As summer winds down and gives way to fall, those lazy (maybe) days are changing hues to the more academic tones of the school year that all of us with children in our lives know well. The crisp smells of autumn that follow the start of the school year bring a new gust of excitement and anticipation, fear and joy, trepidation and connection among the newly formed relationships and memories of school years past. For parents, grandparents, and educators of gifted children, the search for support deepens once again as we strive to find the best ways to provide for and nurture our gifted kids. This search is as expansive and thorough as the chilling breeze brought by fall, leaving no leaf unturned and no solution hidden. These ‘leaves’ so to speak range from classes and textbooks, to research articles or social media in order to strengthen the net of support and knowledge surrounding gifted education.
This search for information has recently been a topic of interest for the WATG board. Discussion about the best way to communicate information with our members has been brought to the table. So once again, I open the table to all of you. We have been conversing about the possible positive and adverse side effects of using social media as a means to reach out to the larger community and whether or not this form of communicating is beneficial for discussing topics related to gifted children. There are two schools of thought. One is that posts on social media be research based, backed by well documented research in order to promote the facts of giftedness. On the other hand, the notion that social media should, while still being based in solid information, provide a platform for sharing more anecdotal information regarding giftedness. So how do we navigate this in a world that is so heavily reliant on social media for communicating?
First, in order to begin on a similar level, I offer a definition of Social Media. Target Marketing says that “At its highest level, social media is defined as the online technologies and practices that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences and perspectives with each other” (Target Marketing). In addition, iCrossing’s e-book states: “The five key elements of social media are: Participation, openness, conversation, community and connectedness” ( iCrossing ) With those definitions in mind, let’s continue.
To what degree is social media the place for research? WATG must be faithful in providing information to our readers that is founded on research. However, are research articles the only thing that readers want/need? I’m not sure. In the same way that we strive to aid the community in navigating the intricacies of the gifted community, we should strive to connect with individuals on different levels. When looking at the engagement that we have had with our readers over the last few months it has gone up dramatically. We are thrilled to see this increase! This participation is the result of a community of people, feeling connected through open conversation.
And isn’t this the very point of social media as iCrossing defined the elements? We are seeing that our readers appreciate “being” in a place where they have a network of folks that understand giftedness and what comes along with those gifts.
This balance is tricky. Will readers engage in discussion about current research in the same way as they engage in the conversations about everyday life with gifted children? Perhaps the balancing act must be on both our ends. WATG needs to be loyal and trustworthy to our readers and supply reliable content because the mission of our organization is “to educate about and advocate for the needs of gifted individuals in Wisconsin”. One of our key goals is to “facilitate the sharing of research and resources that support multiple facets of gifted/talented education”. However, our goals also include “increasing public awareness of and understanding for the needs of gifted individuals and their potential contributions to society and strengthening channels of communication among all those interested in the development and nurturing of high potential”.
How do we navigate these options in our community? Even amidst well-grounded, differing opinions and ideas, the objective remains the same: helping gifted children. We need to work together in order to work for them, the gifted children of Wisconsin. I invite all of you to the table, to join this discussion of creating community effectively while holding on to our objectives in order to be a united force for gifted children and gifted education in Wisconsin. Welcome to the table….
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!
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."