As the events of COVID-19 unfold around us, many of us at the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted are undoubtedly sharing many of the same emotions as those of you at home. We are worried for the health of our friends and family; we are devastated by the news from our cities, country, and other corners of our world. We may feel anxious about our jobs or financial health, or worried about the health and safety and livelihoods of others. We may be grieving the way things were, and are feeling what the Germans refer to as “Weltschmerz,” or the pain of the world.
Those of us who are educators are missing our students deeply, and are hoping and praying that they are safe and secure. We are doing our best to meet their learning needs and their social and emotional needs while we also attend to the needs of ourselves and our own families. We are adjusting to this enormous disruption of school as we once knew it; we are innovating daily, and many of us are admittedly overwhelmed. We are, however, most thankful for those of you who are parents and guardians and are carrying extra loads -- tending to your own jobs (or unemployment) and mental health, the daily needs of your family, and assuming the new (and sometimes scary) role as teacher/mom or teacher/dad. We see daily evidence of families figuring out ways to make this all work -- with grace, creativity, and humor.
Finally, there are our children, and our students -- they are lively, curious, thoughtful, insightful, scared, questioning, trying, joyful, confused. We are all trying to find the words and actions which balance their concerns with their need for hope and normalcy. And though there are many encouraging signs of hope, the resolution to this crisis is not clear or immediate. It is as though we are suspended in a huge moment of pause, grand pause.
If you are a musician, you may be familiar with the term Grand Pause, or G.P., or caesura, sometimes known as “railroad tracks,” or “tram tracks,” designated by two slash marks, like this: //. When these are indicated in a musical score, the sound stops, and there is time for echo, absorption of sound and emotion, reflection, and anticipation of the resumption of the music. There is often curiosity and wonder during this repose; there is usually a sense of impending change.
It seems possible that we are in a time of Grand Pause right now. Undoubtedly, things will never be the same, but they might become even better than they were. We might become better parents, neighbors, friends, citizens. So many of us are using this Grand Pause to reimagine ourselves, and to transcend ourselves. We read daily about ingenious ways that people are coping and thriving. We see numerous testimonies to the grace, and the compassion, and the creativity of people. We see communities banding together, celebrating and thanking health care professionals. We see food banks asking for and receiving tremendously generous donations. We see neighbors anonymously leaving gift certificates for ice cream, or groceries or wine or masks, or pictures on others’ doorsteps. We see people sharing food. We see nursing home workers dressing up in costume to entertain their residents. We see teachers caravaning through school neighborhoods, waving to their beloved students. We see countries offering donations of money and supplies to each other. We see international scientists and medical professionals working tirelessly together. We see children offering hearts and pictures and words of comfort and chalk drawings on sidewalks. We are, indubitably seeing better versions of ourselves emerge, and have time to evaluate the meaning of this metamorphosis during this Grand Pause.
Inevitably, this Grand Pause moment will be over, and our lives will move on, and the music of life will begin again in earnest. However, the burning questions will remain -- what do we want to carry forward with us? What really are the most important things in life? Can we sustain the lessons that we have learned? Will we emerge from all of this as more compassionate, more wise, more selfless? Our children will undoubtedly be watching, just as they have been all along. The moments of the Grand Pause should give them hope; the moments of the Grand Pause should give ALL of us hope.
At this writing, during the outbreak of COVID-19, we acknowledge that many of you have heavy hearts. We are traveling in uncharted waters, and have many concerns about the present and the future. We know that many gifted individuals, children and adults alike, feel things very deeply. We may seek news, and yet be frightened or immobilized by it; we may feel the pain of the world, and yet feel impotent to mitigate it; we may crave company and comfort, yet understand the need for social distancing; we may worry about our loved ones, our country and our world, we may also worry about ourselves and our own health and resilience, and we may feel helpless.
Yet during these strange and difficult times, there are so many rays of hope, so many helpers. As many of you know, one of Mr. Rogers’ often quoted pieces of advice included these words: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Whether you are helping your child/ren to navigate these turbulent times, calming your own fears, or helping others find solace, looking for the helpers is one way to center yourself and your loved ones.
So many individuals, groups, agencies, institutions, and corporations have emerged as “helpers” these past weeks and months, and we’d like to highlight some of them, and encourage you to think about how they use their gifts and talents in service to our world. Also our hope is that the stories shared will give you and your loved ones hope during the coming weeks and months, and may provide thoughtful and grateful conversations about what it means to be a “helper”.
First of all, our medical and safety professionals - our scientists, our doctors and nurses, first responders and hospital staff, police officers and firefighters -- deserve our most grateful thanks. They are literally putting their lives on the line for the health and safety of us all. In the words of David Ho, of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University, “Behind the scenes, too, so many people are contributing, from those discovering small-molecule drugs that could block various enzymes of this virus, to coming up with antibodies that could neutralize it.” The gift of intellectual curiosity and academic pursuit, combined with the boots-on-the-ground delivery of care, is astounding.
Our government officials have been making tough decisions daily, with the scenario changing rapidly -- locally, nationally and internationally. Many pray for wisdom and guidance for our leaders, and celebrate the gift of leadership.
Then there are the transportation and logistics people and those keeping open vital services, such as grocery stores and pharmacies and utilities. Our nation’s industries and ingenious individuals have stepped up their game, many of them changing direction during this time of need. We are seeing undergarment companies making masks, alcohol distilleries making hand sanitizer, individuals using their 3D printers to make valves for ventilators, and even teenagers creating 3D printer prototypes for ventilators, to name a few. Ingenuity is alive and well. The gift of creativity is flourishing.
Without a doubt, our educators have been heroes/helpers during these difficult times. With very little training, and certainly very little time, educators at all levels are “building new planes and simultaneously flying them,” collaborating in ways that are magical and promising for both the present and the future. Overnight, virtual support groups of teachers have seen memberships grow to thousands, virtual resources are being shared daily, and educators are striving to reach out to families and individual students with challenge, comfort, and assistance. Though crafting the balance between academics and family time/leisure time has been tricky, most educators are adjusting expectations for themselves and families as things unfold. While it’s true that this crisis has uncovered gross inequities in our communities of learners, perhaps it will be the impetus for future investigation and change. Certainly this is the time to reimagine schooling, another challenge for the gift of creativity.
Finally, the gift of the visual and performing arts in these difficult times has been a tremendous source of comfort for so many of us. From individuals and families performing music in their homes and sharing virtually, to symphony orchestras broadcasting from empty halls, to virtual services of worship, to virtual theater productions, to TV and internet subscriptions that enrich and provide respite, to virtual tours of museums, national parks, even Disney World rides, the arts have provided solace. In the words of Hans Christian Andersen, “where words fail music speaks.” The arts are speaking loudly and clearly during these times.
So, in this world of helpers using their gifts and talents in service to our world, our question to you is, “How are you using your gifts and talents as a helper?” Because, to quote Mr. Rogers once again, “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we're giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That's one of the things that connects us as neighbors--in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver."
During this month of March, we at the WI Association for Talented and Gifted are working especially hard to promote advocacy for gifted education, and for our gifted students. Advocacy is defined as the act of speaking on the behalf of, or in support of another person, place, or thing, and in this article, we will be sharing ways that we are advocating, and that you too can be an advocate for gifted education, and for gifted kids, whether your own or others’. Advocacy happens at so many levels.
On a national level, at this writing, three WATG Board members, Past Presidents Cathy Schmit and Deb Kucek, and President-Elect Hillarie Roth are preparing for a visit to the National Association for Gifted Children’s 2020 Leadership and Advocacy Conference, followed by an advocacy mission to Capitol Hill in Washington DC to lobby for gifted education and our students. At the NAGC, they will work together with affiliates from other states, and learn how to effectively lobby for legislation and funding. They will then use this knowledge as they meet with legislators and aides. Please keep them in your thoughts as they speak on behalf of our children. We thank them for their critical work, and are looking forward to their report at the conclusion of their visit.
At the state level, we are pleased to report that our Government Action Committee at WATG has filed a request for a legislative study on gifted education in Wisconsin. Though we will not hear about the status of this request until spring, we are pleased with the message of advocacy, and the bipartisan support of legislators for this request. Again, thank you to all who have worked tirelessly on this initiative. Please stay tuned!
At the local level and personal level, many of you often email us at WATG about advocating for things related to gifted education. In fact, advocacy for your child/ren and gifted programming services are your top concerns. Below are some tips that we often share with parents as they request help in advocating:
Finally, one of the most important things we can do for our children is to teach them to advocate for themselves and their learning. Most often this should begin in the middle school years, with the budding adolescent learning to advocate for himself/herself. Deb Douglas, Past President of WATG, has written a wonderfully helpful book entitled, The Power of Self-Advocacy for Gifted Learners: Teaching the Four Essential Steps to Success (Grades 5–12). Deb’s four steps include helping gifted kids to understand their rights and responsibilities, develop their learning profile, investigate available options and opportunities, and connect with other advocates.
So often, many of us in gifted education have found that when we teach and trust children to advocate and problem-solve for themselves, they invariably solve in more creative and satisfactory ways than we had imagined. And when we ALL work together to advocate at any level, truly amazing things can happen!
Greetings from the WATG Board! Although our fall conference is still many months away, on October 18, 19 and 20, 2020 at the Wilderness Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells, much planning is going on behind the scenes right now. As you may imagine, a conference such as ours requires lots of hands on and minds on, (and a lot of love or “heart” for the work that we are doing), so it is fitting that we have chosen the title “Hands On, Minds On” as our theme. You may have seen our call for proposals, with a deadline of April 20, 2020, and we hope that you will consider lending your talents and your voice to our conference this year. Check out our website www.watg.org for details, and please think about all of the ways that we can engage both the minds and the hands-on learning that is so critical for our students.
To get you thinking, let us share some of our preliminary planning. On Sunday, October 18, we will feature a teen conference from 9am-noon. The theme of this teen conference will be “Engineering Design Using the Arduino UNO,” and will be for students 12 years of age and older. Isabel Mendiola and Peter Haydock will co-facilitate, and participants will be engaged in thinking and creating using coding, and engineering and design. Watch for e-blasts and information on our website for further information.
Concurrently we will run a parent strand from 9am-noon on Sunday, October 18, and will feature workshops such as a facilitated parent sharing group, a workshop on growth mindset and gifted students, and information about SOAR summer camp for middle school students. Perhaps you also have an idea for a proposal that would be designed to engage parents and guardians?
The afternoon of Sunday October 18 will be dedicated to a NUMATS celebration. Each year, WATG joins with Northwestern University to honor elementary, middle, and high school students who have scored extremely well on out of level tests. “Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) is a research-validated program that utilizes above-grade-level assessment to help parents and educators better understand their students’ academic strengths and educational needs. NUMATS allows eligible students to take internationally recognized tests before the grade levels at which they are normally administered. The PSAT™8/9 test, designed for students in grades 8 and 9, is administered to students in grades 3 through 6. SAT® and ACT®, designed for students in grades 11 and 12, are administered to students in grades 6 through 9. NUMATS identifies academic ability, measures growth and connects gifted students to educational resources and opportunities for enrichment and acceleration.” See this link for more information on NUMATS. WATG NUMATS celebrations are a prime example of the hands-on hard work, and the minds-on reasoning that are present in outstanding achievers. This event will be offered by invitation.
Our main 2020 WATG annual conference will commence on October 19 and 20, 2020 and will feature Dr. Marcia Gentry (Monday), and Dr. Brian Housand (Tuesday), both exemplary leaders in the field of gifted education. More information about them will be shared in the coming months.
Our fall 2020 conference will also feature dozens of breakout sessions, and that’s where you come in. What kinds of things are you doing in your classrooms, in your schools, and in your communities that support gifted students? What have you tried that has worked well? How has your gifted programming evolved? How have you helped all gifted students achieve their potential, including those from diverse backgrounds? What activities or materials work best, and how do you utilize them? What kind of programming is achieving excellent results for your gifted students? What does the research say, and how are you using it in your classrooms? How have you used the research to guide your work with gifted students, and with other professionals? How do you blend social and emotional learning and goals with academics for your gifted students? What kind of counseling works best for gifted kids? What kind of advocacy is needed? How are you advocating for gifted kids and gifted education in your community, state, or nation?
The possibilities for sharing a workshop are endless, and we know that there is huge potential in you, our constituents. So we are asking...Will you lend your talent? Will you rise to the call of “Hands On, Minds On,” and share your wisdom by presenting a workshop at our conference in October? Together our minds, our hands, and yes! our hearts can and will provide better programming and services and understanding for our gifted learners. Come and join us to share and to learn -- October 18-20, 2020 at the Wilderness Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells.
Happy New Year from all of us at WATG! As we enter this new year of “2020,” we are eager as an organization to sharpen our vision of all issues related to gifted education. Several months ago, we shared an article that discussed the “view from the balcony,” or the big view of gifted education in our state and nation, as well as the “view from the dance floor,” or the more targeted view of what it’s like to work everyday in our schools and our homes with gifted individuals. Today we’ve chosen to look at an issue that is both overarching and targeted, and that is - gifted education in rural areas.
The United States Census Bureau defines rural areas in this way: “For the average American, rural is an abstract concept of rolling hills and farmland rather than a concrete definition. Thus, it can be a difficult task trying to define the term "rural" and an even harder task trying to explain it.
The Census Bureau defines rural as any population, housing, or territory NOT in an urban area.”
According to the 2010 Census Bureau data, 20-39.9% of Wisconsin is considered to be rural, with urban pockets mainly in the Milwaukee metro area, Madison area, the Fox River Valley, Wood and Marathon Counties, and in the LaCrosse area. (If you are a geography and demography kind of person, you will find the interactive Census Bureau website listed above very fascinating…) With up to nearly 40% of Wisconsin considered rural, we as a Board have begun exploring what this means for educating the rural gifted population in our state.
In an article published by the Davidson Institute in Gifted Child Today, Meeting the Needs of the Gifted in Rural Areas Through Acceleration some of the problems with gifted education in rural American are explored, and some suggestions are offered to ensure challenging educational outcomes for gifted students. The problem is presented like this…”One of the most challenging groups of gifted students to reach in terms of educational programming are those living in rural areas. The main source of difficulty is that any one rural school may contain only a few highly gifted students.” Additionally, the distances between rural schools may prohibit combining students from several rural areas for face to face interaction. Though technology has improved communication, and more learning can be done virtually, the benefits of daily interaction in real time cannot be underestimated.
The article then goes on to assert that one of the most effective ways to meet the needs of gifted students in rural areas is through acceleration. “Basically, it involves using the curriculum or resources designed for older students with young, but academically advanced students. It is placement according to competence rather than age, a principle readily accepted in the arts and in athletics. Why should the principle or placement according to competence not work for academics? After all giftedness is a talent, just as is superior artistic or athletic abilities.
Some of the educational provisions that would fall under the acceleration label are early admission to school, grade skipping, entering college early with or without a diploma, International Baccalaureate, taking a course 1 or 2 years earlier than typical, going up to a higher grade for instruction in an area of talent, taking a college course on a part-time basis before graduating from high school, taking special fast-paced courses during the summer or academic year, completing 2 years of a subject in 1 year, compressing curricula, taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses and examinations, and individual tutoring in advanced subject matter.”
As your WI Association for Talented and Gifted Board, we are highly committed to acceleration as a necessary option for gifted students in Wisconsin, and see it as a most promising practice for our rural communities. If you attended our annual fall conference in Wisconsin Dells in October, you may have had a chance to view the work of our Acceleration Team. The synopsis is included below:
THE WHY: The Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted (WATG) is committed to promoting effective gifted and talented programming options for students in EVERY district in Wisconsin. Acceleration is proven to be a highly effective strategy, yet is is underutilized or not offered at all in many districts. In 2017 WATG set out to research, analyze, and develop action steps to improve acceleration practices across the state.
THE WHAT: The goals of the acceleration team project:
THE HOW: An eleven question survey request was sent to every district in Wisconsin asking for information regarding the acceleration practices currently available.That data has been analyzed and is available in first draft form. Our next steps include:
To examine some of our data, click on this link: Interactive Map.
Thank you to all districts who have contributed data, and to the acceleration team for its continued work on this valuable project. For more information or to request professional development for your district, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Additionally, WATG has formed a partnership with the WI Rural Schools Association, and will be submitting a proposal to speak at their fall conference, and to continue our ongoing discussions. On a broader level, the National Association for Gifted Children has also formed a Rural Gifted Special Interest Group, and you can join in their efforts and follow their progress. For more information on gifted students in rural areas, see also the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s article Small Town, Big Talent: Identifying and Supporting Academically Promising Students in Rural Areas
A final reminder, in the words of Marcia Gentry of the Gifted Education Resource Institute at Purdue University, is, “Rather than comparing kids who go to a poor, rural school with the national [testing] norm, and then saying ‘There are no gifted students here,’ I think you have to say: within this context, who are our superstars and how can we develop them?” Superstars can be found in all of Wisconsin, and WATG remains committed to finding them and to furthering their talent development. If you want to join in the work of this initiative, please contact us at email@example.com.
As an organization, the WI Association for Talented and Gifted has been highly committed to both excellence and equity in gifted education. For many of you “Wisconsin gifted education veterans” out there, you may still even have our mug with the logo “Excellence and Equity” inscribed on it. As an organization, we have been keenly aware of the underrepresentation of minority and diverse students in gifted education programming in our state, and sought to bring awareness to this issue. Over the years, WATG has, with the help of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction gifted and talented grants, sponsored several Diversity Summits in our state. One of the first Summits was held in at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin. In December of 2008, a second Summit was held in Janesville, and in January of 2009 a third Diversity Summit was held in Green Bay. WATG also sponsored Four Corners events in Hayward, Platteville, Marshfield, and Kenosha, and highlighted issues related to identification and programming for underserved students. During the 2009-2010 school year, WATG teamed with Milwaukee Public Schools and Cooperative Educational Services Agency #1 in a multi-pronged learning effort entitled “Overlooked Gifts: Finding and Serving Children with Promise.” Workshops, SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted) parent groups, and an internationally-attended conference in Milwaukee were some of the highlights of this joint venture.
In the decade since, WATG has continued its commitment to furthering equity and excellence in gifted education in our state by sponsoring breakout sessions which celebrate diversity at our annual conferences, speaking about these issues at other state and national conferences, (e.g., the WI Public Education Network Summits, the WI Association for School Boards and District Administrators conferences, NAGC), and forging partnerships with other associations such as the Wisconsin Rural Schools Association. WATG has also provided numerous scholarships to students to help promote diversity in learning opportunities for students.
Most recently, WATG has been highly supportive of the districts (Milwaukee Public Schools, Racine Unified, and Kenosha Unified), who have been part of the federally funded Javits Grants, focusing on underserved students who are economically disadvantaged, limited English proficiency, disabled, or “other.” While the work is being heroically done in these districts, many of our WATG Board Members and Association members have served on strategic planning and implementation teams to further the work of these grants, and we are proud of their efforts. We look forward to the “upscaling” of the learning and implementation to all corners of our state, and want to help in this effort.
Though much has been done, and is being done, so much more needs to be done. In countless articles such as these, Unequal access to gifted-and-talented education is a National … This Top Gifted and Talented School is Integrated, Money over merit? New study says gifted programs favor …, The Contradiction at the Heart of Public Education, it is apparent that much more needs to change in gifted education identification and programming to make it more equitable, while preserving the excellence that our students seek and deserve.
So...what can be done at the local level? Here are some ideas, gleaned from much of the current research on “leveling the playing field” for underserved students:
Recommendations for the identification of gifted and talented diverse students:
Recommendations for gifted and talented programming for diverse students:
Although these ideas serve as a springboard, we are certain that other strategies are being tried around our state, and we, the WATG Board, invite hearing what is being done in your district. We will share your ideas, and will continue the quest for both excellence and equity.
As many of you may know, the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted is an affiliate of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), and we are always inspired and motivated by the work that this national organization does for gifted children, families, and educators. Each year selected representatives from our board travel to Washington DC to work with NAGC to learn about policy, research, advocacy, and a myriad of other issues related to gifted education. Experts at NAGC prepare these board members to lobby for gifted children on Capitol Hill, and to work with our own state legislators as well. The work of NAGC also influences our thinking back in Wisconsin, and helps to unify our state perspective with a national perspective on gifted education. The NAGC provides the “view from the balcony” to those of us who are “on the dance floor” in our individual states.
In the article below, Jonathan Plucker, President of NAGC, sums up the “big balcony picture” perspective of gifted education in our nation, viewing it in a way that is congruent with our WATG perspective. In gifted education, we do “serve many masters,” and it may seem that some of them have conflicting needs. However, in meeting these various needs, we at WATG are diligently addressing all of the concerns that surround quality gifted education.
As an example, the WATG Government Advocacy Committee and others, along with Drs. Pam Clinkenbeard and Scott Peters, representing academia, met with legislators and aides in a briefing in Madison on October 8, 2019. At this meeting, the focus was on educating legislators about the unique needs of gifted students, and the services needed to provide them with a challenging education. In this way, we as an organization were serving parents and students, and grounding our “asks” in current research. Future meetings and actions will keep this momentum going.
WATG’s Membership Committee is focused on attracting and serving our members. As a committee, they have a highly visible presence on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). Research articles, parenting tips, humorous and thoughtful posts are shared daily. Additionally, this committee will be hosting several “Meet and Greet” opportunities around the state to share information, and to promote networking.
WATG’s Programming Committee is charged with planning and executing our annual fall conference, and overseeing any additional educational outreach opportunities sponsored by our association. These could include runouts to underserved areas in our state, webinars, or other educational opportunities requested by our membership. An overarching goal of this committee is to provide quality, cutting-edge information based on the work of the academics in our field, and tied to the needs of our constituents.
Our Acceleration Team has been researching the prevalence of acceleration opportunities for students throughout our state. Teaming up with researchers, the eventual goal is to make acceleration a possibility for qualifying students in every district in Wisconsin. In the interim, they will be educating audiences about acceleration, and working with legislators to make this happen.
Finally, WATG supports children and families by providing coaching services, and by helping connect parents to educational resources, and to medical and mental health professionals who have expertise in the field of gifted education. As an organization, we are highly committed to supporting the emotional needs as well as the academic needs of gifted learners, and our conferences always include breakout sessions that serve this need.
Though the work is daunting, it is also very satisfying work. We as a working board welcome your input, and, if you have time and expertise, your help in keeping our work vibrant and moving forward.
In this month of giving thanks, we are thankful for all of you who help us further our mission, “To educate about and advocate for the needs of gifted in Wisconsin.” Together we have the potential to make great progress, keeping our eyes on both the view from “the balcony” and “the dance floor.”
Reconciling the Field's Many Motivations
September 20, 2019
Jonathan Plucker, President NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children)
As I work with educators, parents, and advocates around the country, they are often surprised by my optimism about the future of the field. As I begin my term as NAGC president, the time feels right to share the reasons behind my excitement … but also a cautionary note about how our current progress can be easily lost if we’re not careful.
I see plenty of reasons to be optimistic. We have more and better theories and research on developing students’ gifts and talents; we have more advocates than ever before, and they’re constantly improving their strategies for creating policy and educational change for talented children; educators are implementing sound practices and showing a clear commitment to equity; districts are implementing research-supported strategies such as universal screening; and we’ve never had so many policymakers sensitive to the needs of gifted children. We are collectively focusing on development of children’s talents, helping them improve their quality of life and future prospects. That’s optimistic by definition!
But as an NAGC officer over the past two years, I've also come to understand the nature of our major weaknesses, and how those issues threaten this recent progress. I’ve talked to many people about these problems and potential solutions, including parents, students, educators, consultants, and higher-education folks. These conversations are often difficult but always enlightening and inspiring. Yes, we have challenges, but they aren’t insurmountable.
The big challenge is that the gifted education community is really several different communities. They’re loosely connected like squares of an afghan blanket, with some communities less connected than others. Each group has its own motivations and goals, and their perspectives often don’t overlap that much. As a result, we talk past each other, roll our eyes at each other’s views, and move the field forward in inches rather than miles.
We have four main communities, from my perspective.* Parents want solutions to the problems their child faces, generally caused by lack of services within their school, and strategies for dealing with the wide range of social and emotional issues their child experiences. This makes perfect sense: You’re concerned about your child, you don’t really care whether other students’ face similar issues, you don’t have the time to keep up with the latest research – you want solutions that help your bright child immediately. Even more to the point, parents feel an urgency for quick action because, for example, an underchallenged fourth-grader only has one shot at fourth grade, and the problem needs to be addressed NOW. So a deficit perspective that treats each gifted student as dealing with unique academic, social, and emotional issues and challenges is reasonable. Yet many other parents and the school may appear unsupportive or even dismissive of your child’s needs: “They’re smart, they’ll figure it out on their own without any help.”
Most talented students know they are different, even at a young age. Their concerns tend to involve keeping themselves challenged and interested when in school, along with all the normal trials and tribulations faced by young people: making and maintaining friendships, developing a sense of identity while not wanting to stick out from the crowd too much, having fun. They realize they have the potential to do important things, but they also live in a culture where advanced academic achievement is paradoxically either an expectation (to an excessive degree) or a social detriment – especially for low-income, Black, Hispanic, Native American, twice exceptional, and female students. Or both!
Educators within our field want effective strategies for working with bright students. They may have one advanced student or dozens; they may have no identified students but many diamonds-in-the-rough who will do great things if only given the right opportunities. They understand the value of research but wear many hats and have little time to keep up with the latest studies. Educators’ concerns are usually broader than those of parents (several students vs. one or two children), and they are working within educational systems that provide little credit for helping students perform at advanced levels (and may even be hostile to the idea).
Academics generally are concerned about conducting cutting-edge research, working with the other communities to implement research-based practices, and training future educators. They often focus on improving the situation for large groups of students, not necessarily individuals, through promotion of research and research-based practices, and their work is examined quite closely by their employer (mainly through peer evaluation) to ensure they’re having the desired impact. Academics rarely have large numbers of colleagues with similar interests, and many work in settings where gifted or advanced education is a very low priority, if not offensive to many.
Four overlapping communities, each with its own motivations, strengths, and hurdles to overcome. Our greatest weakness is that we don’t put ourselves in the shoes of people in other communities, leading to misunderstandings, division, and pulling in opposite directions at times. This may be one reason why I look across the field and see so many passionate, hard-working advocates … but not nearly the advocacy results one would expect from such a talented group.
NAGC has an important role to play in bringing our communities together. We can promote conversations among these stakeholder groups; we can ensure that all groups are represented when planning events, outreach efforts, and convention sessions; we can provide a wide range of resources that address the needs of each group while acknowledging the contributions each community made to that particular resource. We can model our field’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity by not merely exhibiting tolerance – which implies there is something to be tolerated – but carefully considering a wide range of opinions, valuing perspectives different from our own, and modifying our views accordingly.
The future of the field depends, in large part, on our communities acknowledging their different mindsets and learning to work together across those well-entrenched perspectives and biases. If we all start pulling in the same direction, much like the field of special education has done, we will create the long-term change for gifted students, their families, and our schools, culture, and economy we have struggled to achieve. I look forward to working with you as we take NAGC to the next level in our support for gifted students.
Footnote: *There are probably more than four communities within our field, but I boiled things down for argument’s sake. The same issues exist whether we have 2 or 22 communities.
Jonathan A. Plucker, Ph.D., is the President of the NAGC Board and the Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.
The views expressed herein represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the National Association for Gifted Children.
Copyright 2019 National Association for Gifted Children. Used with permission of NAGC www.nagc.org
As you read this newsletter, we at the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted are still basking in the “afterglow” of our fall annual conference, “Revolutionizing the Basics: Making Education WORK for Gifted Students” October 3 & 4 at the Glacier Canyon Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells. We were pleased to share this dynamic learning event with well over 300 guests, speakers and exhibitors. Our audience included teachers and administrators, retired educators, state representatives, teens, parents, psychologists, social workers, and members of the business community. We welcomed attendees from all areas of our state, and shared countless ideas of what works best for kids and gifted education. Many conference attendees remarked that there was a “charge” in the rooms, an electricity or palpable energy as we learned and grew together. Without a doubt, many special things were happening. Old friendships were rekindled; new ones were made. Old ideas were challenged; new ones forged. Conversations were lively and productive, with much laughter (and some libations) shared. There was, indeed, a “charge” in the air, and we thank you, our attendees, for bringing our conference to life with your energy and curiosity.
Though it is impossible to thank everyone who helped to make this event so successful, we especially want to thank our conference chairwomen, Kitty Ver Kuilen and Beth Fairchild for their boundless energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement. With the support of Nancy Woodward, our highly capable Executive Assistant at WATG, these ladies ran a spectacular conference! We also want to thank Board Member Lalitha Murali, and Stacy Read, Web and Software instructor at Waukesha County Technical College, for their work with 28 diverse and dedicated teens, who crafted online games to help solve world problems that are near and dear to their hearts. Bravi tutti in this endeavor! Please see the article in this month’s newsletter for more details about the Teen Conference.
We also want to thank our exhibitors for sharing ideas, information, and resources with our attendees. All of them stretched our thinking, and provided us with the tools to pursue excellence in gifted education.
The format change of this year’s conference allowed attendees to participate in two full days of learning, and our attendees took advantage of this. Participants engaged in thirty(! ) sessions, including five extended learning opportunities. Our highly inspiring keynote presenters, Ian Byrd and Dr. Scott Peters, challenged us to get to the heart of gifted education, to revolutionize the basics, and to respect the unique joys and challenges of raising and educating gifted children and adolescents. Our heartfelt thanks to these gentlemen for sharing their time and talents with us.
Each WATG conference is also a chance to celebrate some of the people who have made unique and lasting contributions to our field during the past year. This year’s award winners included:
Our kudos and grateful thanks to all of them!
Finally, we’d like to acknowledge the abiding care and thoughtful presence of our outgoing president, Cathy Schmit. Under her indomitable leadership, our organization continues to grow, and to tackle new tasks that will benefit gifted learners in our state. Thank you, Cathy!
Every outstanding conference leaves us with excellent memories, and also with a “charge” to go forth - to use what we’ve learned - in our homes, our classrooms, our schools, our state, and our nation. Therefore, we as a board are “charging” you with two duties during the coming year:
P.S. If you still have the “earworm” of the WATG Board’s performance of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” rolling around in your brain, you’re welcome :)