Facts (or Truths?) in Gifted Education

It would seem that using a scored test that demonstrates statistically significant results which can be reported within a range with a confidence level of up to 95% would give us a fairly reasonable “fact” to guide us in gifted education, but the truth is never quite so simple. Gifted education has been plagued by myths and a lack of agreement on not only what it means to be gifted but how those identified as giftedness should be supported, leaving us with a couple of interesting facts and some truths that might help the uninitiated navigate some of the confusion.

FACT: Gifted in one school district does not guarantee gifted in another.

The truth is that despite the general consensus that we need to have a variety of methods to identify students who are gifted, this can add to the confusion of what is meant by giftedness. This can be frustrating for parents and students as not all school districts use the same measures and means to identify giftedness. In some jurisdictions, only an individually administered WISC V or SB-5 gain access to programming, while in others, group administered tests like the CCAT 7 are acceptable, while in others multiple measures looking at creativity and motivation also play a part. That said, even when using tests as a means to identification, some districts will only look at composite scores, while others will consider outstanding scores on individual batteries. Add to this the need for some gifted programs keep their numbers constant and you can see how many factors can influence what it means to gifted, making it somewhat of a moving target. Lakin (2018) suggests that what matters most is that the gifted program design reflects the needs of the students identified, whatever that process might be leading us to another controversy in the gifted community.

FACT: Gifted programming here is not always the same as gifted programming there. 

The truth is that in as much as school districts differ in how students are identified, how they support students can be very different as well. Dai and Chen (2013) have identified three different paradigms that can have an impact how gifted programming is designed. The first paradigm which they refer to as the gifted child paradigm suggests that “gifted children and adults are qualitatively different from the rest of the population” (p. 155) in how they think, feel, learn and dream about the future. This paradigm suggests a need for challenges, opportunities to work in areas of passion, like-minded peers and an affective curriculum. The second paradigm is the talent development paradigm where “domain excellence is seen as the goal of gifted education” and requires programming that does not focus so much on IQ testing but offering opportunities for students to self select into particular activities that over time can involve into programming that “addresses unique advancing needs of talented students” (p. 157). The third paradigm they identified was the differentiation paradigm which is a more recent perspective emerging from the inclusive education movement. In this paradigm “the differences in learning curve demonstrated by gifted learners are believed to be subject-specific and open to change rather than domain-general and permanent” (p. 157) and focus on support within school settings on an as needed basis.

FACT, TRUTH OR SOMETHING ELSE?: Understanding the facts and truths around identification practices, paradigms and program designs could alleviate some of the frustration/confusion we feel when one paradigm comes into conflict with another or when identification processes differ.

Dai and Chen suggest that “the articulation of paradigms helps us determine when we are comparing different kinds of apples (under the same paradigm) and when in fact we are comparing apples and oranges (different paradigms)” (p. 164). I believe that an understanding of the various assessment processes and paradigms helps us to consider the many ways that we can support this very heterogeneous group of students. In our district we support opportunities for acceleration, differentiation and pull-out as we continue to refine our identification processes and options for programming.

Click here or on the icon below to explore more FACTS about giftedness and gifted education.

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References:

Dai, D. and Chen F. (2013). Three paradigms of gifted education: In search of conceptual clarity in research and practice. Gifted Child Quarterly. 57(3), 151-168.

Lakin, J. M. (2018). Making the cut in gifted selection: Score combination rules and their impact on program diversity. Gifted Child Quarterly, 62(2), 210-219. doi:10.1177/0016986217752099

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Schooling in an Imperfect World

There’s this interesting paradox that I live out and I am not the only one. In as much as I see some fundamental flaws in how we educate, I just spent the last month, half of my summer break, in school. Going to school to figure out how to fix/improve schooling.  It sounds a little like going to war to end war. But I was not alone. I spent many hours discussing the many ways in which the education system is struggling with other graduate students, each with our own particular set of lenses set on a particular question or problem that has caught our attention. And paying for the privilege. Of schooling. So, what did we figure out? Nothing really. Yet. But I do have some great questions to consider.

Why are schools great places for some and not for others? I believe it was Mark Twain who said that he never let school get in the way of his education and while many have interpreted that to mean that he didn’t like schools, I think the delineation speaks to something fundamental in how we think about learning and the places we go to get educated. What if we thought of schools as places where we have the opportunity to learn as opposed to places where we are expected to meet particular outcomes? If we think of them as places that open the world to us as opposed to places that impose a world on us? Could a simple shift in our perspective make a difference or is there more to it?

One of the things that has fascinated me about so many of the gifted students that I have the privilege of working with is that they don’t let school get in the way. If they are interested in something, they go out and learn everything they can about it. If they have a particular talent, they spend hours developing it. Certainly there are times when in school they are being taught things that they have already learned, but even then there are some who find ways to take what they already know in unexpected directions. There’s nothing I enjoy more than when they share their escapades into the wide world of information and ideas with me. What is it that has allowed them to keep the “schooling” part of their education in perspective?

Because for others school is clearly getting in the way. Whether it stems from being misunderstood, frustrated by the lack of flexibility and meaningful work or struggling in social situations, school appears to be interfering with what is needed in order for some to feel like a successful learners. Sometimes it’s the pressure of proving or conforming to specific outcomes that feel unattainable or irrelevant. Other times it’s the inability to engage with material that does not seem pertinent to one’s own experience or level of expertise. My heart aches as they struggle. What would allow these students to keep the “schooling” part of their education in perspective?

What keeps me going back to school even when I know the system, like many others in our world, isn’t perfect? I love the dialogue that includes healthy debate around issues that are close to each of our hearts that helps me see other ways of being in the world. I love the stories that we share that help me to understand the diversity of our experiences and how they shape who we are. I love the challenge of trying to understand where my own questions come from and the best way to go about exploring them in a methodical and ethical way. I love discovering theorists and scholars who have explored the outer reaches of their own worlds to see what they could add to the story of why we are all here. It’s living in an imperfect world that drives me to keep learning and figuring out what it is that I can offer. Maybe it’s not a perfect system that we need. Maybe what we need is the unfailing belief in ourselves and others that we each have something to offer. If you’re looking for other perspectives on perfect worlds you might try clicking here or on the icon below!

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Relationships in Inclusive Spaces

In the revised Teacher Quality Standard due to be introduced in September of 2019, the fourth competency required for teacher certification in the province of Alberta focuses on establishing inclusive learning environments. “A teacher establishes, promotes and sustains inclusive learning environments where diversity is embraced and every student is welcomed, cared for, respected and safe” (p. 6). Given the rapidly changing demographics in our schools alongside a growing awareness of how our education system needs to address many of the inequities that continue to exist with respect to what knowledge has been valued and shared as well as an eye to a world that has the appearance of becoming increasingly polarized, establishing an inclusive learning environment would appear to be a necessary competency as we move forward. But what would a classroom like this look and feel like?

For my students who are gifted, and some of whom are highly sensitive, I endeavour to make my classroom a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning space that embraces the diversity that each student brings to it. And while I admit to occasionally playing Vivaldi in low lighting while the students enter the classroom in the morning and was described by one student as the most zen person they know, I believe that the work toward inclusivity that goes on in this space was best summed up by a group of students who had been working on a creative problem solving project together. When asked to reflect on the learning that occurred this year that they want to carry forward, these three observations blew me away:

  1. Disagreements help you learn.
  2. Arguments can lead to the right answer.
  3. Sometimes it’s someone else’s turn to be right.

As soon as I read the list I was reminded of  the many heated, tense, tearful, uncomfortable moments we experienced this past year as we worked together.  Relationships are difficult. When they matter, they challenge us to examine who we are and what we believe in a way that influences who we are going to become. When they are authentic they allow us to “treat ourselves as both subjects and objects and to treat others primarily as subjects, i.e. sensitive, reflective beings who aspire to higher levels of values, who suffer in the present from internal and external conflicts, and who have their own individual aspirations, problems, abilities and experiences” (Dabrowski, 1975, p. 2). When they are ethical we “step out of our allegiances, to detach from the cages of our mental worlds and assume a position where human-to-human dialogue can occur” (Ermine 2007, p. 193).  Caring, safe and respectful spaces do not materialize without discomfort. Saying “this is an inclusive space” and prescribing what the behavior in that space “looks like” carries the danger of becoming a hegemonic enterprise that never allows our authentic selves to see the light of day.

Inclusive spaces are inherently difficult as in them we need to not only create a safe space for discord but a means of navigating that discord to a “destination” that is established by those who are in the process of rattling those mental cages and challenging those allegiances in order to authentically see and be seen on our journey  of becoming. Finding a compass that everyone trusts is crucial, (I find that respect makes for a pretty solid north star), and daily reorientation through reflection and triangulation with compass points that include understanding and forgiveness (for starters) is essential. My hope is that when my students leave this space that they have the compass and navigational skills to authentically and ethically work on fostering strong relationships and inclusiveness wherever they go.

Dabrowski, K. (1975). On authentic education. Unpublished document.

Ermine, W. (2007). The ethical space of engagement. Indigenous Law Journal, 6(1), 193-203. Retrieved from https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/17129

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The One Thing I Wish I Had Known Before I Began This Crazy Journey

On one of the whiteboards in my classroom I have a schedule for the day. It keeps me on track and helps my some of my more anxious students prepare for what’s coming next. Aspects of the agenda change but some are constant, like the second to last item which is the time in the day that I set aside to “Honor the Spirit” where I acknowledge each of my students (and sometimes collectively) for the virtues that I saw in them that day. It used to be the last thing on the agenda but on some of those crazy days that end with a boisterous activity or intense game, it would get lost somewhere between cleaning up and getting out of the door on time. It has become too important to forget.

I wish I had known years ago how important it is to honor the spirit in my students every single day. These are the moments when the wounds and successes of the day are mediated through a lens that looks beyond the failures and accomplishments to the spirit of the student who in an act of courage, comes to school each day. While it is preferable to honor the spirit in those teachable moments, opening a space near the end of the day means it doesn’t get forgotten. It is an opportunity to let them know that no matter what has happened over the course of the day, that they have been seen in a meaningful way and that their presence matters and is valued. It is especially important on those days when it is the hardest to do as it opens the door to forgiveness and hope and in that process invites courage to accompany us on to new possibilities in the coming days.

My heart aches for the years that passed when I did not fully appreciate the importance of the practice of honoring the spirit. In as much as I wish I acknowledged far more students much more regularly for their gifts of character, I am saddened by how I didn’t know how the practice would enrich me, my view of the world and my own spirit. You see, when you authentically honor the spirit in others each day, you finish the day with an overwhelming sense of gratitude which allows you to appreciate and celebrate life as it unfolds whether through trials or small graces. I have taken to telling people I have the best job in the world and it is not only those moments when I take the time to see and acknowledge the virtues in my students that make it so, it is also the sense of belonging and community that emerge out of making it a daily practice.

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Dark Nights and Sleeplessness: A Shadow Side of Giftedness

I have had a number of  students who are gifted identify that a lack of sleep has impacted their ability to cope emotionally to the stress of the classroom, reporting having thoughts that would not let them drift off. My heart aches for those whose imagination and emotional sensitivities render them particularly vulnerable when the hurts of the day run away the dark side of the imagination at night. Are gifted students more prone to this struggle? A study completed by Harrison and van Haneghan (2011) utilized a Likert scale to measure insomnia and the OEII questionaire to measure overexcitabilities in two different populations of students, one identified as gifted. In the study, “the imaginational overexcitability and emotional overexcitability were significantly related to insomnia” and that “giftedness had a significant relationship to insomnia”(p.686). Although the study recognized many limitations in that there were many factors that were not considered in what might be responsible for the anxiety the students were experiencing, it does offer insight into my own observations.

There are several strategies that I have used to support these intensely emotional and highly imaginative individuals. The first is to never downplay the emotions, even if the incident that created it appears insignificant. I have had conversations around the idea that not everyone experiences emotions to the same degree and that the intensity can take us to very positive realms as well so learning to accept and understand them as part of ourselves is important. Understanding that not everyone shares the intensity can also assist in mediating what might be seen as harmful intent on the part of others. The second is to focus on the virtue that might be driving the emotion. Sometimes it is our sense excellence, compassion or justice that can in part be responsible for intense reaction to something that does not honour that aspect of ourselves. Calling on virtues like flexibility, detachment and mercy can help us move beyond being stuck in that emotion. A third strategy has been to let the imagination go wild. Dream up fantastic tales about ways our super-hero alter-ego deals with the problem in another realm. Amazingly enough, they often help us find solutions in this one.

Are these cures for insomnia? The study itself recommends that in addition to individuals gaining better insight into their giftedness that “relaxation techniques and mediation could address the actual physiological aspects involved in insomnia” as well as afternoon exercise and ” having a ritual of reading at night right before bedtime have proven to be quick solutions for insomnia for some gifted students” (p. 690). To explore more issues around sleep, please check out more posts on Hoagies Gifted Blog Hop by clicking here or on the graphic below.

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HARRISON, GE; VAN HANEGHAN, JP. The Gifted and the Shadow of the Night: Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities and Their Correlation to Insomnia, Death Anxiety, and Fear of the Unknown. Journal for the Education of the Gifted. 34, 4, 669-697, June 1, 2011. ISSN: 0162-3532.

The Gift of Stories and The Gift of Listening To Them

Every day I learn so much from children. It can be very humbling to get down on the floor beside them and get a small glimpse into their worlds. This week, in a kindergarten classroom, a young five year old reminded me of the many stories that children bring to our classrooms that impact their ability to demonstrate their learning.

They were working on learning to write the number of the day, the number seven. “Across the sky and down from heaven, that is how you make a seven,” the teacher chanted as she demonstrated it for the class. As I walked around the classroom seeing how they were doing, I noticed one little boy refusing to make the number. When he saw me watching him, his brow furrowed in defiance.

“Do you need help?” I asked. He frowned at me again before saying, “I hate seven!” I was surprised. “You hate seven?” I said, “I thought seven was everybody’s lucky number.”

“I hate it! My sister is seven and she gets everything and I am only five and I get nothing!” At this point the tears started to form.

“What do you mean?” I asked, “Does she get all the toys?” He nodded. “Does she get to do things that you don’t get to?” He nodded again. “I was the youngest child too,” I told him, “and sometimes I hated waiting to do all the things that my older siblings got to do. Do you think when you turn seven that it will be your turn?”

“It won’t,” he shouted, “because she will always be two years older than me. When I am six she will be eight and when I am eight, she will be ten!” He slid under his chair in frustration.

“Can I tell you a secret?” I asked. He nodded as he peeked out at me from under the chair. “Now that I am so old, it’s kind of nice to be the youngest. All of my siblings wish they were young like me.” I finally saw the shadow of a smile. “I have an idea,” I said, “what if you went home tonight and showed her that even though she’s seven and you’re five, you know how to make a seven?”

“I can’t,” he said, tearing up again. “She doesn’t live with me anymore.” It was a heartbreaking moment.

Brene Brown (2017) in her book Braving the Wilderness writes that “pain will only subside when we acknowledge it and care for it” (p.66) and if left unattended has the potential to become anger and over time, rage. As I sat on the floor of that classroom, surrounded by young children, each bearing their own stories and worries, I wondered about acts of defiance, their connections to deeper stories and how easy it can be to make assumptions each step of the way as we try to figure it out. Because on the other side of the defiance are those looming agendas, things that need to get done, like learning how to write a number.

Later in the book, Brene Brown interviews actor Viola Davis who tells her “There’s an unspoken message that the only stories worth telling are the stories that end up in history books” (p. 86). I know that I am swimming in stories and I don’t always take the time or have the opportunity to listen and truly pay attention. Viola goes on to say, “We are all worthy of telling our stories and having them heard. We all need to be seen and honored in the same way that we all need to breathe.” I am drawn back to thinking about acts of defiance, the stories behind them, and wonder how they would look differently if we saw them as fighting for breath? Am I listening now?

One of my all time favorite books is The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative written by Thomas King. In it he wonders whether Sir Isaac Newton’s quote “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction” might have been better scribed as “To every action there is a story” (pp. 28-29). I know I will hold the story of the number seven in my heart for many reasons, one of which is the need to share it. If you’ve taken the time to read it, thank-you for that gift. I would like to leave you with my favorite quote from King’s book, one that shows up in various forms at the end of each chapter.

Take [this] story for instance. It’s yours. Do with it what you will. Tell it to friends. Turn it into a television movie. Forget it. But don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story.      You’ve heard it now. (King, p. 29).

I hope you have many opportunities to share and listen to stories this holiday season.

Brown, B. (2017). Braving the wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. New York: Random House.

King, T. (2003). The truth about stories. Toronto, ON: Anansi.

Misdiagnosis: What We See and What We Don’t

It has been very humbling for me to attend a drawing class with my teenage daughter. The instructor tells me that it is harder for me (the old one) to see the pear we are drawing because my mind wants to draw what it thinks a pear looks like. Look for form he tells me. Recognize and mark the edges. Notice the shadows and the light.  Consider values as you begin to shade it in. Two hours and 20 sketches later, I think I am making progress. When I get stuck in my “way of seeing” he will ask if he can take a turn and I  watch to see which forms he draws, where he makes his marks and how he approaches shading.  I am startled to see things on his picture that I hadn’t seen myself and when I look back at the pear, I realize they were always there. How could I have missed it? He tells me that he has been learning to see what he is drawing for years.

Having worked with gifted children for 14 years of my career, I have come to understand that for many it can be hard to “see” children who are gifted. There are plenty of archetypes that that can inform understanding as well as varying definitions that can predispose us in a particular way and so it isn’t surprising when people are confused or frustrated by what it means and doesn’t mean to be labelled “gifted”. I was reminded of this the other day when a colleague sent me a link to the video Rethinking Giftedness. In it, Stanford students reflect on the impact the gifted label had on them, and their responses were primarily negative. The video makes a very compelling argument about the danger of labels for both students who are gifted and those who are not and it is easy to be drawn in to the argument that we should focus on a growth mindset as opposed to gifts which makes perfect sense…if you think giftedness is about achievement.

It is important to note that I do not doubt the veracity of the statements and observations shared by the students in the video, in fact I applaud their courage in sharing their insights. Their struggles are very real and I have seen them reflected in many of my  students. Part of what I try to do is help students understand what giftedness is and what it is not because many of the students who are referred to me are referred because they are struggling; the label simply gives us some insight into what might be the nature of that struggle. But if they or the people in their lives don’t understand the many “forms and shades” of giftedness, the label can create all kinds of problems. Does that mean we should stop identifying and supporting these children? If we don’t “identify” the giftedness they can often be “misdiagnosed” with other labels: behavior problem, superstar, rude,  immature, rocket scientist, arrogant, brainiac, annoying, intense, over-emotional, lazy… many of which I know can be just as problematic and fail to “see” what might really be going on. Having the label gives us another way of “seeing” them, if we understand what the label means in all of its complexity. But there is a point in the film that is well made- the label should not be the identifier. Children who are gifted are first and foremost human beings, just like everyone else, wonderfully unique in their own individual way, who may or may not be achievement oriented.

For other insights into misdiagnosis, please check out some of these fine posts here or click on the link below:

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Anxious about the future? Exploring the past might help.

I have always loved stories about Robin Hood. I watched every movie that came out, read every version of the book I could find; even took up archery. I don’t know what I loved more, the humour in the stories or the clever ways with which Robin always managed to get the best of Sheriff of Nottingham. Either way, the underlying theme of justice and fairness in the various versions of these folktales spoke to me and have very likely permeated my worldview with respect to how I view wealth, power and oppression.

So it was quite a pleasant surprise this summer when hiking up to the Trifels castle above Durnstein, Austria, I discovered that this was the place where Richard the Lionheart was held for ransom by King Leopold V around 1193-94, the era from which the Robin Hood stories emerge. The view of the Danube from the top of the hill was beautiful and for a moment I was able to transport myself back in time and imagine I was seeing the world through King Richard’s eyes. Would captivity have made him immune to the beauty of the place? A song he wrote at the time might give us the impression that he was.

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As I made my descent back down the worn steps on the steep face of the hill, I was struck by the permanence of the rock and the fleetingness of life and wondered how many people had made their way up and down the pathway over the centuries: royalty, clergy, soldiers, peasants, merchants, slaves…tourists? Did their breath catch in their chest as the trees parted to expose another extraordinary view? Or were their eyes cast down, under the weight of some burden? Did they see the castle as an amazing feat of architecture? Strategic military installation? A monument to oppression? Could they have imagined how much the world would change around it or what meaning would still cling to it (or not) 900 years later?

These questions surfaced at many of the other museums, cathedrals, castles, galleries and bridges that we explored as we journeyed through in Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Many of the sites were hundreds of years old, others much less, yet each chronicled perspectives on what mattered- power, wealth, art, people- carved into stone, captured on canvas or cast in iron.  These tributes to bygone eras left us wondering about both the accomplishments and the suffering: “Did they matter and what do they mean now?”

As a reading companion on this journey I took the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Austrian neurologist, psychologist and holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl. Having been held in four different concentration camps during WW II, his reflections come with insights that can only be acquired by someone who has experienced life with less than the bare essentials required for survival after being stripped of all the credentials and belongings that shaped his identify before his imprisonment. Seeing history through his lens of “transitoriness” challenges us to locate ourselves not in a deterministic past where things cannot be undone, but in the full potential of a future in which we can decide who we will aspire to be as quickly as our very next action. To that end he lays bare both the degree of man’s inhumanity to man as well as the power of hope to transform suffering into something meaningful.

It was hard not to be impressed by the amazing architecture, art and engineering that was present at every turn on our journey and at the same time feel the weight of the many who died in the creation and defence of not only these monuments but the philosophy and religion that flourished within and around them. Whose life had more meaning? The ones captured in the portraits hung in the galleries of the fortresses or the ones who carried the stones to build those same fortresses? We can speculate all we would like, but I believe Viktor Frankl would tell us that it would depend on the individual and the meaning they found in how they faced their challenges.

In the forward to Man’s Search for Meaning, Harold Kushner writes that Frankl’s most enduring insight is that “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you” (p.11). Maybe that’s why I loved the Robin Hood stories so much- he didn’t give up after losing his land, title and wealth. While I would not advocate taking the law into your own hands, his response to stand up for fairness, justice and mercy continues to resonate centuries later.

Every era is rife with challenges and this point in history is no different. If we are not anxious about whether we can do better that our predecessors, knowing what we now know, then perhaps we don’t understand that who we are and how we respond to the world around us matters. Embracing that anxiety as part of the challenge of finding our life purpose and making meaning is important. While the future may judge us harshly as we fumble with trying to make the right or best decision, I think Viktor Frankl would tell us to aim high and to accept bravely the challenges that come with that. This video of him speaking in 1972 speaks to that point.

For  great perspectives on philosophical and spiritual anxiety, check out Hoagie’s Blog Hop by clicking here or on the icon below.

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https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mans-search-for-meaning/id476023633?mt=11 Retrieved, August 27, 2017.

Somewhere Between Boredom and Burnout…

There is a wonderful line in the 1998 movie Ever After when the Prince Henry, as he reflects upon his responsibilities as future king, says something to the effect “But if I care about one thing, I’ll have to care about everything…” It is a line that continues to resonate with me, years after first hearing it. The mind that connects an entire universe to the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings knows that engaging in that one thing may not be as simple as it appears.

I ponder if sometimes “I’m bored,” is not so much a statement of one’s state of mind as  putting off or pondering which universe to dive into.The one you can manage? The one that will feed your soul? The one that might just swallow you whole? Or the one that won’t lead you into what can become inevitable burn out as you attempt to explore it in its entirety? When this universe jumping is coupled with a deep sense of caring, careful consideration is crucial or burnout is inevitable.

As I get older, I find I can distinguish between them a little better but that was not always the case. Plus, it can be hard to make any kind of decision, let alone the right one,  if I get distracted. And there are a LOT of distractions.

So perhaps being bored, is not such a bad thing, especially when there are options to consider. Sometimes the distractions can help us find our way but I am always surprised where my and my children’s explorations will take us when we get the chance to be bored and aren’t focused on keeping ourselves distracted. Summer is a great time to “let go” and occasionally get bored as well as distracted but by the time it ends, we tend to get a better idea of what thing will not only connect us to everything, but feed our soul and perhaps not swallow us whole. (*Spoiler Alert: by the end of the movie Prince Henry is building a university and fraternizing with gypsies…) 

For more perspectives on boredom and burn out from an amazing group of bloggers, follow this link or click on the icon below!

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Contemplation or Overthinking? Weighing in with Dabrowski

Google the word “overthinking” and you will find advice from how to stop obsessing about your latest crush to ways to make a decision when you are worrying too much about getting things “wrong”.  Overthinking can not only be agonizing, but it can stop us in our tracks as we perseverate over a decision, a seemingly insignificant incidence or a project that we must complete. But does overthinking always deserve the bad rap that it gets? If we look at the work of psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski  regarding the role and importance of contemplation in self-education we get a different perspective on this topic as well as some unique insight into how to support the overthinker in your life.

In his book, Personality Shaping Through Positive Disintegration, Dabrowski wrote about the conditions and aides for the facilitating the development of personality. While I hesitate to simplify his very broad work into the many aspects of personality development, I think he did caution us not to underestimate the importance of contemplation in the development of who it is we would like to become in the face of the world we encounter.

What are a couple of examples of contemplation that he shares? A young child insisting on “doing it by themselves” and digging in their heels over what appears to be a simple task might be an early signal of this desire to shape oneself. Who knows the thought process that might be going on as they stand up in defiance? The teen agonizing over what might seem insignificant, retreating into their room for an inordinate amount of time might signal another essential part of this journey. Understanding one’s inner thoughts and guiding values requires contemplation; time and space where one can consider the demands of the world and work out one’s principles of action. Try as we might as educators or parents to “solve” or “simplify” the situation, it is important to remember that self-education through contemplation and solitude are key aspects in the development of personality even when we see what appears to be anxiety and obsession. Yet that doesn’t mean that we leave them completely on their own.

Dabrowski referred to a number of “aids’ that facilitate the development of personality that support the contemplation process: access to libraries, museums, theaters and scientific institutions. Dabrowski was drawn to and moved by the works of great artists like Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Camus, Faulkner and Ghandi and believed that exposure to new ideas, thoughtful discussion and creative works can often stimulate not only personality development, but one’s own creativity. Learning about the lives and thoughts of these “greats” gives perspective and can demonstrate how many of these individuals struggled to find their unique voice or contribution.

Dabrowski also highlighted the importance of an adviser. Someone with an understanding of philosophical and psychological development as well as a clear ideal and hierarchy of aims for his or her own personal development.  An adviser should know their own shortcomings and acknowledge that they are also on a journey of becoming. A relationship built upon mutual respect and understanding of what it means to live to your highest values can make a big difference in how we navigate our difficult inner world.  (pp. 149-153) *It is important to note here that Dabrowski dedicated considerable time in the book to who would be a good adviser with the understanding that there are several levels to personality development and degrees of anxiety.  Some can be supported by teacher or parent mentors while others may need the support of professional psychotherapists.

So is overthinking always counterproductive? I know that many things that have kept me awake at night have eventually found their way into my resolve to do things differently next time. Overthinking often signals something that is out of alignment and it takes time to figure out what that is…sometimes days or even longer. As I begin to overthink this particular post and whether it has met its aims I realize that this is but one perspective…it’s a good idea to check out more thoughts on this topic from my fellow bloggees at April Blog Hop by clicking on this link or the image below.

hoagies