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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.


Dream Big!



I recently read a meme noting that next year will again be the 20’s. Obvious, yes, but funny too, as contradictory images of the 1920’s flit alongside those of current times. Thinking back to ‘old’ movies where the storylines were set in the futuristic year of 2020 brings some chuckles, with authors having an array of possibilities lined up. What with boxing matches between robots, alien invasions and time-loops, post-apocalyptic battles on Earth against dragons awakened from the distant past, the colonisation of the moon, manned missions to Mars - and even Venus, inter-dimensional portals, and, wait for it ... drum roll, please ... global peace ... reality seems a little, well ...  different.

But as the old saying goes, life is what we make it. Imagination, creativity, and courage are the foundations for crafting our future. The start of the school year is when we often have conversations with our kids about how they see themselves, what they want to achieve, and where they want it to lead - perhaps not a landing on Mars any time soon, but you never quite know - best not to put any glass ceilings in the road! This is an opportunity for our young people to write their futures with a fresh perspective. Uh-huh. It’s the time of year when we ask them to set their goals. Yes! That dreaded ‘g’ word - for many of our gifted youngsters anyway, particularly those who think in less linear and confined ways, such as visual-spatial learners.

Regardless of the year gone by, most begin with optimism and excitement at the idea of a new start, but for some gifted learners the process of goal-setting can be daunting and arduous and, ironically, may actually be inhibitory to their learning and creativity - they still need permission to go searching down interesting “rabbit holes” to delve deeply into their current area of curiosity. After all, we don’t want to discourage curiosity or put out their fire for learning!

But goal setting is always important, right? And surely it isn’t that hard? Well, I guess it depends on the expectations within an environment - or perceived expectations - not to mention the expectations of the young person on their own self (high-performance expectations and/or perfectionism come to mind) - and on the immediacy of our goals and whether in fact they are more of a vision than a goal or set of goals. But what if I said it also has a lot to do with the neurology of the child?

Our kids who grasshopper around with their thinking, want to dig deep as their imagination is caught, ask seemingly “off task” questions, and yes, the daydreamers - they actually benefit from having the chance to gather ideas and mull over them, developing more questions, wonderings and curiosity, and repeating this cycle of gathering and contemplation, until they reach a moment of insight. You know, those kids (and adults) who seem to suddenly just “get it”? They have a sudden moment of clarity out of nowhere and flash, they have the answer to that tricky maths question - but can’t explain how (and potentially miss out on crucial marks in assessments because of it or are considered “not to understand”) - or have an incredible distillation of thoughts with no logical sequence seemingly getting them to their intuitive idea? Ring a bell? Well, here is a little something I found fascinating which relates to this way of processing.

“...we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments…our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.”

- Lynne Azpeitia

Research involving brain imaging has begun to identify activity that correlates strongly with an impending “aha” moment. In some contexts, this can be up to eight seconds prior to participants intuitively solving a challenge! The results of various studies suggest a strong basis for predicting intuitive success. I think this is pretty incredible. The very notion of brain mapping ‘lightbulb” moments (please excuse the pun) is starting to shed new light on how ideas (or perhaps sensory inputs - stored and incoming) are associated and assembled for problem-solving. Enter daydreaming.


There is plenty of science - and yes, pseudoscience - making links between daydreaming and coming up with solutions and new or novel ideas. There are suggestions that through intentional mindful meditation practices we can bridge the link between our conscious stream of thought (awareness of ‘the now’ and current sensory inputs) and our default mode of daydreaming (aka imagining for the purposes of future possibilities and intentions). This state of awareness of fluid thinking provides a unique opportunity to pluck from these ideas as they pass, to use as we wish, in a conscious manner.


“Our mindfulness practice is not really about setting goals and achieving goals. It has much more to do with letting go and opening up to what is already there, to what is our basic human capacity that is already there within us, but is somehow not getting seen, not getting met, not getting activated, not fully allowed to flower or be present in our life. It’s through that actualizing, that stepping back and opening up, that we start to actualize the wisdom and compassion that we already have.” 

- Robert Thomas of Mindful Schools

So, my question to you is, beyond the guided meditations and mindful practices already used in some classrooms, can we use intentional meditation practices with our kids to help them relax, let their thoughts flow as they loosely contemplate intentions, and then draw on these to guide learners to envision what success in their school year might look like to them and, from this, (separate to the mindfulness practice), more readily derive their personal learning goals - long term or even daily?


The idea is that we break past angst and over-thinking, and beyond having a goal-oriented focus, to allow unstructured thoughts to flow and, in doing so, tap into the default neural network associated with daydreaming to allow more intuitive thinking to occur. As the kids become familiar with the process and in turn, more relaxed, they will be increasingly successful in their intentional mindful practices, giving rise to greater opportunity to then encourage them (again, after the completion of the mindfulness practice), to use their ideas to develop a vision board or a set of written, recorded or verbalised vision statements to begin the year. Be sure to let them choose how they record their ideas, as they need to have ownership of it, and really importantly, not feel overwhelmed in any way. These might become wallpaper on computer or phone screens, or a cover for school books, or ... I’m sure the kids will come up with plenty of ideas to help keep their vision in front of them as a reminder of what they are working towards. Below are some great resources to begin by co-constructing a shared classroom mission and vision as a means of introducing this process.

While developed in relation to managing complex change, the following matrix provides what I think can be translated into the context of learning quite nicely. After all, learning is change. Here we can clearly see why we need to begin with guiding learners to craft a personal vision of their learning journey - to eliminate confusion. It becomes their 'why', something our gifted learners in particular, often seek to understand as they determine the purpose of, and value in, their next steps.


Vision + skills + incentives + resources + action plan = change
  Skills + incentives + resources + action plan = confusion
Vision +   incentives + resources + action plan = anxiety
Vision + skills +   resources + action plan = resistence
Vision + skills + incentives +   action plan = frustration
Vision + skills + incentives + resources +   = treadmill


Taking a step back from the vision development process, perhaps even more critically, the mindfulness process the students learn through envisioning their future has the potential to be a life-long tool that will benefit them in many ways, far beyond that of writing their path to a successful school day, month, term or year!

So, to come full circle, yes, of course, setting goals is important - but keep this for the action plan and start out instead, with grand and glorious visions of success. Invite your kids to dream, and dream big! The New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education uses this approach with great success when beginning a programme of talent development with their older students.

But before you start with your young people, it’s your turn.

What is your vision? Where do you see yourself in 2020?



To find out about opportunities to engage and stretch the minds of your gifted youngsters in the coming year, get in touch with the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education today, and ask about their specialist programmes, training and library services.


'What's the Story?' is a blog section which is 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: Dream Big by @markheybo  is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and has been modified.


Crafting a Vision to Create Their Future

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