have to go to; not want to go to. Things will never change until those in a position to legislate the changes are persuaded to consider what is really at stake.

Globalization isn’t going away. Everyone must finally understand the risk involved in ignoring the unmet needs of gifted students. Highly-abled students are being forced to seek out educational platforms that meet their needs; wherever they exist. Technology will provide the conduit and intelligence the way. We face a crossroads. Which direction we take will decide the future standing of our nation on the world stage. It’s time for America to return creativity and innovation to our classrooms.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Enjoy Your Gifted Child

Today, I thought about this blog. And I said to myself, “you have had too many posts about the difficulties associated with raising gifted children”. Maybe that’s because parents usually come to me when they are having a problem. But I’m here to tell you that it is a lot of fun to raise a gifted child! I know because I’ve raised two of them.

When they are born, they are pretty cute. Wrinkly, but cute. However, I swear there is that glint in their eye that says, “Are you ready for me?” It can be a bit unnerving to say the least. The first time you don’t really pay attention. The next time … it’s like, “here we go again!”

Most new parents wish their child came with an instruction manual. Gifted parents hope for an encyclopedia! Nothing seems to go as planned. Scheduled milestones often whiz right by you. One day your baby may be cooing; the next day asking you for flavored milk in their bottle. You soon realize that they are ‘listening’ to your conversations and preparing a rebuttal.

This may disturb some people, but I think it’s wonderful. I never believed in ‘baby talk’; no matter what the parenting books said. And why would I? Gifted kids are usually what I like to call, ‘early adapters’. Sure, each one is different, but they have a way of surprising the hell out of you when you least expect it. When someone tells you to stop and smell the roses, you better be prepared to smell the entire florist shop when your child is gifted!

Don’t think I’m delusional or the parent of perfect children. I am neither. But I have learned a lot these past 19 years and the most important thing may be that all the arguments with school officials or baseball coaches will fade in time. It’s the happy moments that remain. The time your 5 year old climbed in bed with you to discuss what Einstein meant with his theory about light and energy. Or perhaps when your preteen expressed doubts about the existence of god. Or when your teenager stood in front of their graduating class to give a speech of reflection and hope.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by a precocious child or even a child who in time is smarter than you and for whom you don’t have all the answers. In the old days they were called ‘a handful’. And sometimes you will need to cry yourself to sleep. It happens. But try to keep your ‘eye on the prize’! They grow up and become incredibly gifted adults; someone you ‘want’ to talk to. There’s nothing like intelligent conversation with your own offspring.

Here’s a thought to consider when you’ve had a bad day. That child who just spilt part of their science project on your new kitchen floor has the potential to one day change the world or be the one person to solve a medical mystery or be the arbiter of peace in a remote part of the globe. Not all parents are so privileged or blessed.

So … enjoy your child with all their idiosyncrasies and nerdiness and back-talking. They will probably take the road less traveled, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you were a part of their journey!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why Social Media Integration is Important to Gifted Education

Actually, social media integration is important to all education in the 21st century! Why should parents of gifted children care about this? Probably because it’s the best thing to come along in five hundred years … I’m thinking Gutenberg here!

For many years, gifted parents have fought to have specialized instruction for their children. They have offered up about a million different suggestions on how schools could adequately support their children’s needs. Too expensive. Not enough staff. Resource allocation must consider the majority of students in the class. No time to train teachers. You know the story.

Well, now there is a way to educate your child in ways unimaginable only a decade ago. Although the platform is firmly planted on the Internet – it is only a means to an end. An individualized education plan that will reduce costs to your school district and prepare your child for a future world that we can’t even fathom at the moment is the goal. However, the obstacles have not changed – backward looking administrators and school boards who fear the unknown, but I hope to give you some ammunition for your arguments … and boy does $$$$ TALK!

Utilizing social media in your school is an inexpensive , cost-effective means of delivering course content, building global communities, raising social and environmental consciousness, radically raising the level of motivation and interest in school, reducing the need to maintain expansive campuses or to continually purchase expensive textbooks that become irrelevant before they leave the publisher, pairs great educators with great students, prepares students to utilize emerging technologies, and reduce the incidences of physical bullying. How’s that for starters!

And now the rest of the story … Twitter can serve as a 24/7 source of professional development resource for teachers. Facebook pages for specific classes can allow teachers to communicate with students and parents, student to student discussions and collaborations, and interaction with students all over the world. University level courses can be delivered over the Internet in real-time, face-to-face, by college professors to unlimited numbers of students with the assistance of services such as Skype. No more lectures-on-a-disk with reliance on emails and static bulletin boards. Social media can also enhance the educational experiences of disabled students for who brick and mortar schools often means endless barriers. It can provide opportunities for students in rural school districts and remote areas without nearby schools.

Gifted parents must be flexible and willing to consider using all types of available technology to ensure their children receive a world class education without all the expense of traditional schools. Gifted students must lead the way on getting social media integrated into their schools. As their needs are met, it will open up possibilities for other students within their school districts. Finally, an avenue to the future that is right in plain view and attainable today!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Heartaches and Joys of Raising a 2E Child

If ever there was an example of ‘with knowledge comes strength’, I’d say that being the parent of a twice exceptional child must be it. Unless you experience it, you’ll probably never understand the heartaches and joys.

Before your child ever steps through the door of school on his first day, you will have already realized that something isn’t quite right. He is often functioning on a higher intellectual level than his classmates, but his test scores and later grades do not bear this out. Soon, the phone calls begin from his teachers. Johnny didn’t finish his worksheets in class today. Johnny isn’t putting forth his best effort. Johnny won’t follow my directions. Johnny doesn’t pay attention when I’m talking. And then the concerns become accusations. Johnny is lazy. Johnny disrupted class today. Johnny isn’t going to amount to anything. Have you considered medication the teacher asks?

As a parent, you don’t know what to do. You turn to friends and relatives who all too often echo the sentiments of your child’s teachers. Your life can seem like it is being turned upside down. You don’t know where to turn for help. You wonder why this is happening to your child. He is so smart and so different at the same time.

Finally, someone tells you that Johnny must be evaluated. This is the beginning of the ‘please complete this form’ journey that seems to go on forever. If you live in the U.S., it is also the time when you must begin to deal with insurance companies. The parent of a twice-exceptional child soon learns two things: 1) evaluations and outside testing are required by schools in order to qualify for ‘services’ within the school district and 2) the insurance company will not cover the tests if they are deemed in any way related to education. This catch-22 can often prevent a parent from seeking help … help that is very much needed. It is an insidious underlying but rarely reported reason for why some 2E kids drop-out in high school; they never receive the help they need because parents don’t understand the system. Do not dismay. It doesn’t have to be this way. The testing can proceed with a certified psychologist as a psychological service. If you cannot afford the testing, your school should be able to provide the information for free services in your area. Never be afraid to ask for help.

There are so many resources available today online. Not only can you read about dual-exceptionalities, but there are organizations available to assist you. It’s as simple as a Google or Twitter search for “2E” or dual-exceptionality. You will find that not only are you not alone, you have significant company. There is solace to be found when you discover others who have made the very same journey you are on.

There are joys, too. Once you are able to help your child cope with the frustrations of being twice-exceptional and learn techniques essential to living a fulfilling life – you will experience the joy of seeing them succeed. It is a long and winding path with many pitfalls along the way. However, many successful people in our world today were once diagnosed as 2E. With your support, your child, too, will shine!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Starting the School Year on a Positive Note

Catchy title. Sounds like a good idea. Sounds like a great idea! New school year – a new start you tell yourself. This year will be different. You’ll meet with your child’s teacher before school starts to head off any problems.

You schedule a meeting, gather together some articles you’ve collected over the summer about gifted children and perhaps a copy of last year’s grades or a few assignments, and walk into the meeting with all smiles. To your surprise, the smiles soon turn to grimaces and your suggestions are met with disdain and impatience. The teacher reminds you that there will be 27 children in the class this year due to budget cuts. The soft music playing in the background starts to become annoying. “Would you like a cookie?” Not really. Dismayed as you leave the meeting with a knot in your stomach; you say to yourself, “Now I know how my child feels everyday he walks into this school.”

Overly dramatic? You may be fortunate enough to live in an area where the teachers have actually had some professional development classes in gifted education, but chances are this scenario is all too familiar.

So what’s a gifted parent to do? Year after year, you try everything you know to help your child. In the beginning, you are treated as an annoyance. As the years go by, you are labeled a ‘helicopter parent’. Do you leave your child in this school or try something else? You explore the options. Private school … too expensive. Homeschool … you have to work or don’t feel you have the adequate skills to provide your child a quality education. Cyber-school … you would still need to be home to supervise. Move to another school district … not economically feasible. Charter school … how would you know if it is any better than the public school and your child complains she don’t want to leave her friends?

If none of the alternatives are plausible, you decide to stick it out and make the best of the situation. Being the parent of a gifted child is not easy. It takes a lot of work. But you can find solace when you discover that you are not alone.

The world is rapidly changing due to the explosive growth of technology. The Internet has become a mechanism for bringing people together in unprecedented ways. And this is a game changer for gifted parents. This is where your options grow and your child’s future becomes brighter.

By utilizing social media platforms, gifted parents can join together to locate resources and educate themselves, realize they are not alone, increase interaction with their child’s school and teachers, find a life coach or gifted education facilitator, or join a community of gifted parents without having to worry about how to get to the next meeting at the school.

The possibilities are endless and too numerous to list here. As a brief introduction, consider joining a group on Twitter such as #gtchat and then follow other group members to accelerate your learning curve on gifted education. Communicate with teachers via email or suggest a classroom group on Facebook where the teacher and parents can build rapport through shared resources. Form a parent group at your local school and then schedule meetings via #hashtag on Twitter once a month. Develop a PLN … personal learning network … those people you meet who provide you with knowledge and skills to meet the challenges of gifted parenting. Discover the world of Second Life; your personal access to learning by way of an avatar in a virtual world. Suggest to your school that they consider connecting to the world through Skype. This can be extremely important to rural schools. Explore videos on YouTube concerning gifted education; not only to increase your knowledge but to find inspiration.

Sure … gifted parenting isn’t easy and it’s not something you choose, but connecting with other parents online has made the job a whole lot simpler. Good luck as the new school year begins. Embrace technology and use it to start this school year on a positive note!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Most Important Election

It is the most important election in which you should participate. No, it is not the election for president or head of state. It is the election of the local governing board which oversees your child’s school. At the local level, this body wields an enormous amount of power and authority over your life; whether you’re a parent or not. It may not be the case in all countries, but whatever body has control over your school system and is elected; then that’s the election about which you should be concerned.

The notion of just how important my vote was really struck home this week as I sat in a local school board meeting. I must admit that I haven’t attended many of these meetings, but probably more than most in the local community. I live in a small town, so I am familiar with most of the members of our school board. On this particular night, I wished that I had paid much more attention to their election. Not so much because of the issues they were deciding, but because many seemed so lacking in knowledge and out of touch.

Our school board is the final authority on the hiring and firing of all district personnel from the administration to teachers to the janitorial staff. They vote on the funding for everything from textbooks to which sports will be played and extracurricular activities offered to teachers’ contracts. In essence, they determine the quality of education your child will receive.

In the past year, budgets for gifted education have been slashed throughout the U.S. and many parts of the world. With the exception (or not) of those school board members who are gifted parents, the likelihood that they firmly believe all of the myths surrounding gifted education is pretty much a given. The idea that their constituency may include the next Jonah Salk or that supporting gifted students could affect national security is far beyond their consciousness. Their main concerns are tax payers and the disgruntled parent whose child was wronged in some way.

In my opinion, gifted parents need to understand the entire power structure in their local schools and vote according to their vested interest in gifted education. They need to attend school board meetings as a group and continually hold board members accountable. Parents must remind the board that their primary responsibility is the quality of education made available to all students. Parents should voice their opinion over cuts to gifted programs. A parent can attend all the IEP (individual education plan) meetings and parent-teacher conferences they want, but it won’t matter if the funding isn't there. When a school board member looks at cutting a sports program that generates revenue for the school or cutting a gifted teacher, it isn't rocket science which will go first.

The most effective step gifted parents can take to have their voices heard by their local school boards is to join together in advocacy groups and influence local elections by voting for candidates who respond to their concerns and understand the importance of gifted education. If you are fortunate to have the right to vote, exercise that vote and make a difference in your child’s life!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Gifted Dinner Table

Ah … the idyllic portrait of the family sitting at the table sharing a meal together engaged in lively conversation about the day’s events. A Norman Rockwell moment. The perfect setting for family togetherness.

Ok … time to rewind this reel! Chances are you’re the parent of a gifted child or children if you are reading this post, and these ‘dinner-time-moments’ are more like a stint on the high school debate team or a serious discussion about the fate of the planet rather than an episode of the Brady Bunch. Emotional intensity combined with intellectual ability often collides in such settings. It has ‘movie script in the category of drama’ written all over it.

So, what do these conversations sound like and when do parents decide to be teacher, coach, or active participant? Well, the subject usually sets the tone. The probability that all present are intellectually gifted will almost certainly increase the likelihood of debate. The concept of being ‘opinionated’ takes on a whole new meaning and then parents must become referees. At this point, the appeal of eating in a minivan where every occupant is firmly secured by a seatbelt or other restraint can be pretty attractive when considering where your family will gather for their next meal.

Few families actually eat meals together around a table, but it’s a good idea to try to do so whenever your schedule permits. Gifted children learn very quickly that their opinion is something to be valued. They will also learn how to stand up for what they believe in and how to defend their position. Honing these skills will help them in every facet of their lives.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Journey

When a baby is born, it is rare that a parent’s first thought is … “Wow, my baby is gifted”! Every new life is precious and special. That is the way it should be. Every child comes with a set of gifts to be discovered. These very gifts are what make each child unique. This precise idea becomes the focal point when a child is identified as intellectually gifted. It is where perception and reality collide and the mythology takes over. How parents react to the myths surrounding giftedness will change their child’s life forever.

Parenting gifted children requires a skill-set that is often developed through on-the-job training. Until recently, few handbooks or how-to books even existed on coping with giftedness in children. Birthing classes do a good job of disseminating information on delivery, care, and feeding of a baby. But how do you respond to a baby who carries on a conversation with you just as they are beginning to walk or correctly identifies a sign for a favorite store from their carseat? What do you do if they show all the signs of readiness for kindergarten, but haven’t enrolled in pre-school yet? What do you do if you think they are ready for their first library card before they even start school?

Gifted parents face harsh realities early on. If they try to advocate too early, they are labeled as pushy, arrogant or misguided about their child’s abilities. Battles with school districts and their ‘in-the-box’ mentality can take a heavy toll on parents and entire families. In what other part of society are the best and brightest marginalized as much as they are in our educational system?

My solution is to relax and enjoy the time with your gifted child. Yes, there will be battles fought and you will most certainly be discouraged at times. Yes, your child may be defiant and precocious. Yes, you may have to cope with a child who is diagnosed as 2E – both gifted and learning disabled or health impaired. Yes, you may have to give a little extra of yourself to support their intellectual requirements by making difficult decisions concerning their education or how to meet their social-emotional needs. But there will also be those ah-ha moments as well when they grow into adulthood. The journey lasts a lifetime, so you might as well enjoy it!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What America’s Founding Fathers Had to Say About Gifted Education

In the U.S., people always place a lot of importance on what the founding fathers said. My first reaction is – why? It was over 200 years ago and much has changed since then. This is especially true in the field of education. And … the concept of gifted education didn’t even exist back then. Or did it?

I decided to do a little research on the subject and lo and behold, there was Thomas Jefferson advocating gifted education. He didn’t call it ‘gifted education’, but he did talk about it in terms that anyone connected to the field today would recognize.

In 1779, Jefferson introduced the Bill of General Diffusion of Knowledge. I liked that. Diffusing knowledge – what a novel idea! His intention was to provide free public education to all children for 3 years and then from a pool of the most talented students, provide further free education to develop those talents. He reasoned that the brightest students were destined to become future leaders. Of course, the bill failed; just as it would today. It seems the American colonists were fearful of higher education leading to the establishment of an aristocracy in a young nation which had been created in part as a reaction to this very thing. Sound familiar? Myth #87: gifted education promotes elitism!

In true political correctness, pretty much everybody opposed Jefferson’s idea. Horace Mann believed it would be the downfall of society as they knew it. Universal education – homogenizing instruction that everyone can understand – became the bedrock of education in America. And so it is to this day. Annual yearly progress. Everyone on the same page. Don’t read ahead. Stay with the class.

This brings me back to the founding fathers. How did they get to be the leaders of a new nation? Many of them received what would today be considered a ‘gifted education’. Jefferson had a private tutor for most of his early youth and then attended the College of William and Mary to study law. Alexander Hamilton studied at King’s College – one of today’s most ivy of ivy-league institutions; Columbia University. James Madison attended Princeton University; then known as the College of New Jersey. All were expected to master Latin and Greek. All were expected to be ‘well read’, i.e., Virgil, Plato, and Herodotus. Could you imagine a high school senior being required to be that prepared for college today?

So … at least one founding father had something to say about gifted education. And no one listened to him. Funny how some things never change.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

When Should I Start Planning for College for My Gifted Child?

Many people come to me about planning for college. Unfortunately, their children are often already in the last years of high school.

If you are the parent of a gifted child, you need to start planning for college the moment they are identified. As a substitute teacher in gifted classes, I regularly brought up the subject with elementary students. Some parents balked at this being a topic of discussion. My advice to them was, "Just wait. You'll wish you had started planning now!"

Most gifted children develop asynchronously; intellectual level not being in sync with maturity level. While playing with Barbie or the latest video game, they are just as comfortable discussing what they'd like to study in college and where. They can enjoy both activities without missing a beat in their social-emotional development.

As the years go by, you will recognize whether your child is an academic overachiever, a gifted underachiever, or somewhere in between. Understanding your child is key to planning for college.

Gifted parents need to educate themselves about the college admissions process. Some things to consider are your ability to pay for college in 10 to 12 years, academic scholarships and grants, understanding the role of a school's endowments and how they affect the cost of attendance, and the branding of your gifted child to achieve recognition from the best universities.

Your child may be brilliant. However, if you don't take the time to research this issue, you may loose out on many financial opportunities and ultimately risk your child's ability to attend the college of their choice.

Plan now or pay later. This becomes just another facet of your job description as the parent of a gifted child.