The often forgotten third corner of the triangle...and what to do about it!

By Rosemary Cathcart

 

 

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.

  • A support group can make representations to the school’s BOT and can work towards having one of their number become a BOT member: one thing I realised when I was a BOT member myself was how few parents realise the influence a BOT can have on school policy or seek to utilise this influence. We need to do this!
  • A support group can assist with obtaining resources. I recollect one such group of parents who fundraised to send a teacher on a professional development course when school management wouldn’t cover it.
  • A support group can contribute expertise which supports the teacher in the classroom programme, sharing their professional knowledge through acting as mentors, as demonstrators of particular skills or techniques, as topic experts and as career advisors. One of my best memories of such parent contribution was of a vet who engaged a group of gifted children in the physical dissection of a brain when they were studying this as a topic. The difference between an illustration in a book or on the computer and having a real brain to take apart and examine was powerful.
  • A support group can help the teacher organise a parent evening open to other parents to discuss questions about gifted learners and the school’s provision for them.

 

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 often effective way to do this is provide a teacher with a copy of an article of special interest from Tall Poppies or from the latest giftEDnewz or refer to a discussion that has come up on the tki site.
  • You need to register before you can access the tki site. Email Charlotte Tweedale at CTweedale@cognition.com.
  • Similarly, we each need to ensure teachers know about professional development opportunities in gifted education and are encouraged to enrol for them.

 

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.

  • Never forget the politicians! Advocacy to our MPs can be very effective. This can come from a group or from an individual. The Ministerial Working Party on Gifted Education came out of a pre-election political meeting organised by the George Parkyn Centre at which various education spokespeople presented their parties’ policies on gifted education. Before that, the Advisory Panel which led to the first Ministry handbook on gifted education ultimately resulted from the action of a highly indignant parent whose child was refused entry to One Day School by her regular school. She leapt over her fence and tackled her neighbour who just happened to be the Deputy Speaker of the House …. Always worth a try!

 

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

 
 
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