Wow! What an amazing Blog Tour! We have heard the perspectives of children, parents, teachers and specialist educators in relation to this year’s theme of Belonging; accepted, included and connected. These voices come from throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and across the globe. It has been an absolute pleasure reading and sharing these with you all.
We invite you to join us in thanking those who made the time to contribute their thoughts and experiences through posts, making this year's New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour the success that is has been. Likewise, we would also like to extend our thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read and engage with the blogs, and to those who have shared these along to others. Your participation is just as vital for making the Blog Tour a success.
This very last blog post for the Tour brings the key ideas together from each of the blogs, supporting them further with practical tools to utilise in working with gifted youngsters. A number of the blogs already include practical ideas and resources, so keep an eye out for these as you read through.
To set the scene, Cathryn Bjarnesen suggests in her post Three Key Ingredients: Knowledge, Willingness, and Understanding, that before we can work toward the admirable goal of a sense of belonging for our gifted learners, we first need to be willing to learn to be open to new knowledge and perspectives, open to evolution of our understandings, and be ready to alter our practices accordingly. It is important that we reflect on this and maintain awareness in relation to how receptive we are so that we may decrease barriers to our learning, continuing to grow and improve in our work for learners.
So, are you open to reading about other's perceptions, learning something new and being ready for the possibility to have some of your beliefs challenged? You are? Great! Then read on!
Before we launch head first into recapping the theme and exploring additional resources, it could be useful to outline a few of the fundamentals of giftedness. In the extremely popular blog post 9 Things the World Must Understand About Gifted Children, Celi Trépanier introduces the main misconceptions and falsely held beliefs that often surround gifted learners. Building on this further, Melinda Gindy highlights in her blog post Breaking the Boundaries, some key ideas in relation to the diversity of gifted learners, and the need to deconstruct the barriers which prevent the identification of diverse gifted learners and which also inhibit the provision of appropriate learning supports for these children.
It is also important to acknowledge that there are a variety of worldviews when it comes to why we should ensure gifted learners' needs are met, and while through the blogs it seems evident from a learner-centred perspective, Emma Scobie-Jennings adds to this, providing yet another reason, whereby she argues that Getting Education Right for Gifted and Talented Students is an Imperative for the Survival of Humanity!
The impact of teacher beliefs on learning: Explores what underlies teacher beliefs and how these impact on opportunities for learners - you might be surprised!
Becoming aware of our unconscious bias: An enjoyable and thought-provoking video
Challenging assumptions and beliefs about inclusion: A Ministry of Education resource to support reflective practice
In search of the essence of a good teacher: towards a more holistic approach in teacher education: Provides an excellent model for the professional reflective process
As we can all appreciate, belonging is a fundamental human need and as such is integral in our curriculum, both within Te Whāriki and as a Key Competency within the compulsory schooling sector. However, as Andrea Delaune points out in her post entitled What do You Mean by This Belonging Thing Anyway?, this term is ill-defined. How do we know what belonging is for a child? What might this look like when observed, and how might it be measured in order to be able to work towards optimal outcomes? It is certainly more than 'fitting in' and/or 'complying', as we can sense through the experiences of the children who have blogged.
One such example shared in the Tour, started off by a single innocuous Message on a Post-It note in one of Madelaine Armstong-Willcocks' MindPlus classes, which was followed by a stream of thoughts from the kids, whose outpouring expressed their need for belonging and how this was often not forth coming in learning environments. This is further exemplified through the blog post Walk a Mile in My Shoes, shared by a child and his Mum who write about experiences in both the early childhood and school settings where feelings of belonging and safety were not apparent, along with the consequences which came part and parcel with this for this highly anxious gifted youngster.
Introducing and implementing "belonging" in your classroom: A classroom activity
Learning in safe schools by Faye Brownlie and Judith King: An excellent book for all educators
But all is not lost; such outcomes are avoidable. Sue Barriball, programme manager for the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education explores in her blog post Ponderings on Belonging, what it was that made for a learning environment which felt like a place of belonging to her as a youngster; what the differences are between places which afford this sense of belonging for children and those which do not.
To hear some wonderful success stories, take a moment to read through these lovely blog posts by students who are dual enrolled, participating in the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education's MindPlus programme one day a week. (There are more gems from students further on - so keep reading!)
What can we take away from what we are reading? How might we use this understanding to better support gifted learners we work with?
Small Poppies: A programme for gifted early-years children and their parents or caregivers
MindPlus: A programme for gifted 6-13 year olds that provides intellectual, creative, social and emotional learning and support. Children come together, with a specialist teacher, or one day each week
Gifted Online: Using technology to connect gifted children with each other, with specialist teachers and with challenging and engaging learning opportunities
An array of interesting perspectives are shared in relation to acknowledgement of giftedness, the unique abilities, qualities and needs of gifted, and the challenges that can be experienced which are often misunderstood.
William Pellegrini shares insights into what it is like for a multi-exceptional learner with ADHD and emphasises the need for strengths-based practice to dominant the discourse and practice of educators and families in the blog Sometimes it's Better to Receive. This presents as a wonderful lead-in to Twice Exceptional Learners: Spikey Profiles blog post written by Catherine Watts. Catherine sheds some light on the discrepancies in abilities, seen or unseen, in gifted learners who also experience disorders, disabilities and/or impairments.
Blog contributions also include perspectives such as those from: a guest blogger for Leith Occupational Therapy who shares about what life is like as the Mum of a gifted youngster in her blog 2e - A Mum's Experience; and Michelle Eenkhoorn in One Day at a Time. In The Little Girl that Could, Tina Harlow eloquently shows the challenges for child and parents/caregivers alike, that can come with the fear of failure that many gifted learners develop.
Tying in with these, some of the struggles and frustrations experienced with the educational system by parents/whānau of gifted children, are also expressed by Michelle Eenkhoorn who addresses this in Zero Educational Support. Michelle highlights the need for positive changes in education from an earlier stage than compulsory school age. This emphasises the need for professional development and external supports for early childhood educators to empower this to occur, as has also been evidenced through research. .
This dovetails nicely with the topic of Belonging as Parents, as explored by Rebecca Watson, who discusses the belonging that families units as a whole need to feel. Caitlin Watson adds another perspective on this in her blog post Life With a Gifted Brother...Do I Belong Here?.
How might we ensure that acknowledgement occurs in regards to the unique identity of a gifted learner, but also for families on a whole as they find their way forward supporting these children and young people?
Justine Hughes questions the effectiveness of supports for gifted learners asking Are We Failing Our Gifted Learners...and Teachers? Acknowledging our learners for who they are, with giftedness at the core of how they experience and respond to the world is a very good place to start, but that needs to lead into changes in practice which ensure these children are included. What inclusion means in actuality is addressed in Through their Eyes: Exploring What Inclusion Means for Gifted Learners by Vanessa White.
So what does it feel to be included? MindPlus student Cameron, shares just this in his poem Together They Laughed, showing us the true feelings that inclusion can result in. Elaine Le Sueur offers some great practical ideas in her post Let's Make Differentiation the Norm, for how to help achieve this result in the classroom, while Lucy Perin, with Belonging: Homeschool Style, shows how homeschooling can be the best fit for some kids.
We can see from Cameron's poem the importance of connection. This is explored more fully through a number of blogs. Carol Bainbridge wrote a great piece entitled Why Gifted Kids can Feel Like Misfits - and What We can Do About It. Some brilliant approaches to this are offered. Maureen Neihart shares some pointers for Developing Social Networks while Tracy Riley emphasises the imperative for time with like-minded peers through her Belonging acrostic. Elaine Le Sueur suggests the uses of technology as a means of forming appropriate connections beyond the immediate learning environment in Harambe's Legacy, also providing an example of this in practice with an Invitation for gifted students to participate in the development of a book through sharing their stories. A further example is afforded by Jo Frietag who has created a safe space for the creatively gifted to gather online. Jo shares about this in her blog post Belonging: A Place of Sanctuary.
So, if you have read this far...well done!! Your commitment to kids learning and wellbeing is evident. Hopefully you have been inspired to access some of the resources, share ideas and information with family, friends, colleagues, gifted students and their families'. Your work is valued and makes a difference - whether you are able to see this impact directly or not.
As we know only too well, educators supporting gifted learners also need to feel a sense of belonging, acknowledged, included and accepted for their views and their work, so that they might be empowered to continue their good work. This is acknowledged by Rosemary Cathcart in The Often Forgotten Third Corner of the Triangle...and What to Do About It!
Check out some of the excellent places to find information and support to help you in your journey with gifted learners.
Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting their Needs in New Zealand Schools: Ministry of Education guidelines
TKI Gifted and Talented Community: Information and resources pertaining to gifted education
Examples of Good Practice in Gifted Education: Education Review Office exemplars
Evaluation and Self-Review for Schools: Resources to support these processes
TKI Gifted and Talented Community Mailing List: An active Online Community of Practice
Facebook Groups and Pages: An array of groups with which to connect to talk and share resources
New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education Consultancy Services: Tailored support for you and your school or early childhood centre
Non-profit organisations; the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, giftEDnz, The Professional Association for Gifted Education and the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children
Well, at a national level, sadly not so well. As the recently released Joint Position Statement highlights, there is a long way to go to secure the needed level of acknowledgement and resourcing which will help to promote better outcomes for gifted learners. This is necessary if we are to make headway for these learners and see improvements from the 2008 ERO research findings in the next planned research project, which is aimed at evidencing the current state of support and provisions for gifted learners in New Zealand.
However, let this not stop us from the wonderful work that is occurring and which can occur. Each and every one of us have the ability to be leaders, forging the way for equality in access to appropriate education. We each have the capacity to share and learn from one another. Both independently and collectively, we can and will make a difference.
If you have not already been swayed into thinking that further learning and development in gifted education might be in order, I will leave the last word to Mary St. George, our fabulous former Blog Tour co-ordinator, with her blog post The Gifted Qualification Outside the Classroom.
Well, that's it for this year's New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour. We look forward to doing this all over again with you in 2017. Be sure to 'like' the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education's Facebook page to hear all about it and keep up with all our other news.
Please note, I have endeavoured to include all blog posts in this article. My sincerest apologies if we have mistakenly left yours out. Please let me know if this is the case and I will add it in.
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Image credits: Poppy by Julie is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0; Poppies by Moyan Brenn is licensed under CC By 2.0; Poppies by Pamela Kelly is licensed under CC BY 2.0; Resources by John Lester is licensed under CC BY 2.0