This coming week I am off to Denver to present at the NAGC Conference on the work I do with the gifted program here. What am I going share with people from across North America and around the world about what we do here that matters? It’s surprisingly simple…not particularly easy.
In the pull-in program I only have 8 days of direct contact out of an entire school year to try and support our gifted students. At first it seemed like a really insignificant amount of time and I wondered how on earth I could make those days scattered throughout the year matter to our students in a significant way. The first year I tried to make curriculum links and extensions for students from grades 4, 7 and 9 but even though we had some great projects and discussions, the links felt weak. The next year, with the support of students, parents, teachers and the Centre for Research and Innovation, we brought Destination ImagiNation to Grande Prairie and into the program.
Fostering creative thinking, teamwork and problem solving program, Destination ImagiNation forces you to “teach” in new ways while engaging the broader community at the same time. It helped me embody teaching practice that did not “steal” the opportunity to learn something new from the students. And it helped me change my focus. If I cannot interfere with the students as they solve their challenges, what do I do? In the mayhem of creative chaos, it didn’t take long to figure out. Teamwork, creative and critical thinking and deadlines collide in very interesting ways with the perfectionism, over-sensitivities and fear of risk taking which can be the calling cards of many gifted students. I had what Joseph S. Renzulli in the Fall 2011 edition of Gifted Child Quarterly said was imperative to focus on in gifted education…”meaningful, direct experiences through which young people can internalize the positive behaviors that go beyond the knowledge base that should be the responsibility of a good general education.” p.308
In the midst of the tears, frustrations and struggles of figuring out a tough solution to a challenge, I introduced the Virtues Project. A program that inspires the practice of virtues in everyday life, it gave me the language to help students reframe their difficulties into empowering language. “Bossy” students were honored for their idealism yet brought to recognize the need to grow their flexibility. “Crybabies” were honored for their commitment and encouraged to grow their detachment. Perseverence and patience were recognized as virtues we are constantly working on as the instant and team challenges insist that we learn from our mistakes. When students get angry and frustrated with their teams they are encouraged to ask for what they need. Courtesy, kindness, caring, trust…they become the language we use to navigate the creative chaos and help my gifted students grow the virtues that are present within all of them.
It can be difficult when students get off task and do things that appear to be cruel and disrespectful to use the language of the virtues over a “Don’t do that!” or a punitive response. But I’ve seen amazing responses to statements like “I know you can be respectful and I need to see it now,” when I remember to practice my patience and believe in the character of the student. I’ve been having a great year, searching for and acknowledging the virtues in my students.
This is what I will be sharing in Denver. The convergence of two great programs and how they’ve made 8 short days intense and meaningful for both my students and myself!