The Meaning of Change

purple-haze.jpgI was writing to an aunty today who had recently moved into a retirement village. It was thrust on her through mobility problems, so quite a shock after having lived in the same family home for the last 37 years. More of a shock perhaps, too, for the family who had to prepare the house for sale and minimise their mother’s belongings for her imminent shift.

As I spoke of change, in the time sense, I realised it had a lot to do with change in the monetary ‘cents’ (couldn’t help the pun!!!) When you receive change from the storekeeper you get back what is left from your money after your purchase. Change in the literal sense can also be viewed as what is left the same, after you have removed certain familiarities you once had. Continue reading “The Meaning of Change”

The Course

These have to be the most insightful words I have seen written by a parent, about their participation in their children’s education, in the last two centuries!

The Course

A great blog for those interested in non-school education of the gifted. Thank you all at “Chasing Hollyfeld”

Gifted Resources for the Regular Classroom

A reminder here for some interesting, higher order thinking, inquiry learning for your students.

Here is a link to the books I have written for teachers to use within their regular classrooms, to help broaden inquiry learning topics for their gifted students. See them at the Essential Resources website, or at your local teacher resource centre.

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Each book (9 in total) has between six and twelve units that address specific aspects of giftedness or topics that interest gifted students. The Teacher Notes page addresses some of the issues gifted students encounter in the classroom, and give you ideas on how to deal with them.

Here are some of the Units covered in each of the three levels:

Juniors (Ages 5 – 7)

Feelings and Opinions
So Many Questions
Having the Choice
Working Together
Tenacity and Compromise
Overcoming Frustration


Middles (Ages 8 -10)

Caged, But Free
Extreme Work Environments
Seasons and Cycles
Secret Places
From My Perspective


Senior (Ages 11 – 13)

Beyond the Atmosphere
Tipping the Scales of Justice
DNA Discovery
Living in Cultural Harmony
Following the Evidence
Search for the Truth
Sustainable Choices

Anna’s Story

blogtour21I first met Anna just over 10 years ago when she was the dazzling ‘princess’ – just remarried, wearing a lovely tiara like her favourite princess, Diana.

Anna is not her real name, but for the sake of anonymity, I will not use anyone’s real names in this story.

Anna had been married before and had two lovely teenagers, aged 13 and 15, that she had raised on her own since just before the youngest child was born – nearly 14 years! Wow – that in itself was a credit to her resilience and commitment to give her children the best start she could.

While her youngest was still pre-school age, she studied extramurally and gained her Accountancy degree and worked part-time as an accountant. Soon after graduating she took a post-graduate teaching course and started primary teaching, which suited a single mum with two school aged children perfectly! Prior to babies, she had been in fashion design for 15 years and this in itself showed her range of talent – left and right brain dominant!

But this is not a story about Anna’s gifts or talents, because she rarely thinks of herself as gifted, just “bright”. This is a story about her new relationships with a family who are obviously creative-gifted, and dysfunctional, and a stern reminder why we should advocate for our gifted kids with all our heart.

Marrying into this family has broken Anna’s heart, but not her resolve to advocate for those she can.

Anna was swept off her feet by her ‘prince’, maybe somewhat foolishly, but he captured her heart as a pianist, could be as ‘gentle as a giant’, and loved the outdoors as much as she did, especially skiing and sailing. He ran his own business from home and had been single-parenting his own two children, and a foster son, for the previous six years. To take on someone else’s wayward son at age six and transform him into a caring, educated citizen was not something many men could be proud of. So, of course, these all looked promising traits for the marriage ahead.

Six months into the marriage – Wham! Anna was not prepared for all she got. She expected ‘rocky’; she even expected ‘resistance’ from the children. What she didn’t expect was the disparity with her husband that began to open and fester like an ugly wound.

What started out as her husbands’ awkward idiosyncrasies and different ways of doing things soon became frustrations and points of dissension. She thought, “Who have I married?” She was not used to such an opposite set of values or ways of rearing children. The stress was really telling on all the family, so her husband suggested she take some time out from full-time teaching and study for a while.

Meanwhile, he was also questioning the marriage and what he had gotten himself into. Who was this woman who was so different to him? He privately began to search for answers, and started to question her mental stability!

Anna chose to further her studies into education, and especially online education and gifted education. She had started to develop interests in meeting the needs of those marginalised in the regular classroom. Long story short, she started to see the traits of the gifted, especially the creative-gifted, so obvious in her husband. She started to share these with him and over time, he began to understand his ‘differentness’. He had experienced this since school, and had been badly bullied as a young person. At 44 years old, though, he was not about to change his ways of coping that he had developed over the past few decades.

Anna’s husband had an extremely strong mind and he would push through all obstacles that got in his way when he was ‘a man on a mission.’ That had yielded a mixed bag of results in his working life from top national sales person in one company, to pulling his own company back from near bankruptcy in later years.

The full story would take too long, so I will cut it short at this point. Anna went on to experience various marriage separations as her husband sought his own space to be ‘himself’, and threatened her with ‘ultimatums’ of how things would have to be for them to live together. There was no form of mediation or meeting each other halfway. It was ‘his way’ or the ‘highway’! Anna knew by now, he wouldn’t back down. She had seen this dogged determination in gifted students she had taught, and often feared for their future adulthood.

At one point of separation, Anna’s husband claimed she had Asperger Syndrome. She had taught some of these special children, and vehemently denied his claims. She insisted that if he thought that, then maybe both should be checked out for it, because she found him equally problematic to communicate with. Three hours and $650 later neither were found to have Asperger Syndrome, but the specialist did say there were other problems in the marriage that could be dealt with.

Nothing else was dealt with, because her husband laid the blame for the marriage problems on Anna not understanding him. She tried to accommodate all his idiosyncrasies, now knowing that was how he was wired, but it was a tense relationship and the cracks ever widened, with Anna living under the cloud of his self-diagnosis of her ‘problems’.

Ultimately, after living on a Pacific Island, where they had gone to help restore post-tsunami tourism, and hopefully patch up their marriage, he asked her not to return after a trip back to New Zealand. She had shown absolute commitment to her marriage, living through extended periods of poverty and hardship in ‘third world’ living conditions (living in the bush with no electricity, running water, and living off the food grown on their land) in her last two years.

For those of you who have read the sophisticated picture book, Westlandia, and remember the character, Wesley, this is a most apt depiction of Anna’s husband.

Anna says she has learned much about the other side of giftedness from her ordeal, but her return home was the continuation of more of the tragic story. She returned and stayed with her ‘mother-in-law’, initially just until she got work, but it ended up being for nearly one year for various reasons. She became the main caregiver of the mother of her now de facto husband after the elderly lady had a heart attack, and learned much about the family in the time she lived there.

All the family members had traits of creative-giftedness in the areas of music and the arts. The mother also had dyslexic traits. None of these had ever been officially identified and this family had been well-known for years in art, dance and music circles. They had lived a very difficult life together as a family and have all appeared to go their own separate ways, with the parents finally separating after 40 years of a rocky marriage, and the children hardly contacting each other.

What Anna has drawn from this experience …

Firstly, it is important for the gifted to have their academic and creative needs met in school, so they are not frustrated and lose hope for themselves.

But more importantly, they need to have social and emotional needs met, not only for themselves, but also for the sake of those nearest and dearest to them. This can be to nurture their own healthy family relationships, but also for those they will eventually relate to outside of their own family.

I would add…

Just as we give guidance to our top sportsmen to help them cope with the pressures of professional fame, we should be guiding our gifted youngsters into developing the means to advocate for themselves. To do this effectively, they need to know themselves, and how they think differently from others they might meet. There are some easy ways of letting others around you feel more comfortable in your presence.

Difference can be celebrated, once it is accepted. But, if we deny the chance of identifying these children, we may forever leave them struggling in their future relationships. I know many students say they don’t want to be seen as different, and don’t want the gifted label, and I empathise with that. But, they are different, and they need to be identified and assisted in any way they need to help them function as a healthy, emotionally adjusted citizen. In an ideal world we would personalise the education of everyone to help them to reach their aspirations and beyond. We would not have to label anyone as we would be accepting of all. But, we don’t have an ideal world. We don’t have ideal parents raising ideal kids and ideal teachers for every child they teach.

What we do have are passionate people who have all experienced any number of situations like Anna, but who may not be as keen to talk about them publically. I ask that in this “Gifted Awareness Week” we recognise the Anna’s out there, and ask our politicians and education ministries in whatever country we reside, to know that behind our calls for funding are real people who have been really heart-broken because of giftedness not being given the priority it deserves.

Finally, if you know “Anna” or recognise her from some of this story, please be thankful for her openness, but please keep her anonymity.

The Dichotomies of Giftedness

blogtour21It is Gifted Awareness Week again in New Zealand and time to give the readers a glimpse into the lives of some of our most precious students. I chose this particular title because it reminds us of the contradictory nature of some of the traits of gifted students.

Another more subtle reason is the astronomic definition, given below (#4).

di·chot·o·my   [dahy-kot-uh-mee]   noun, plural di·chot·o·mies.

1. division into two parts, kinds, etc.; subdivision into halves or pairs.
2. division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action.
3. Botany . a mode of branching by constant forking, as in some stems, in veins of leaves, etc.
4. Astronomy . the phase of the moon or of an inferior planet when half of its disk is visible.
The inferior bit has nothing to do with my reasoning! Its the half invisible” that I want to point out, specifically.
When we discuss the gifted, children or adults, there are often two seemingly opposite sides to their personalities. Strategies we use can sometimes be contradictory to the uninformed. This may be best explained using some common dichotomies I have noticed when teaching and living with the gifted. Research over the years has shown how different, varied and unique* the gifted are, so these are not applicable in all situations, but serve to help understand the ‘least understandable’ aspects of giftedness.
*Sally Reiss’ ever resonant explanation

Knows, but doesn’t like to show
This is not just referring to showing of the final product. Some gifted have such a perfectionist tendency, they find it difficult to complete tasks to their own satisfaction, and are loathe to show you something they feel is not quite ready (or perfect!). Others, especially in calculatory subjects like mathematics, may ‘get’ the answer and then not be keen to ‘show their working’, or simply not be able to explain how they ‘worked it out’. They find explaining their answer, something they have already finished in their own mind, frustrating or a waste of time. The ‘invisible’ aspect can so easily be thought of as the student just being ‘cantankerous’.

Segregate them to help them feel accepted
The education ministry in New Zealand is keen to mainstream most students, thus putting the burden of responsibility for catering for the many individual needs squarely onto the local schools’ and their restrictive budgets. Research has shown the gifted benefit from attending withdrawal classes comprising like-minded gifted individuals. In this sort of atmosphere they are welcomed for who they are, not shunned for their eccentricities or held back with the classroom ‘norms’ of achievement. They can be given a chance to truly excel and use their gifted minds which, incidentally, don’t switch off after they return to their normal classroom environments. So, at least they will get their abilities catered for about 20% of their school life, (since many of these withdrawal programmes operate for one day a week), which might stretch out a bit more if they have an understanding teacher. This ‘invisible’ aspect can too easily be thought of as ‘elitism’.

Group them to encourage their ‘selves’
This is connected to the point above. By grouping gifted with other gifted students, there is a chance to see and get to know how they are different from other age group peers, but similar as well. To meet other individuals who experience their same trials at school, have similar emotional intensities as they do, and enjoy the company of others similar to themselves is an enormous asset. They can see their ‘self’ identities are acceptable, and not in any way subservient to anyone else. They can form a good self image, so necessary for their future walk ahead in the world. This ‘invisible’ aspect can change the ‘lonely outsider’ into an ‘accepted’ member of the group.

Teaching the basics to those so advanced
A common dilemma for gifted students, who have cruised through primary schooling without being challenged sufficiently, is that they have never learned how to fail or handle struggles to learn. They can be quite deficient in some of the resiliency skills that others have built through having to work hard to understand, all through their school years. This sets them up for failure when the curriculum becomes more  challenging at secondary school. An astute teacher, who understands this, needs to ensure these students are given challenges that will cause them to stumble, and teach them how to move forward towards success. Asynchrony is another trait of giftedness, and it is common for gifted academics to be less well-developed in some other areas, e.g social-emotional issues. Just because a student talks with the vocabulary of an adult doesn’t mean they will necessarily have the social skills to match. The ‘invisible’ knowledge needs to be made ‘visible’ to these students.

Differentiate to specialise
Students who have work that is tailored to their own needs (differentiated) can help build their areas of expertise and therefore lead to outstanding specialist outputs. In gifted education students are too often held back and asked to patch up their gaps in education (their weaker subjects) rather than spend the time to advance their gifts. This is very frustrating for them. It is a bit like asking the sprint champion to train with the marathon runners so that he is better able to run longer distances. He will likely never want to compete in a long distance run, so why bother? If each distance specialist trained for their own specialty, there is more likelihood of success for them all. If we continue to keep their talents ‘invisible’ they may eventually disappear into mediocrity.

Sheltered to make them more autonomous
Gifted students need a good advocate; someone who can bat for them when there is resistance to meeting their needs. The better we educate gifted students about their different educational needs, and celebrate these differences, the more likely they will be able to advocate for themselves as they join the world of business or academia later. We are not being ‘pushy parents’ or ‘sheltering them from the real world’ as some may suggest. But we are trying to make others aware of the less obvious differences that arise. It is generally so easy to accept difference and accommodate for it when it comes in the form of physical disability, but not when it is an outstanding academic difference. Let us work together to make these ‘invisible’ needs ‘visible’ and prepare our gifted students to impact the next generation!