On March 17, WATG held a Townhall Meeting to discuss the joys and challenges of being gifted and being a girl. Many questions and thoughtful comments were shared during this event, and all of them raised further questions for me. I began to wonder why girls’ confidence often starts out strong, and then seems to diminish during the preteen and teenage years. Sometimes it revives, and sometimes it does not (see Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher).
In this article,
Girls' Confidence Plummets Starting at About Age 8: Here's How to Keep Her Confidence Strongauthors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman share their quest to “help tween girls keep their confidence so that they can be resilient, empowered adult women.” Kay and Shipman worked with a polling company and were shocked to find that girls’ confidence was on par with boys’ confidence until about age 12, and that during the tween years, roughly ages 8-14, girls’ confidence typically plunges about 30%.
Staff from A Mighty Girl interviewed Kay and Shipman in May of 2020 and asked about contributing factors to this phenomenon. Their answer: “As girls approach adolescence, that openness to risk and failure becomes buried under an avalanche of biological and cultural signals telling them to be careful, value perfection, avoid risk at all possible costs. Parents and society reinforce a lot of these messages and behaviors at the same time that girls’ brains are being flooded with estrogen, which heightens emotional intelligence and curbs risk. Not because we (parents and society) are bad, but because there is such a premium on “doing well,” especially today. This emotional intelligence allows them to better read the emotional landscape around them, but also makes them more observant, more cautious, less likely to TRY.” They also added that social media, and representations of teenagers and women in magazines, on TV, and in movies adds to the pressure to look perfect, to be perfect, to act perfectly.
Social media, though fun and often used for good, can be a major debilitating force for tween and teenage girls. Kay and Shipman offer this advice: monitor your daughter’s screen time. Apply rules such as these:
Citing additional evidence from brain research, Kay and Shipman offered that girls have a more active prefrontal cortex earlier than boys, so they are more likely to be good at big-picture thinking and strategy, but are also more likely to choose safe options rather than take risks because they can assess outcomes more adeptly. Additionally, the anterior cingulate gyrex (the “worrywart center”) is more completely developed in girls’ brains during this critical time period, causing them to be more cautious. Fearing failure, ironically, girls may fail at risk-taking. Kay and Shipman shared their research statistics: “Our data shows that the percentage of girls who say they are not allowed to fail rises 150 percent between the ages of 12 and 13, with 45 percent of 13 year olds say they don’t feel able to fail.” The antidote to this paralyzing perfectionism is to encourage risk-taking in girls. We build confidence by building self-efficacy. Remember those “I do it myself” little girls that lived in our houses? We need to revive those girls! By encouraging risk-taking, and learning from failures, we build strong and resilient girls, and eventually strong and resilient women.
In another Mighty Girl article,
Why Bright Girls Struggle: When Ability Doesn't Lead to Confidence, the research of Psychologist Carol Dweck, author of the bestselling Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is cited. Dweck found that "bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up — and the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel." Further research has shown that this arises from how girls and boys understand their abilities differently: "More often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice." While girls are often praised for their goodness, their compliance, and their smartness (perceived as fixed qualities), boys are often encouraged to work harder, especially when things don’t turn out as expected (growth mindset). So boys learn to try harder, to persevere, to take risks, and to accept this as part of learning. To level the playing field, girls must be encouraged to do these things too.
All of the authors cited in this article offer practical advice, and also additional resources to help us build authentic, strong daughters who will become authentic and strong women. When we nurture our daughters, encouraging them to take risks, persist, find their passions, express themselves, and learn from mistakes, we are shaping their future, and by shaping their future, we are shaping our world.
As always, I welcome your ideas. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely-Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can also be found in our website blogs.)
It is no secret that many gifted children, adolescents, and adults are voracious readers. Though the literature does not expressly state that all gifted children are early readers, parental anecdotal evidence often suggests that many young gifted children seemingly, with encouragement and exposure, “crack the code” and begin their reading journey early and with gusto. These children often continue to read widely and enthusiastically well beyond the years when many other children give up reading for other activities such as sports and hanging out with friends. These children find joy and comfort in reading, and can often be found with their noses buried in a book or on devices such as Nooks and Kindles.
For many years I taught young readers and watched with fascination and joy as they discovered the pleasures of reading. I read voraciously about cultivating young readers’ interests and skill, and encouraged parents to foster good reading habits in their homes. I was especially interested in those children who delighted in reading, and wondered what made them so enamored. (I was also intensely grateful for reading specialists who helped our struggling readers discover the joy of reading, and facilitated their progress…) This passion for literacy in all of its forms has been a constant in my life, and I currently serve as a Library Trustee in my community.
When this article, Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers came across my desk, I dived into it. The author, Joe Pinsker, began by talking about the academic and professional outcomes of reading. He furnished data from the National Endowment on the Arts about the number of engaged readers in the United States, and shared research from Wendy Griswold, a sociologist at Northwestern University, who concluded that only about 20% of the population in the United States consider themselves “frequent” or “avid” readers. She calls this population, “the reading class,” and suggests that certain patterns emerge in this population. Some of these were surprising to me; some of them were not. For example, people with more education tend to read more. Urban people tend to read more than rural people. Affluence is associated with more reading. Young girls often read earlier than boys, and continue to read more in adulthood.
Additionally, another researcher, Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia offered that “introverts seem to be a little more likely to do a lot of leisure-time reading.” In his book, Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do, Willingham combines evidence-based analysis with engaging, insightful recommendations for the future.
First, he asserts, children must become “fluent decoders.” They must be able to smoothly translate print on the page to words in their mind. Of course, schools explicitly teach this, but parents can facilitate this at home by reading often with children, pointing out words and patterns, thinking out loud, and asking and answering good questions. Simultaneously, educators and parents can encourage great readers by building vast storehouses of information and experience. So much of reading is dependent on context. In order to read with understanding, we must have some prior knowledge about the topic. This engages and expands our prowess. It helps us interpret and make sense of our reading, and intrigues us to read further. Finally, Willingham encourages adults to foster motivation - a positive attitude toward reading and a positive image of oneself as a reader. Reading should be presented with joy. Educators and parents need to share their delight in the act of reading and watching young people read. Even if a parent is not an avid reader, there are other ways to encourage reading -- going to the library, stopping at bookstores, having books in the home, modeling reading during leisure time, sharing great passages, and suggesting great books -- all have positive effects on reading enhancement. Presenting reading as a delightful activity is contagious!
So what does this all mean for gifted readers? Over the years, I have discovered that gifted readers often exhibit these characteristics: they often read earlier, better, and more (3-4 times more) than average readers (Whitehead, 1984). Though their reading interests parallel the interests of other students, they are often more adventurous and want to “dig deeper,” and continue to read voraciously after the time when children’s reading typically tapers off.
My experience has been that many gifted children exhibit these tastes in their reading: they like sophisticated beginning-to-read books, nuanced language, multidimensional characters, visually inventive picture books, books with playful thinking, books with unusual connections, books that promote finding patterns and parallels, books with abstractions and analogies, blends of fantasy and non-fiction, books with quantities of information on favored topics, and books about other gifted children.
Gifted children, I believe, also have some “rights” when reading. These rights should include:
As educators and parents, we have both the privilege and the responsibility to create the conditions that will enhance joy and prowess in reading in our children. One of my favorite resources to help guide readers to perfect books is Judith Halsted’s book Some of My Best Friends Are Books. This resource is organized by ages and stages, and by topics that are relevant to readers. I am sure that many of you also have other favorite resources. What are they? Would you be willing to share? How do you help your gifted readers grow?
Reading is such a gift; it is a gift that we give to others and ultimately to ourselves. As always, I welcome hearing from you on this topic. Together we grow.
Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
“Risk assessment cannot be taught at a desk while looking at a chalkboard. The essential components to learning this invaluable skill are time and space, two things that kids these days are often lacking. There is an innate drive in children to experiment with increasingly complex movements and in doing so they learn what their bodies can and cannot do. They learn about severity and probability of consequences. They learn the amazing, lifelong skill of risk assessment...” This is an excerpt from a blog post,
Risk Assessment is a Skill That Requires Time to Learn,
and was an extremely thought-provoking read for me.
In this blog, the author, Virginia Yurich, begins by talking about the complexity of parenting, and conscientiously making sure that we are doing all of the right things, checking off all of the right boxes. Then she goes on to talk about things that cannot be measured, specifically, the development of risk-taking and risk assessment in children. She postulates that the theoretical equation for risk is this: Risk = Consequence x Likelihood. In other words, children, over a period of time, must learn to evaluate both consequences and likelihood before taking a risk if they are to manage risk-taking safely. And, as many parents and educators know, the development of the
prefrontal cortex though often not fully complete until about age twenty-five, is also absolutely necessary for good judgment, and aids in good risk management. Yurich, however, asserts that childhood is the absolute best time to develop risk assessment skills, and she believes that being outdoors often and taking smaller, then greater risks is one of the best ways to develop risk-taking skills in childhood. Her examples are clear and concrete. Children are wired for adventure, and grow in risk-taking prowess when carefully introduced to activities that require them to learn what their bodies can and cannot do. As they become more confident, wise adults allow them to assess and take more risks by allowing nature to teach them about the consequences and likelihood (and severity) of consequences.
As I processed this blog post, my thinking drifted to other areas of risk-taking, and especially to gifted and talented children. What if we could take lessons learned about risk-taking in the great outdoors, and translate them into lessons about intellectual risk-taking, and/or social and emotional risk-taking?
Dr. Jim Delisle, a gifted education teacher and consultant speaks on this topic in his article Tips for Parents: Risk-taking and Risk-Making. He shared some excellent advice with the Davidson Institute and parents of highly gifted kids. He differentiates between risk-taking and risk-making in this way: “risk-taking emanates from an outside source—a parent, a teacher, a coach—who asks a child to try something new or to take a current activity and “ramp it up” to a higher level. When the risk is offered, the child has the option of taking it or not. With risk-making, the person who is compelled to initiate a new activity or expand an existing one is the child him/herself. Instead of waiting for someone else to invite you to try algebra, tennis, or chess, you, as the child, take the proverbial bull by the horns and elect to enter this activity due to your own interest in doing so.”
Delisle asserts that gifted kids may be more at ease with taking risks when they are in the driver’s seat, or are risk-makers. When they have chosen the risk, they might disappoint themselves, but this disappointment is self-centered. When others encourage taking a risk, there is a chance that children may feel that they are disappointing both self and others if they fail, a double-disappointment. Knowing that many gifted children struggle with perfectionism, and are often risk-aversive, this double-disappointment could be more devastating.
Delisle offers some strategies when dealing with risk-taking and risk-making: helping children understand the difference between risk-taking and risk-making, modeling how to take risks, taking risks with your child (“walking the walk”), noticing and applauding small successes, and helping children know when to stick with things, and when to dabble in them, when to “go,” and when to “let go.”
In linking the ideas in both articles, I can see a clear case for using the great outdoors as a way to encourage and teach risk-taking skills. As an educator, I have spent thousands of hours with thousands of kids at Outdoor Learning Centers and gifted camps, and have watched even the most risk-aversive kids learn how to manage fear, disappointment, and failure. I’ve also watched them take tentative risks, persisting, learning to “go with the flow,” and congratulating themselves for trying and mastering new and difficult things. Just as they do when they are young, they begin with small risks, and build to greater risks. They learn how to measure both consequences and likelihoods with acuity and confidence. I’ve used these outdoor experiences to bridge the physical world with the intellectual, and social and emotional worlds. Just as kids learn what their bodies can do, they learn what their minds and emotions can do. Watching this amazing transfer of knowledge is nothing short of miraculous!
In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly evident that children need more outdoors time; perhaps this outdoors time is just the antidote for risk-aversion. In the words of kids, “who knew”? Perhaps now we do.
As always, I welcome your ideas. Together we grow.
Past President, WATG
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely-Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can be found in our website blogs.)
Few would argue that 2020 was a stellar year, but some might argue that we learned many things from our “grand pause” during 2020, especially in the field of education. Modified face-to-face, hybrid, and virtual learning have all cast bright spotlights on our “classrooms” and practices, and have revealed strengths and weaknesses that require analysis, and, in some cases, new starts. In a way, the grand disruption of 2020 has forced us to examine and perhaps change the way things have always been done. We have a rare opportunity to use lessons learned to find better ways to serve all children. Where should we start? What things might be best to tackle first?
Over the years I have often wished we would change how we measure learning. Though the pandemic has brought this issue clearly into focus recently, I have long questioned the importance of grades, and how all of us (educators, kids, parents) view them. I have a myriad of questions. For example, what exactly do grades measure? Do they measure engagement and motivation (or lack of it)? Do they ultimately measure lasting learning? Why do grades motivate only some kids (and especially not some gifted kids)? What exactly does an “A” mean? Do kids earn grades for themselves or for others; do they earn them for the immediate present, or for the future? How do grades open or shut doors for some kids -- and is this fair? How do grades reflect the “need to know/want to know'' disposition that predicts lifelong learning? Why do some kids think of grades as the ultimate goal, and not value the learning along the way?
The more I taught gifted kids, the more I realized that many of them get good grades to please their parents or teachers, and some even confess that they get good grades to avoid punishment. Many put extreme pressure on themselves, and view themselves as failures when grades are not perfect. Some barely put forth any effort to get good grades, and may consider themselves imposters for getting those grades with so little effort. Some consider grades the be-all and end-all; when test scores or report cards are received, the learning is done. And...some kids do not care at all about grades. Those were the kids that puzzled me the most. If grades didn’t motivate them, what would?
So it was with great interest that I read this article in Edutopia, How to Help Kids Focus on What They're Learning, and Not the Grade. The author, Sarah Schroeder first requires us to examine why we give grades. She asserts that we historically have given grades to measure product, not process, and therefore we are implicitly teaching students that grades themselves are the goal. She includes these as examples of measures of product:
Schroeder, in her article, offers some remedies for students with this profile. She speaks eloquently about the need to reframe learning as driven by process, not product, and offers these reasons:
Many years ago, as a gifted and talented specialist (and untethered to traditional grading systems), I chose to exclusively use timely and specific feedback with my students in place of grades. We focused on problem/challenge-based learning, and we stopped often to examine the process of learning. In this way we could discuss things like the importance of making mistakes along the way, choosing excellence over perfection, setting goals, measuring progress, reflecting on what we’ve learned, and applying it to future learning. Over the years, I saw much more success in ALL of my gifted learners, those motivated by grades and those not. It often eliminated the questions, “Why are we learning this?,” or “When will we ever use this?” It also, incidentally, set the stage for job performance ratings in adult life.
Process-based learning also proved to be much more conducive to lifelong learning in my former students. Many of them (now adults) have contacted me to report on how this kind of learning poised them for success in their lives and careers. They remember reflecting on what they learned, how they learned, and how they grew as learners. They report that they continue to use reflection as they continue to grow in adulthood. How wonderful is this?
As we move into the future, I am hopeful that grading, along with many other educational practices, will be carefully examined. If you are interested in following one teacher’s journey into effecting personal change surrounding grading, you may want to read this article from Edutopia,
How to Make Sure Grades Are Meaningful to Students.
This article contains much food for thought, and consideration of steps to take along the way.
During the pandemic we’ve learned a lot about what motivates and engages students and improves their learning outcomes. We’ve seen some students do very well, and others struggle. I believe that the information gleaned can be used to transform learning. We have a unique opportunity to make some fresh starts as we move into the future; let’s take advantage of it!
As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas; together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Martha Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can also be found below.)
“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” This quote is attributed to President John F. Kennedy and sums up what many, many people believe to be true.
For this reason, it seems especially important to nurture young minds and to grow their unique gifts and talents. While talent development is important in people of all ages, it is especially important in the youngest of children. In the PBS series entitled, “The Brain with David Eagleman,” Dr. Eagleman explains that in the brain of a newborn baby, the neurons are only starting to connect, but by age 2, the brain may have developed well over 15,000 connections. Neurons in our brains connect at an especially rapid pace in early childhood. As we age, neurons are pruned as a result of what we are learning. As we grow and learn, we reduce the number of connections because our brains focus on a smaller number of reinforced connections. Our circuitry becomes specific. We “use it or lose it” with our brain cells. Brain circuitry is wired according to experiences and interactions with our environment.
So, what kind of experiences and environment do we want to provide for our children? How do we, as parents and educators create these experiences and environments? And how do we grow gifts and talents in our children, and develop their brains?
While so many toys and gadgets and learning materials and books try to sell us things that will grow our children intellectually, the scientific research is actually geared toward much simpler (and less costly) options.
In this June 20, 2020 article in Edutopia, Why Ages 2-7 Matter So Much in Brain Development, author Rishi Sriram asserts that experiences during early childhood provide lasting effects on their development. Sriram states, “This first critical period of brain development begins around age 2 and concludes around age 7. It provides a prime opportunity to lay the foundation for a holistic education for children.”
The first way to maximize this critical period, according to Sriram, is to encourage a love of learning. Learning for young children encompasses so many things. It can be a love of nature, a love of cooking or trying new foods, a love of building things, creating things, destroying things, questioning things, reading about things, and simply experiencing life to the fullest. The possibilities are endless. Encourage exploration! Celebrate curiosity! Provide opportunities! Additionally, this is the time when children make many mistakes, and encouraging a willingness to accept mistakes as a natural part of learning is crucial. By honoring the process of learning, and not just the outcome, children learn to embrace a growth mindset which will serve them well in their lives.
A second way to maximize this critical period is to focus on breadth of learning instead of depth. “Well-roundedness” is an especially important way to learn for young children. Their minds are essentially wide-open, connections are forming, and interests are being piqued and developed. In his book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized WorldDavid Epstein argues that breadth of experience is often overlooked and underappreciated. He asserts that “the people who thrive in our rapidly changing world are those who first learn how to draw from multiple fields and think creatively and abstractly. In other words, our society needs well-rounded individuals.” There will be many years for children to begin focusing on fields of study, but during this crucial time, being a minds-open generalist is preferred.
A third way to maximize this critical period is to pay attention to emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning. Parents and educators can help by teaching children to recognize, regulate, and communicate their emotions. They can teach successful strategies to manage emotions and create healthy lifestyles. For example, helping children understand the importance of kindness, empathy, and teamwork will be necessary skills for success in their lives. Again, the window of opportunity is wide open during these critical years.
Finally, educators and parents must honor this time period in their children’s lives not as a precursor to “real learning,” but as “real learning” itself. It is common, at least in the USA, to hear of classes for children three and four years old described as “preschool,” when in fact it is real learning, just as later school years provide real learning experiences. Learning during this period is setting the stage for years to come. During this time, children learn how to learn, how to manage time, energy, frustration, tools, and a myriad of other things. “Back in the day” :) children were considered integral parts of the work of the family. They worked and learned alongside their parents and siblings beginning at very early ages, and engaged in “real learning” and real-life skill building. Nowadays we can use family chores and routines as ways to encourage children to value every day, boots-on-the-ground practical skills which will enhance the book learning to come.
During this holiday season, our social media feeds and television commercials are filled with things to buy for our children. While it is tempting to think that some of these items will somehow make our children smarter or give them a competitive advantage, perhaps it is the simple things that will make the difference in the lives of our children. None of these things cost a lot of money; they do, however require an investment of time and love. It’s worth considering.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
(Thank you to German Diaz of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for parents and educators.)
As an organization, WATG is committed to finding and serving children and families from diverse cultures. In June of 2020, our Board of Directors crafted a social justice and equity statement that begins with this quote by Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Our statement reads,
As our nation faces the grave consequences of long standing and systemic racism, the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted remains committed to equity and justice for all. As an organization, we are cognizant of the inequities in identification and educational programming for gifted students of color. We remain committed to examining these inequities, and rectifying these inequities. We pledge to do our part to dismantle structural and institutional racism. We invite partnerships with other institutions, groups, and individuals to share conversations about the impacts of race, and will work to listen, learn, and support each other in this critical process of changing our world.
At our October virtual fall conference, “Hands On - Minds On: Now More Than Ever,” we featured a number of speakers who reminded us that we in Wisconsin have much work left to do to identify and program for gifted students of color in our state. Our data was humbling, and serves as a clarion call for action.
As an educator, a parent, and now a grandparent, I have always believed that working with children provides us with impetus, direction, and hope for the future. In our homes and in our classrooms we can make small differences that lead to big change, and children can help us see the why, the what, and the how to do this.
One of the ways that we can effect change is to utilize books, movies, videoclips, and other resource materials in our homes and classrooms to begin discussions with children about diversity and celebrating the diverse gifts and talents that all children possess. Experience has taught me that children provide powerful insight into what people need to cultivate their gifts and talents. First we must listen carefully to them, and then act on their wisdom.
Early on in this journey to celebrate diversity, teachers and parents were advised to share books and materials which portrayed children and families of color; they were advised to let children see themselves in the text. While this was a great first step, I believe it did not go far enough. Recent research is bearing this out.
This October 16, 2020 article by Jaren Maynard in Edutopia, Going Beyond a Diverse Classroom Library, affirms my beliefs. Maynard states, “Classroom libraries (and family libraries) should include culturally inclusive texts. More important, though, teachers (and parents) should be using these texts to affirm and challenge students in real and intentional ways.”
Maynard also states that most classrooms (and I would add many families) use read-alouds to share books with children of all ages. During these precious reading times, we need to deliberately include diverse texts. Then we need to give children time to discuss, to relate to characters, to analyze problems and issues in the story, and to evaluate and synthesize solutions. We need to allow children time to ask “why,” or “why not,” to express emotions and explore incongruities. We need to encourage them to compare situations in their lives to situations in the lives of characters. These are courageous conversations, and must be handled with care. They may venture into discussions of current events, social justice, equity, and the dignity of all human lives. These are authentic learning experiences, and pave the way for concrete action, for without concrete action, children can be left hopeless. Gifted children are often especially drawn to these kinds of discussions, and have many excellent ideas to contribute. Let’s listen to the children, and let’s let them help us formulate action plans!
John Hattie, a highly respected meta-analyst and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, offers another reason to infuse well-crafted student discussion into our work with children. He writes in his book, Visible Learning for Teachers, that student discussion has a considerable effect on student achievement. When students are highly engaged in their learning, when it is personal and relevant, rigorous, and built on relationships, student achievement soars. Deep discussion then, connected to real-life experiences, provides extra bonuses for children -- in their moral development and their academic achievement.
But we cannot stop with the children. Adults must also have these courageous conversations, policy makers must embrace change and act, and all of us must assume personal responsibility for change and growth. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he delivered the Baccalaureate sermon at the commencement exercises for Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Let’s all take steps to bending the arc, one step at a time.
By now, most of us are settled into the 2020-2021 school year. Some of you are in face-to-face learning environments, some are in virtual, and some are in a hybrid environment. All of these environments are fraught with challenges, and with, no doubt, some fears. Over the past months, I have had the opportunity to think about the best way to support our families, our educators, and especially our children during these uncertain times.
In following social media, reading countless articles such as this one:
This is Our Season of Coaching Our Children Through Disappointment in the Washington Post, and speaking with many parents and educators, it has become increasingly clear to me that attitude matters. Attitude matters for our own mental health, and attitude matters for the mental health of our children -- because they are watching us. Attitude coupled with modeling problem solving skills, decision making skills, creative and critical thinking skills, and fortitude will help us make the best of these unusual times, and show our children how to press through adversity.
As this school year approached, I saw many fabulous examples of families with great attitudes. They chose to roll with the uncertainty, and think of ways to make the best of it. They planned for various scenarios, and encouraged their children to join in on the plans. I read about families creating quiet study spaces, checking home bandwidth, going “pretend” school-supply shopping in their basements, and picking out “first day of school” outfits, even though their children were starting the school year virtually. I saw families of means choosing to purchase their own chromebooks, allowing scarce school resources to be spent on families in need. I saw families discussing the importance of following school policies regarding masks and social distancing to prepare their children for a face-to-face beginning of the year. I watched them practice routines, and heard of patient and calm family conversations to allay fears. I heard of families having meetings to discuss how all community children would be able to access learning, and what plans communities would be making to accommodate everyone. Most of all, families were talking about the importance of flexibility should things change, as inevitably they would. And in these families, I saw resilience and resolve, and willingness to make the best of things. I saw that attitude matters.
Similarly, I saw educators, as they usually do, working tirelessly to “make it work” in a myriad of situations. Many spent countless hours working during the summer to perfect plans for a yet to be determined scenario; many watched in anguish as school boards struggled with making difficult decisions. Many experienced plans upended as circumstances changed in communities. Many worked through fears about online learning, or F2F learning, or juggling the increased demands of hybrid learning. Many worried about kids in unsafe situations, or kids who might not be able to access quality education. Many of them struggled with fears about health and safety. And many of them dug into deep reserves of creativity and persistence to triumph.
In a marvelous example of true educator awesome-ness and ingenuity, I watched incredulously as a well-known internet service provider chose to do a full-on upgrade on “third-Friday-count-day” in September, shutting down all virtual learning services in parts of southeastern Wisconsin. What did teachers and families do? They reimagined it as a “virtual snow day,” and proceeded with alternate plans on the spot. They rose above their frustration, put their creative talents to use, and carried on. Attitude matters!
Attitude matters, too, in how we support all of us making difficult decisions daily. Attitudes of gratitude must be shared with school boards and administrators. Though we may not always agree with their decisions, we must be cognizant of the difficulty of their jobs, and the great weight of responsibility that rests on their shoulders. We must have an attitude of gratitude for our educators who are relentlessly putting kids above their personal fears and their fatigue. We need to thank them privately, publicly, and often.
Finally, we must be kind to each other, and to ourselves. Families have made difficult decisions about how to school their children, based on their unique family values and circumstances. We must extend grace and kindness to all -- because attitude matters. We must extend grace and forgiveness to ourselves, too, because we are doing our best. Our children are watching and learning from us. How we handle adversity will influence how they handle adversity. Gifted kids in particular often have built-in intuition -- a kind of radar -- that causes them to finely examine and thoughtfully question adults. Now is the time to choose our best attitudes for them to examine and question! Attitude matters!
As you are reading this blog, many of you have already begun the school year. Some of you may still be waiting to commence, but all are learning to adjust and adapt to many new realities.
The first reality was that change and decision-making is undoubtedly difficult, especially with so much pervasive uncertainty. Some of you may have had decisions made for you by municipalities or other governing boards, with or without your input. Some of you have been given options, and have had to navigate the waters of change by yourselves. And many of you have had to explain/defend your choice or situation to children, other family members, friends, or acquaintances. Undoubtedly some of you may continue to question your decisions, or continue to wish that things were different.
One thing seems certain, however, and that is that we are all grieving. We are grieving the world as it was. We are grieving relationships, and proximity, and freedom to be out and about without anxiety. We are grieving school as it was. We are grieving teaching as it was. We are grieving learning as it was.
In a recent coaching conversation with an outstanding administrator, she and I began to examine the stages of grief as they apply to helping educators, parents, and children process their emotions surrounding the change in learning during the COVID era. We talked about the five stages of grief as posed by Swiss American psychiatrist Kübler-Ross. Though most of Kübler-Ross-Ross’ work was in the field of death and dying, I think it applies equally well to the death of education as we once knew it. Kübler-Ross defines the non-linear stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Thinking back on the last months, many of us, adults and children alike, can probably identify with moving through these stages of grief. Countless articles, blog posts, Facebook posts, tweets, talk shows, and news sources have confirmed that we were/are not alone. And yet, what I’d like to focus on is the stage of acceptance, of finding ways to make the best of the new paradigm -- learning in the COVID era.
In a recent article in the New York Times, How to Handle Anxiety Over Back to School Decisions, author Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, suggests some coping skills to help us during these uncertain times. Her suggestions include learning to cope with uncertainty, distinguishing between productive and unproductive worries, stopping the fight with our feelings, cultivating compassion, paying attention to our grief, practicing flexible thinking and acting, and focusing on our values and our sources of meaning. While all of these strategies will help us and our children navigate the stages of grief, many of us find ourselves already in our “new normal.”
So, what now?
In another recent article from the NAGC, Distance Learning Round Two - We're in This Together there is some timely advice for parents of gifted children who are immersed once again in distance learning. Tips from parents to parents include these:
For those of you who have re-entered or are re-entering face-to-face learning, the changes and challenges are also daunting. As we work on acceptance of these changes and challenges, we need to examine them and provide context, clarity, and time for discussion. In a recent article from Grown and Flown, pediatrician and mom Dr. Cara Natterson speaks about what teens can expect as school starts this fall, and how important it is to discuss the expectations and emotions associated with them.
Some things that will change (undoubtedly for kids and teachers in any age/grade group returning face-to-face) are:
My biggest takeaway from all of my reading, discussion, observation, and pondering how to accept these daunting changes is that, now, more than ever, we must pay attention to the social and emotional needs of our educators and learners. Absorbing and accepting tremendous amounts of change requires tremendous amounts of time, energy, and understanding. While the academic needs of our gifted learners are very important, their emotional health must also be safeguarded. We need to give everyone the gifts of patience, flexibility, and grace.
My heart goes out to all of you as you navigate these new waters, and I sincerely hope that you will find a safe harbor in a place of acceptance, at least for now. We can then contemplate the challenges of moving forward. Sail forth!
As always, I welcome your ideas. Together we grow.
Past President, WATG
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think