Few if any of those reading this blog series are likely to dispute the choice of theme for this year’s Gifted Awareness Week. Indeed many of us will have become involved in gifted education precisely because we saw gifted children – our own, or those in our classrooms – who did not have a sense of belonging. Children who felt lonely, inadequate and out of place amongst their peers, children who were frustrated by the learning choices they were offered and bewildered by negative reactions to their own ideas and enthusiasms, children who were hurting rather than growing.
Most of us too can identify with parents of gifted children who also find no sense of connectedness with their child’s school, whose experience is that their knowledge of their child is not wanted or valued and who certainly do not feel welcomed and included in the shaping of their child’s education.
All of us want these things to change, for both children and parents.
But there is a third party here who also needs to feel accepted, included and connected – the teacher.
We don’t often think about the position of the classroom teacher who comes to realise that gifted children do need something different. We’re just grateful that such teachers exist! But in fact it can be far from easy to be the first and often the only teacher in a school who sees this need. Your colleagues’ reactions may range from indifference to irritation to downright disagreement. People “switch off” when you raise the subject. You have to fight to get any funding for this area; you may well find you have to dip into your own pocket if you want to go on any course on gifted learners. Your ability to make any real or lasting changes for these children is very restricted; there will be times when you will feel deep despair when you see a child whose ability you have nurtured in your class retreating into unhappiness and underachievement at the hands of another teacher who “doesn’t believe in all that sort of thing”.
So teachers sensitive to the needs of gifted children also need to have a sense of belonging, of being accepted, included and connected. They need to feel that their professional understanding is recognised and respected by their colleagues, they need to be able to work effectively towards positive change in their schools, they need to feel equipped and able to lead that change.
What can we do to support teachers in this “third corner of the triangle”? Our two strongest courses of action for both parents and teachers come through networking and advocacy. For example:
Individual parents in a school can exert influence in a number of very practical ways if they network together and form a support group for gifted education in their schools.
Whether we are parents or teachers, w need to do all we can to support the existing networks and encourage teachers to participate. GiftEDnz is the first port of call for teachers, the second is the journal published by the NZAGC, Tall Poppies, and the third is the discussion forum for the gifted community on the tki website. As parents and as teachers we can alert schools and individual teachers to the existence of these useful networks.
One such opportunity is our online course, the Certificate of Effective Practice in Gifted Education, which has a focus on practical achievable strategies and which provides teachers with continuous individual tutor support throughout. (See www.giftedreach.org.nz). We’re enrolling now for 2017!
Teachers who have participated in such opportunities and found them effective need to be strongly proactive in encouraging colleagues to participate also. As a course organiser, I know that the best PR we get is the positive feedback from former course participants, sharing their enthusiasm with colleagues.
giftEDnewz and the tki website both carry information about such opportunities.
In summary, no triangle is complete without its third side, and as we seek support for children and parents, let us also work to support the teacher who, in the end, in the classroom, is the one who makes the difference.
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Image Credit: 'Warning Sign "Children" in Covasna, Romania' by Alexandru Panoiu is licensed under CC BY 2.0