I remember the first time that I stumbled into a coffee shop to order my first ‘real’ coffee. It was the mid-90’s and we were vacationing in Seattle, a city that at that time was beginning to blossom with coffee shops. They appeared on street corners and tucked in between shops throughout the city. My husband stayed in the car with our five children while I ran in to get coffee for us. I naively told him I would “be right back”, but I should have known better. I like to think of myself as a ‘kiddie coffee’ drinker which simply put, means that I drink coffee with almost more milk than actual coffee and a splash of sugar for taste. I realized upon entry into the fated coffee shop of choice that I was walking into a coffee world like I had never known. I stared in mild awe at a wall menu lined with dozens of coffee drinks composed of different roasts, flavors, and sizes and mentally kicked myself for not being able to order what I wanted. In fact, I couldn’t even order the black coffee to-go for my husband who was at this point probably beginning to wonder what was taking so long. I was embarrassed and decided to leave when a kind barista asked if he could take my order. I proudly requested a black coffee for my husband and immediately heard the following questions: light, medium or dark roast? French, Columbian, or Seattle’s “best”? Robust, nutty? Tall, grande, venti, or trenta? “A shot in the dark?” Mind spinning, I stared at the barista and hoped he would understand as I tried again, “just black coffee?” He smiled knowingly and said he would give me their most popular. Feeling mildly more courageous, I asked him for a second coffee for myself with added cream and sugar. It was clear that I did not know how to order a coffee in Seattle— the coffee shop capitol of the world (at that time). I left with my coffees, feeling “schooled” by the experience and I made a resolution that before I went to another I would do some research.
Fast forward a few years from that Seattle vacation. During the summers, two of my children trained to be baristas in a local coffee shop. They learned diligently under the tutelage of the owner/mentor, how to prepare, present, and serve a staggering variety of coffee drinks. They also learned invaluable skills that are expected at a coffee shop, but are not presented on the menu to customers. These skills include customer service skills such as learning how to thrive or work well under pressure, and how to take initiative and work independently while paying close attention to details. Amid the grinding call of espresso machines and clouds of steamed milk, my children learned to navigate serving others to the best of their ability. As the school year begins, I cannot help but compare this kind of service to teaching. More specifically, I can’t help but compare baristas to good gifted resource teachers. Let me explain…
At the beginning of the training process for gifted and regular classroom teachers, they need to learn the skills of the trade. That is, they need to learn how to approach different students, topics, problem solve under pressure, and more. For Gifted teachers, this process might take a bit more effort because there is more to learn from conferences, research, mentors, and even listening to the needs of parents. No new barista walks behind a counter for the first time knowing how to execute a perfectly formed latte art design or operate an espresso machine. Rather, it is the fruits of weeks or years of training and continual educational ‘upkeep’ that allow the barista to succeed. For teachers, it is much the same. Years of training and educational ‘upkeep’ allow teachers to craft education styles that best fit the needs of gifted children. Similarly, parents need to be educated as well. How often do we feel overwhelmed by schools like I was overwhelmed by the coffee shop years ago? Who among us doesn’t want to go into a school and speak from a good knowledge base to build the ‘perfect cup of coffee’ for their gifted child. Parents of gifted learners need to learn from and be supported by teachers, experienced parents, associations like WATG or NAGC, and gifted conferences* (*more on our annual conference in the newsletter). It is important for parents to understand what is on the menu so that they can work with teachers to identify the best fit for their child, even if that means asking for things that aren’t already presented. It’s equally as important for teachers and schools to continually build and update their menu so that the menu grows and adapts to the needs of gifted learners during any season of their lives. Moreover, administration and school board members have a duty to ‘invest’ in and support the staff and the teachers. Education can be a living, breathing, thing that expands with the needs of the children being served, just like an energetic coffee shop seems to have its own steady pulse.
If we can live in a time where coffee shops can change their seasonal offerings to fit the whims and desires of consumers, it seems to me that we can work together to offer up creative, timely, and well thought out options for our gifted children. We invite you to the table for a fresh cup of coffee to get some conversation brewing! Do you know what you want to order already? Come find out if you don’t!
Have a wonderful school year! Make sure you register for the conference, I promise you will be well served!
The sun has recently set on another summer of SOAR Camp. Around forty campers gathered together to say their goodbyes to their comrades and support group from the week. The unique thing about these campers is that they are all gifted. SOAR Camp is a traditional summer camp in northern Wisconsin for gifted middle level children. While being a traditional camp and offering the activities a camp might (i.e canoeing, swimming, crafting, hiking, star gazing, campfire songs, etc.) additional special activities and lessons were prepared for them throughout the week in order to support the needs of these gifted youth. This programming not only supplemented learning and inspired passion for exploration in a world where they are cornered into boredom, but also provided a platform for young gifted students to learn self-advocacy and connect with other gifted kids (https://soarcamp.weebly.com/) .
As I watched these kids sit around a campfire and sing “Lean On Me” or heard them exchange experiences and find companionship based on their shared intellectual prowess, I was struck by several things. First, the campers had an incredible sense of humor. Lightning quick and light-hearted, they were continually patient with me as they explained punchlines that ‘soar’ed over my head (forgive the pun). That same patience and humor was shown among the peer group in other ways. Gifted students oftentimes have intensities that are not exhibited in the general population (http://sengifted.org/overexcitability-and-the-gifted/ ). The campers, instead of being critical of one another, could often see a reflection of themselves in the actions and reactions of their peer group. One of my favorite examples of this was on the first day of the camp. The campers were playing an ice breaker game together and one piped up to some occurrence or another “you’re so immature! You’re not being socially appropriate” to which another camper laughingly responded while trotting by “we’re at Geek Camp, none of us are socially appropriate!!” This humor, protectiveness, and lightheartedness, was readily given at every turn at camp because these campers found safety and comradery in one another. They had the space and trust to finally find a strong voice for themselves among peers and adults.
So how do we create the same space and trust for our gifted students in the “real world?” Isn’t that our job as parents, teachers, educators, and advocates to offer protection and safety for these talented youth? This doesn’t necessarily mean creating a “protective bubble” for gifted learners. Rather, this means offering scaffolded support that allows youth to create a platform on which to flourish. This kind of support offers assistance and ‘upkeep’ when needed without threatening the unique integrity and structure of the learner. It allows for collaborative work with others on programming for gifted youth as well as supporting their social and emotional needs. This support is flexible enough to adapt and grow with the learner without forcing the learner to adapt to a system that doesn’t work for them. Most importantly, this style of support leaves room for the learner to have a voice to advocate for themselves in a space that offers safety and protection (http://www.gtcarpediem.com/self-advocacy-overview/) .
As we briskly approach the beginning of another school year, how do we as a community of educators, parents, and advocates for gifted youth, achieve the goals of this proposed “scaffolded support?” Referencing the song “Lean on Me” that was so powerful for the campers, if you are the ‘strong one’ in your district or area, I urge you to be the support for others to lean on. Call your state and local representatives, be part of brainstorming conversations on meeting the needs of gifted kids in your district, donate to ‘worthy causes’ when able, and remember to be at the table. If you are the one who needs to do the leaning, don’t be afraid to call on resources… we’ve been there. We can help grow the support network and offer strength in numbers. Find the “champions” in your school, network within your CESA’s, ask if you do not understand or need guidance, and join us at the State Fall 2018 WATG Conference (http://www.watg.org/about-the-conference.html) . Don’t be afraid to be the one to say, “How can we make this work?”… These learners depend on the support you are willing to give so that they have the room to use their voices and succeed because… we all need somebody to lean on.
From the President
"At the beginning of the training process for gifted and regular classroom teachers, they need to learn the skills of the trade."