Category Archives: Social/Emotional Needs

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

Looking for more insights on relationships? Click on this link or the icon below:

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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.

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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.

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.

Multipotentiality is not the problem.

In a world where specializations are revered, multipotentiality can be perceived as much a burden as a gift. This paradox is reflected in the old adage “Jack of all trades, master of none…” that has dodged many a multipotentialite.  Apparently the full version includes a second part “…is sometimes better than one” which only reinforces the mixed blessing of having many talents.  One would think that having many venues/opportunities through which to experience life would be optimum, so what stands in the way?

TIME

“She wants to do everything,” a mother tells me, “but now that she’s in the higher grades there just isn’t enough time for her to do everything the way she wants to do it.” This is a worry that has been shared with me more than once by concerned parents. Fitting it all into a busy schedule can be a source of considerable stress. As a teacher I’ve been able to support students with this by helping them learn how to be creative in a smaller space with the use of clear expectations and parameters. “Show me you understand this concept by only using…” rather than leaving it so open-ended that they feel compelled to show you everything they know on the topic. I have also had to meet with other teachers to coordinate assignments and homework so as to not overburden a student who has  extra-curricular obligations that are important to them.

HAVING TO CHOOSE

It begins in junior high. If you take music or French you have fewer options because they are full year courses. If you take both, you don’t get to take any other options. Once you get to high school, there are only so many spots in your schedule and if you want to go on to university you need to make sure you’ve focused on your academic courses. “Why not let them explore Foods and Computer Sciences and Drama?” I asked one parent. “Who said that you have to finish high school in three years?” Or a student might need to take fewer high school courses each year so they can continue to perform/compete in music or sports. They don’t have to cut things out…they might just need more time. Having a chance to explore all your options while still in high school only makes sense.

EXCELLENCE

Many believe that pursuing excellence requires our undivided attention. Whether it’s the ten thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell speaks of in his book Outliers or the number of pages you have in your CV, there is no doubt that commitment plays an instrumental role in achieving excellence. “I feel that as I am committing myself to a particular field of studies, I am losing other parts of myself,” one former student shared with me, worried that diving into a specialized science program would preclude her from fully participating in her passion for politics, social justice and the arts. But is this truly the case? If we dive deep enough, with our eyes open, eventually we see that all things are connected. Excellence in a particular area gives us a unique lens with which to observe and interact with other aspects of the world and can sometimes serve up unexpected opportunities. The path you’re on can change and will likely change and if you keep your eyes open things can get REALLY interesting.

MONEY

“But if he pursues the arts, he’ll always be poor and I know what that’s like and I don’t want that for him,” one parent tells me, “he’s got so many other talents.”  My parents had the same worry for me. “Have something to fall back on,” they said, and for many years I wondered how my life would have been different if I had thrown caution to the wind. Money can govern many of our choices whether it be “What can I afford to study?” or “How much money will I make when I am done?” or “I’ve got the marks to apply this scholarship…” I sometimes wonder if our focus with our students and children was on who they want to be as people versus what they want to do, how that would influence their choices.  When education focuses on how the system can serve the economy, our multipotentialites can lose their greatest gift, insight into the importance of all talents and the importance of valuing them all.

For more insights into multipotentiality check out Hoagies’ Blog Hop by following the link below.

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Why Do We All Need to Know More About Executive Functions?

Executive functions consist of those mental processes that allow us to participate fully in a variety of roles and relationships through planning, focusing and remembering while controlling our impulses and working systematically to achieve goals. There is an expectation that students arrive at school with a number of these skills already developed, enabling them to participate in a group learning environment. While children generally begin developing these skills at a very young age in their homes with their families, the development of these functions continues through adolescence.

The relationship between giftedness and executive functioning is an interesting one. Some studies have shown that math abilities correlate significantly with executive functioning with some variances. (Rebecca Bull and Gaia Scerif, 2010.) Other studies find a correlation between executive functioning and achievement. (St. Clair-Thompson and Gathercole, 2010.) In gifted education we know that cognitive abilities do not guarantee academic achievement and underachieving gifted students-could this be related to struggles with executive functions in some cases? In his work, Re-examining the Role of Gifted Education and Talent Development for the 21st Century, Joseph Renzulli speaks to the necessity of talent and cognitive development going hand in hand with what he calls the “character strengths” of executive functions. These are developed through addressing novel situations that require children to draw on and develop these skills for success. But what does this look like in practice?

A week ago I was working with three gifted 8 year olds on one of the Destination Imagination challenges. Designed to foster curiosity, courage and creativity, I use this program not only as a means to challenge my students to solve novel and complex problems, but to create scenarios where I can help them cultivate their virtues (gifts of character) as they learn project management skills and collaboration. They were trying to solve an instant challenge that involved building a tower within specific parameters when things fell apart. Two of the students took over the task while the third withdrew with tears streaming down his face. I quietly acknowledged that I saw his tears and sat with him while we waited for the other two students to complete the task.

After measuring the height of their structure we began debriefing the teamwork part of the challenge at which point they acknowledged that it had not gone well and that there had been some conflict. I spoke to them about conflict arising when there is a difference in  the individual interests in carrying out a task and asked each of them what had been important to them as they were working on the challenge.

“To do it right,” the boy with tears responded.

“That would be the virtue of excellence,” I said, writing the word on the board.

“To work on it together,” responded the girl who had taken the structure away from the boy.

“That sounds like the cooperation virtue is important to you,” I said, writing it on the board beside excellence.

The third student responded that they were frustrated because the boy had not explained to them what he was doing before starting to build the solution.

“You needed understanding,” I said, writing that virtue on the board. “Now look at the things causing your conflict. They are all virtues. Are they important virtues to nurture on your team?” All three nodded. “So how can we get these virtues working together?” I asked.

After some discussion they agreed that communication was important and also came to understand that communicating with words was sometimes difficult for the boy. After we agreed that this was something we would work on together they were ready to move on. We had an incredibly productive morning and this new understanding continued the next time we met.

What really touched me about this incident was the ability of these children to see the virtues in each others actions despite the fact that they had really struggled. It empowered them to understand themselves and each other better as they moved forward to complete more tasks successfully.

“Children aren’t born with these skills[executive functions]—they are born with the potential to develop them.” -Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University

This statement reflects the premise guiding the Virtues Project as well-that children are born in potential and as with anything that is “in potential”-seeds, executive functions, virtues, habits… require certain conditions to grow and develop. Those of us privileged to work with and parent children need to understand our role in creating those conditions and not give up when we don’t see in some children what may seem innate in others as it is an opportunity to play our part in their development.

“Providing the support that children need to build these skills at home, in early care and education programs, and in other settings they experience regularly is one of society’s most important responsibilities.” -Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University

For more insight on this topic check out the overview video at the Centre on the Developing Child-Harvard University  which does a brilliant job of explaining executive functioning and self regulation. The website itself highlights the relationship between working memory, mental flexibility and self-control and stresses the importance of children having opportunities to apply these skills in coordination with others. You can also learn more about executive functions at Hoagies Blog Hop by clicking here or on the icon below:

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Nurturing Activism in Gifted Students

Having an awareness of how high gifted students can set the bar for themselves has made me proceed carefully into conversations around activism. One highly gifted child that I have the pleasure to know made the off-hand comment to me once that anything less than a Nobel Peace prize would seem an insignificant contribution. So while locally, nationally and internationally, child activists are doing amazing work and have been well recognized for their efforts, it is important to balance our conversations about these  tremendous role models with an understanding of the many layers to activism.

In our smallish community we are fortunate to have some amazing role models. One such individual is Tenille Nadkrynechny who at 15 began using her musical talents to ensure the homeless youth of our community have a safe shelter to go to. Her talents have been a source of inspiration to many of our local students. We are also very proud of Canadians Craig and Mark Kielberger whose activism began at the age of 12 championing the rights of child labourers. In the 21 years since their incredible work with the “Free the Children” organization has evolved into the internationally recognized Me to We movement. This movement has come to our community in the form of Mighty Peace Day. And we cannot forget Malala, who was catapulted onto the world stage after being shot for championing the right to go to school. She went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

So how does one begin talking about activism with students who have tremendous compassion and wish to make a difference in the world? Depending on the child and where they are setting their bar, it may start with a conversation about our fascination with eminence. In some of her talks, Linda Silverman reflects on eminence being a wrongheaded guide for giftedness when she explains how at one time eminence/giftedness was measured by the number of books one had written about them. Based on that interpretation the most gifted individual on the planet at one point would have been the race horse Sea Biscuit. While Sea Biscuit may have been a very gifted horse with a very gifted trainer, we can’t all be Sea Biscuit for a few obvious reasons. We also can’t all be Malala for just as obvious reasons.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t be activists. In fact, the next conversation might be about how activism is a daily activity-the product of a thoughtfully lived life. Every time we are faced with a situation that calls us to action: standing up for or to a friend, seeing someone in need, deciding what we will or will not purchase or consume, voting, choosing a topic for an assignment…we are activists. For my anxious and perfectionistic students who might find this concept paralyzing, I would turn to the The Virtues Project and contrast the excellence and moderation definitions with one another. In fact, it is the cultivation of these and other virtues as we proceed with pursuing our passion that will allow us, should an opportunity arrive, to be an activist for a cause larger than ourselves, and proceed with the confidence, compassion, integrity and humility required of those who might be called upon to lead.

Please take time to check out Hoagies Blog hop for more thoughts on this topic by clicking on the link below.

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Emotional Intelligence and the Over-Excitable Gifted Learner

There are many times in my work with gifted students that the question of emotional intelligence emerges as well as the deliberation over whether a strong EQ is favourable over a high IQ and the influence one might have on the other. Teachers and parents will often comment on the intensity of emotions that they observe and wonder about their child or student’s emotional intelligence. This sometimes leads to a conversation around the over-excitabilities (of which one is emotional over-excitability) which are considered  gifted traits. So how do the over-excitabilities relate emotional intelligence, especially when it appears as thought the child is struggling with regulating their emotions?

Let’s start by defining emotional intelligence. In their seminal 1990 paper entitled Emotional Intelligence, Salovey and Mayer concluded that “emotionally intelligent people accurately perceive their emotions and use integrated and sophisticated approaches to regulate them as they proceed to important goals”.  They warned that people who do not learn to regulate their emotions “may become slaves to them” while stating a common ailment “may involve people who cannot recognize emotion in themselves and are therefore unable to plan lives that fulfill them emotionally.”(p.17)

Borrowing from this work, Daniel Goleman, brought the term emotional intelligence into popular culture and put into motion what the Harvard Business Review in the late 90’s called “a ground breaking, paradigm-shattering idea” and as such it has become embedded not only in our educational conversations  but business as well. One cannot help but see the imperative of engaging further in research that could potentially offer so much to so many and thus the field has since evolved to include new models and dimensions along with tools designed to measure EQ.  In addition to this, several programs to teach emotional regulation have emerged, including spark*,  The Zones of Regulation and SCERTS.

But what counts as a lack of emotional intelligence and is this an accurate descriptor for our over-excitable gifted students? If we look at it from the perspective of  an emotional dysregulation diagnosis, early psychological trauma, brain injury, bi-polar disorder and autism are just some of the some of the factors that could contribute to a variety of exaggerated and sometimes aggressive outbursts. How might this differ from our over-excitable gifted students?

To start with, many parents of my students have reported that their children are able to regulate their emotions very well…until they get to a place where it is safe to express them, when they get home. Understanding and having a “safe place to land” can make an enormous difference with these children and when they have decompressed, trying to find the source. Then there are those who struggle with the fact that others do not share the same emotional sensitivities or intensities as they do and are confused when those same others do not see or react to perceived injustices or slights. Sometimes these situations result in tears or rage, but often can be resolved when the situation inciting the reaction is acknowledged and addressed. I have found many children to be relieved when they realize that they might have a different emotional experience than others. There are also my challenging or twice-exceptional students whose emotional outbursts can be alleviated by appropriate curriculum, recognition of gifts along with supportive and understanding adults in their lives.

So do these examples show a lack of emotional intelligence or inability to regulate? We need our emotions to draw awareness to an unmet need and these examples show what some of those unmet needs might be. In fact, I often wonder if we were in a rush to regulate whether we might create additional stress if root issues are not recognized and/or addressed for what they are.

But then there are those, whose anxiety, perfectionism and complexity of emotions can be debilitating and interfere with their success. To support these individuals it is important to acknowledge the intensity of their emotions and how they might experience emotions differently. From there it is important to begin cultivating strategies to address how some these emotions are being manifested. Resources I have used and shared with parents and teachers include Sharon Lind’s article at SENG.org on Over-Excitabilities and the Gifted, as well as the book “Letting Go of Perfect” by Jill Adelson PhD, and Hope Wilson PhD.

But a good question might be whether or not we could all benefit from strategies designed to assist those who struggle with varying degrees of emotional regulation? Those who experience emotional outbursts aside, there may be a great number of individuals struggling internally who could benefit from strategies that are taught. Growing awareness and understanding around our emotions sounds like a good thing as long as we remember that emotions are complex and provide us with valuable information with which to negotiate our world. The teaching regulation strategies would need to acknowledge this. At present our school district is beginning to work with the Zones of Regulation in many of our classrooms and I look forward to seeing how it helps students and influences the culture of the classroom.

For more perspectives on Emotional Intelligence, follow this month’s blog hop at Hoagie’s Gifted or click on the icon below.

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Finding Your Community

There have been many times in my life when I really struggled to find community, longing for a place where I could feel like I “fit in”. Growing up on a farm close to a small rural hamlet I  experienced community as a double edged sword: everybody knew you and your family making it easy to find things to talk about and participate in a variety of activities with people you knew and there was a certain comfort in that. But it was also really difficult at to find people who had some of the unique interests and perspectives that I had which, despite the familiarity, could still feel lonely. So as quickly as I could, I left home to find “my” community. And here is what I learned on that journey:

  1.  One community may not meet all of your needs. I have heard many people express a feeling of being “let down” by a certain group because they thought because they shared one commonality, that somehow all their needs for acceptance and understanding would be met there. We are complex and evolving beings and we may be drawn to different communities for a variety of reasons. You may need to reach out to different communities to find who you are looking for.
  2. Communities can evolve and change. Sometimes a change in leadership,  direction, demographics or even a change in you can change the “fit” of a community. Sometimes it is a change that feels good but just as often it might be a change that feels wrong. Sometimes you stay because you are a part of this change and sometimes you leave because you are not: both can be equally difficult.
  3. Sometimes it will be up to you to create community. One of the most daring things you can ever do is to say “I see there is a need…is anyone with me?” It can make  you feel vulnerable and it may start off as a community of one until it builds to a community of two or three or more.
  4. Community need not be restricted to a specific place. With the advent of social media, online communities offer unique opportunities for connection. For example, coming from the northerly community that I do, most of my access to the gifted community (outside of the time I spend with my gifted students) is online or at the various conferences like the NAGC that I am able to attend.
  5. Don’t underestimate your de facto communities. Whether it is the neighbourhood you live in, where you work or the places you spend your free time, you may be surprised who and what you find when  you linger where the people gather. Wendell Berry writes: Community, I am beginning to understand, is made through a skill I have never learned or valued: the ability to pass time with people you do not and will not know well, talking about nothing in particular, with no end in mind, just to build trust, just to be sure of each other, just to be neighborly. A community is not something that you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook. No, it is something you do. And you have to do it all the time. When there is a fire or a flood or some kind of crisis or even just a BBQ, this  community is the one that may well surprise you the most.

We know that community is important, but finding it or creating it can be a challenge. Perhaps that is why this quote  by  Stendhal resonates so much with me: “One can acquire everything in solitude except character.”  We need communities not only for belonging, but also to challenge us to discover who we are and who we want to be. According to Dabrowski, this can be the source of much anxiety, but is also a very positive thing!

This blog is part of a blog hop community that will share many other perspectives on community if you follow this link or click on the graphic below!

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