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New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education's Blog

What's the Story? 

Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


Tranquility, Connectedness, and Wairuatanga




A little bit of paradise is what it is. Sitting in the shadows, on the moss-covered bridge, my feet dangle above the trickling water of the creek. Around me, the cool, damp air lingers, trees and plants breathing life into the surrounds, into me. A grey warbler flits in the branches above, while further away the heavier flight of a tui can be heard as it moves off towards its next lunching spot. This. This is peace. This is a place of calm, a place of pondering, a place of wondering, and a place of healing.  A place to simply ... be.

It is in amongst the native bush, with its earthen smell, that I begin to contemplate what it is to be spiritually gifted. A topic rarely explored, yet listed in many key New Zealand resources as a form of giftedness to be recognised and nurtured. But how is spirituality defined? What does it look like? How would exceptionality be expressed and, furthermore, how can we nurture this quality in gifted youngsters? Phew! So many questions!

I thought back to a brief conversation with a colleague who had expressed her spirituality, or wairuatanga, as connectedness among all things, aligning with the description in Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand which expresses a Māori Worldview that “everything in the world is believed to be related. People, birds, fish, trees, weather patterns – they are all members of a cosmic family”. This perspective fits neatly with the views of Palmer as expressed by Sisk (2008) who “defined spiritual as a quest for connectedness with self, with others, with the worlds of history and nature, and with the mystery of being alive”.

Of course, as with all aspects of giftedness, it is really important to remain mindful that “creativity, spirituality and social giftedness may be interpreted in different ways in different cultures” (Bevan-Brown, 2009, p. 7) and sub-cultures - such as iwi. Exemplifying this, gifted advocate Melinda Webber (2016), who hails from Te Arawa expresses wairuatanga as a “moral compass and sense of social justice”, a quality apparent in Te Arawa’s Wihapi Winiata. At first, I felt that these seemed like rather disparate ideas with the notion of connectedness, morals and social justice being tied, yet distinct from one another, but as I continued my quest to understand, the links became more clear.


Tauarai i te po, Titoko i te ao marama, Ko te wehe a Ihoa, Te Timatanga i te whakaaro nui.

In the vales of darkness seek learning and understanding. It is wisdom, it is life

What, then, can we understand about how spiritual giftedness might present itself? It may include early thoughtful probing, existential questioning (yes, often from the moment they can string a sentence together, and that might only consist of the word ‘why’! but be accompanied by the very real urge and ‘need’ to understand more deeply), a strong natural desire to experience states of joy, peace, transcendence, and/or creativity, and an intuitive nature. Of course, as with all things gifted, it is unlikely that any one child will exhibit all these traits at once.


Existential questioning

Longings for:

  • How can I make a difference?

  • Joyful feelings

  • Why am I here?

  • Creative expression

  • Does my life have meaning? A purpose?

  • Being of service

  • How should we live?

  • Silence

  • Is there meaning to life? If so, what is the meaning of life, what is life’s purpose?

  • Opportunities to meditate/
    be in the moment 

  • Why is there something, rather than nothing?

  • Solitude

  • Transcendent experiences


Interestingly, Navan (2012) groups these characteristics, suggesting four distinct types of spirituality: having a quest, being on a journey, interconnectedness, and transcendence.

 Time for an interlude? This is pretty heavy stuff. But hold tight, as I can assure you that implementing approaches to nurture spirituality is not as challenging as it may seem. Before we get into that, however ...  we would like to take a moment to invite you to express your views on this often contentious area of giftedness. How do you view spiritual giftedness? Please take a moment to share your ideas in the comments below.

Not quite ready to get back into it yet? Why not do something a bit fun (with the kids or just for yourself - we won’t judge - promise) that helps nurture qualities of spiritual giftedness? Quandary is an online game that puts the player in the leadership seat to work through dilemmas on a faraway planet. Fun and thought-provoking, it develops moral reasoning and provides an opportunity to support reflective thinking about personal values and characteristics as they pertain to making choices within a virtual community context. 



I wonder how many of the ideas presented here can be teased out of a deeper consideration of the game ... ahh but now I am heading off on a tangent ... back to the focus at hand! So, we have some ideas on what it means to be spiritually gifted, with the caveat that this can differ across time and cultures. We also have an idea of some of the ways we might recognise this. Adding to this, Sisk offers us a list of explicit traits that might also be recognised, and some ways to strengthen these.  I wonder what you would add to the list? We’d love to know.

I don’t know about you, but when I started this blog, I really had no idea of what was meant by spiritually gifted. I had some ideas and assumptions but lacked any clear understanding. But now, I feel that my eyes are beginning to be opened, enabling me to see that while spiritual giftedness is often not specifically identified within schools or private assessment processes, there are many approaches already in use within homes, schools, and communities around Aotearoa New Zealand, which are nurturing these very qualities. One example is Community Problem Solving

I can now also recognise some of the wonderful ways in which spiritual giftedness is nurtured within the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education’s curriculum, such as:

  • opportunities for reflective thinking and the development of reflective skills;
  • exploring self and in particular one’s experiences of giftedness;
  • promotion of problem-solving skills and strategies and considering dilemmas;
  • making links with real life contexts;
  • inclusion of service learning projects;
  • incorporating an explicit focus on personal growth;
  • utilising conceptual thinking and drawing out big ideas;
  • studying the lives of other gifted individuals and groups - eminent or of personal relevance to the individual or their family;
  • teaching communication and negotiation skills;
  • creative, caring thinking ... the list goes on.

One aspect that is particularly strong throughout the programmes is the acknowledgment that working with gifted learners in a holistic way is imperative and the respect shown to this through the Centre’s philosophy. As Brown (1999) stated, ‘separating the intellect from the other senses, and from the body itself, will cause all of the intelligences to suffer”. Which brings me full circle, as I again meander through the lush green of native plants dripping with glistening drops of recent rain. Here is a place of connectedness with the world, a place of quiet and solitude, a place to contemplate the big questions, a place to nurture one’s spirit.


'What's the Story?' is a new blog section which is being written for the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, with posts being added regularly. The purpose of this space is to share musings and anecdotes relating to giftedness and gifted education to provide a form of information and support for those living with and/or teaching gifted learners. Please do share them along.


We would love to hear from you.  Grab a cuppa and share your story in the comments.

What's the Story? Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


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Please note that the views expressed in these blogs are those of the author and not necessarily representative of the views of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.


Image credits: McKenizie River Hiking Trail, Oregon by Bonnie Moreland is licensed under Public Domain.

Tranquility, Connectedness and Wairuatanga

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