The End of Gift(Ed)ness

It has been a long time since I have posted to this blog. Life has intervened and I am left with the refrain from what was one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, Big Yellow Taxi. “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…” Brain tumours, budget cuts and time came to collect much from my life and with the added dimension provided by COVID-19, the distance between what was and what is has been exacerbated. I have heard whispers that this has the makings of a grand reset, new renaissance, or in my particular case, a third act. Many days this is hard to imagine as I wade through the grief that accompanies loss, but there are moments when I catch a glimpse of something. The light at the end of the tunnel? New possibilities? It would be nice if it was this simple but in reality if there is light, it is coming from behind me bouncing off something in my path. It is a mirror that has been fractured in so many pieces that I can barely recognize myself or my life and the pieces I am able to focus on feel distorted and out of place. This is the heart of disintegration and whether it will be positive remains to be seen as the pressure to find a light at the end of some tunnel mounts.

And so, due to political reasons (budget cuts), economic reasons (essential programs only) and professional reasons (I just completed my PhD) and personal reasons (refer to paragraph #1), this blog will move from the “gifted” focus it once had, to a focus on Kazimierz Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and what it has to offer to our understanding of inclusion within the educational system, as well as the growing global polarization that we are experiencing socially, politically, and economically. While I am grateful for the introduction gifted education gave me to Dabrowski’s work, I worry that the relevance of the Theory of Positive Disintegration may have been hampered by the disproportionate, though not undue, attention it has received from the gifted community. Dabrowski has much to teach us about trauma, social/emotional development and what it means to transcend any label that has been adopted by or bestowed on us. I hope you will join me in this exploration.


Did They Learn Anything This Year?

It’s been a busy year planning and coordinating many projects and events over the course of the year as part of my role in offering pull-in programming for students identified as gifted. There are days as I am prying hot glue off another table that I wonder if all this hands on STEAM learning that we do through Destination Imagination is really transferring into learning? While the activities are fun and the students are actively engaged, just what is it they’re getting from the paint, the power tools, the hot glue, the script writing, the arguments and sometimes tears? And so I asked my students about the learning they will remember from this year and now I remember why I don’t mind the chaos so much. It’s worth it!

Though I organized the poster, the statements belong to them! (So many virtues in the language they use: confidence, courage, forgiveness, trust, flexibility, patience, determination. So many virtues implied: cooperation, humility, responsibility,  joyfulness, optimism, diligence, purposefulness, discernment, reliability, excellence, tolerance and determination. WOW!)

DI Wisdom 2019

Who Is In Your Zone of Proximal Development?

The concept of the zone of proximal development comes from the work of Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) a Russian developmental psychologist whose research into how children learn has gained significant attention in recent years. Vygotsky felt that we should not limit our assessment of a child’s development to what they are capable of at present, but rather what they are able to do in collaboration with an adult or more able peer. “The zone of proximal development has more significance for the dynamics of intellectual development and for the success of instruction than does the actual level of development” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 209). Vygotsky goes on to qualify this statement by saying that while a child can always do more in collaboration than he can do independently, “he cannot do infinitely more” (p.209) meaning if you’re not developmentally ready, you can be shown a dozen ways to solve a differential equation, but you still may not get it. While age groupings in classrooms make an attempt to gather together children who are at a similar developmental level to facilitate learning within that zone, the diversity within those spaces can mean that we are not always able to see what our students are capable of, especially if we are simply checking to see if they have achieved the learning outcomes that have been set out. Thus the concern that many gifted students do not have the opportunity to reach their potential.

Broadly viewed, there is much that occurs within the zone of proximal development that goes well beyond learning new math equations. Doolittle (1997) tells us that Vygotsky viewed it as an “interdependent social system in which cultural meanings are actively constructed” (p. 88) which perhaps makes it the most influential realm of role models, despite the importance often placed on role models who are well outside our “zone”. Whether at school, at home, arenas or performance halls, we are surrounded by individuals who not only help us shape the reality we find ourselves in but assist us in accomplishing more than we may have been able to on our own.

As a teacher, I am often inclined to think about the zone of proximal development as the learning space within my classroom, but on any given day, students may spend more one on one time with connections they have found through social media and online sharing platforms (vlogs, podcasts, blogs, Netflix and Youtube channels) than with other children  I have been amazed by how much children I know have learned through videos and websites, expanding their opportunities to learn in ways that we could not have expected even a decade ago.  I don’t think Vygotsky could have imagined this when he formulated his theory in the post-revolution Soviet Union.  How is culture being shaped in this ever-expanding network of connections? What new responsibilities do we have as more able peers or adults in both the physical and virtual spaces? The possibilities are both exciting and worrisome.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn (1930-2009) has been quoted as saying “you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  When this quote was shared with me by a young university student this past summer, he recounted how when he first heard it he interpreted it as a cautionary note around the careful selection of friends. Over time he realized that it was also a call to become someone who could “raise the average” in his own circle of influence through becoming his best person. The ensuing discussion was an amazing voyage through the research and personal development he was doing toward that end leaving me to consider how to bring this ethic not just to my classroom, but to all the “zones” I find myself in.

Click here to find some other perspectives on role models.


Doolittle, P.E. (1997). Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development as a theoretical foundation for cooperative learning. Journal on excellence in college teaching, 8(1), 83-103.

Vygotskiĭ, L. S., Rieber, R. W., & Carton, A. (1987). The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky. New York: Plenum Press.


Letting Go of Perfect: A Book Review

One of my “go to” books when I get questions about how to support students with perfectionism is Letting Go of Perfect by Jill Adelson, PhD., and Hope Wilson, PhD., (2009). In addition to discriminating between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism, they also explore the myths about perfectionism before going into detail into the types of perfectionism and strategies for working with each type. Now while I typically don’t ascribe to thinking that tries to categorize individuals, mostly because people rarely fit neatly into boxes, I have found that these categories have been helpful in understanding the nuances of perfectionism, and offer a great starting point for discussing potential strategies for students who may be struggling.  The book is well laid out for easy access to different themes and includes strategies for both home and school, making it very accessible to both teachers and parents.

Categorically speaking, the names and identifiers of each perfectionist are good at helping us find a place to begin:

  1. The Academic Achiever: “Must Achieve 100%”
  2. The Aggravated Accuracy Assessor: “Exactness and Fixation on “Redos”
  3. The Risk Evader: “All or Nothing”
  4. The Controlling Image Manager: “I Could Have If I Wanted to”
  5. The Procrastinating Perfectionist: “If It Stays in My Mind, Then I Can’t Fail”

As I review each, I can think of several students, who fit into the various categories, often more than one. Indeed, many of us could probably look at the list and see reflections of ourselves throughout. But again, as Adelson & Hope note, “the focus should not be on labeling a child as a certain type of perfectionist, but on finding appropriate strategies to help the child use perfectionism in a healthy way” (p. 106). As a quick easy reference, with strategies that range from de-emphasizing grades to being an example in your mistakes (p. 144), the book reflects ways in which schooling and curriculum are shifting from product to process as well as the meeting individual goals being prioritized over achievement, perhaps highlighting the relationship between the “problem” the systems that we find ourselves in.

One aspect to perfectionism that is missing for me in this book, and perhaps that is because it could be a book in itself, is a discussion of Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and how some of the neurosis that is described in the book as unhealthy perfectionism might be reframed through the theory as the necessary work in personality development. How do we support risk-takers in searching for ways to live in the classroom and still honour their ideals which may come at a cost? How do we support the aggravated accuracy assessors in understanding that their hierarchy of values is best shared through example and not imposition? These are much bigger questions, and perhaps, another book.

For more perspectives and wisdom on perfectionism, you can jump onto Hoagies Gifted Blog Hop here or click on the icon below:



Underachievement: A Story in Process

One of the great conundrums in gifted education, and in education in general, is the case of the underachiever. Why would an individual with so much potential choose not to achieve in school? They are certainly bright enough to see the advantages of achievement: social inclusion and acceptance, academic recognition, enhanced opportunities and eventual economic success. For those of us in education who regularly bear witness to the positive effects of school achievement, what appears to be the flagrant disregard of this by those who are capable can be perplexing. Research has us exploring many  possibilities. Could it be a learning disability? Poverty? Gender? Cultural differences? Racism? Bad teachers? Without discounting any of these possibilities, I would like to explore underachievement as a story.

In a paper that I wrote earlier this year for a graduate course in issues in special education, I explored  underachievement as a definitive characteristic in the story we tell ourselves about who we are, or conversely, who we would like to become when it lies in opposition to what is “expected”. Much of this post is drawn from that paper (Picard, 2018).

In schools, the convergence of diverse student experiences with  standard educational practices and expected outcomes means that we, teachers and students, can get stuck in  circular arguments that leave one blaming the other for the situation that we are in. Teachers get blamed for not making school relevant, while students are labelled as lazy or irresponsible. But to what extent are we trapped inside our own stories, incapable of seeing other possibilities?  Dabrowski (1967) writes that “there are very few among us who are consciously independent of the external environment and of the lower layer of their internal environments” and that “to make oneself independent of both these environments one must go through the process of disintegration” (p. 12). Disintegration begins with considering the possibility that there might be a different story and should we accept that this other story might have value, the difficult choice of re-evaluating our own story and with it ourselves.

These stories can take many forms .”I’m just not good at school” to “I never have to study and I always pass.” They can be as straightforward as “I’ll probably do what my [parent] does when I finish school” or “”There’s faster ways to make lots of money than going to university.” But they can also be complicated. “School is full of mindless people trying to impress people who are even more mindless.”  Or so complex that we only see fragments at a time. “I’ve got bigger things to worry about than an assignment that isn’t relevant.”

Separating ourselves from the story that has shaped us as individuals can produce high levels of anxiety as one begins the “process of making oneself independent of the superficial estimates of other people” while the conscious development of our own personalities makes us “increasingly more sensitive to the various external and internal stimuli” (p. 13) that would like to point us in a particular direction. While most have a tendency to forego the anxiety of disintegration by returning to their original stories, Dabrowski believed that for those who could not return, disintegration could have a positive or a negative result. A positive disintegration leads us to forging our own path true to our own values which may or may not include school achievement, while a negative disintegration could lead to various forms of mental health struggles.

Through a Dabrowskian lens, underachievement could mean maintaining subscription in the story that has shaped you or choosing your own path and rejecting a story that does not reflect your own set of values. So perhaps to understand underachievement, we might also need to consider what shapes our story of achievement. What aspects of the journey might be considered unimportant or overvalued and what values might be compromised in its attainment? Gently exploring these questions through a non-judgmental lens might lead both teacher and student to new possibilities. To explore other stories about underachievement, follow this link or click on the icon below.


Dabrowski, K. (1967). Personality-shaping through positive disintegration. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.

Picard, S. (2018), Final Paper, EDUC 5456: Nipissing University.

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.



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

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!


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

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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.

To gather more wisdom from other “gifted” bloggers, click on the graphic below or follow this link.

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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.


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.