Category Archives: Social/Emotional Needs

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.

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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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Giftedness and the Impact of Trauma

If you’re a news hound, it’s been a summer of scary news stories from all parts of the globe. My iPhone has made it really easy to find these stories as they emerge…just one swipe to the right and there it is…a deadly accident, acts of terrorism, an environmental disaster and wait…”First shot, new target, led the assault…” No worries. Just a metaphor for a story on pipeline negotiations but it got my attention.

If I’m not careful I can start to have a view of the world that not only frightens me but raises my anxiety levels as I wonder about the future for my children and the children that I work with. Friends tell me that there is a simple solution. Stop swiping to the right. Turn off the news when it pops up on the radio. Scroll over the headlines on FaceBook. And then go into your garden, hang out with your friends, go fishing and you will see that the amazing world we live in is still there. You can stop the trauma.

But even if I can turn away from it, should I?  I live and work in a world that demands I be present for a variety of reasons. For example, we know that gifted students can be traumatized by world events. For some, their sensitivities and tendencies toward deep thought and active imaginations can lead to vicarious traumatization. We need to be sensitive to this and look for ways to support them. (SENGifted.org has some great resources including these Tips for Helping Gifted, Highly Sensitive Teens and Children Cope with Trauma. )

But even more troubling this past year has been the number of children who have come across my radar who are dealing with first hand trauma and exhibiting signs of giftedness. Here’s what makes it especially difficult. Often the trauma is not fully disclosed or acknowledged by the parent so there is no therapeutic intervention as well as behaviours that come with no “explanation.” Another confounding problem is that in the classroom, these flight or fight responses may be interpreted as a behaviour issue and be addressed in behaviour plans that do not incorporate support for trauma. And finally the testing of children who are in a state of hyper-arousal is unreliable and therefore they may not be identified and given access to gifted support which can add yet another level of frustration.

In this article by Dr. Bruce Perry, Violence and Childhood, he writes that it is important to help traumatized children understand their traumatic responses to triggers as they may not feel in control and as a result create an negative internal dialogue: stupid, sick, irrational, bad… He also notes that it is important to offer them hope, which includes an image of a better future and a better world as well as the first hand knowledge that not all adults are unpredictable, inattentive, abusive or violent. Interactions matter and responding with respect, humour and flexibility can start the process of feeling valued. But that isn’t always easy. There is truth to the saying that the children who are the most difficult to love are the ones who need it the most.

The world is full of trauma whether we experience it directly or vicariously. Turning away can be another act of violence…we need to be there for the traumatized who are in our lives as well as those who need us to be aware of what is happening elsewhere in the world so we can make political, social and economic choices responsibly. There is a virtue that can help us with this and it is called detachment. It allows us to experience our feelings without allowing them to control us as well as let go of the things we cannot change. At the same time it gives us the wisdom and grace to be in the world and choose how we will act as opposed to react. You can learn more about the virtues here.

For more blogs about gifted social issues follow this link or click on the icon below.

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2016: Using the Virtues Project in meeting the Social/Emotional needs of Gifted Students

Over the past number of years I have been committed to learning and embedding the language of the virtues (The Virtues Project) into my professional and  personal life. At first it seemed like a simple enough task, after all, it isn’t as if I don’t already know the words. But it started out feeling very awkward to say the words “I see your determination,” or “Thank-you for your courtesy,” or “I need your self-discipline.”  I had become comfortable with short cuts like “Great job!” “Thanks!” and “Pay attention!” and to deviate from the auto-responses in an effort to really “see” the person, be present in the moment,  and most importantly to understand and acknowledge what I was seeing and needing meant that I had to change what I was looking for and who I needed to be to speak with authenticity.

But when you start looking for the virtues in the people around you, it really is like putting on a different set of “glasses” or lenses with which to see the world. Perfectionism can be redefined as idealism that requires an understanding of moderation and humility to fully blossom. Emotional over-sensitivities can be understood as empathy and compassion which may require an understanding of detachment to balance out how incredibly overwhelming they can feel. A temper tantrum can be transformed into learning how to balance commitment and determination with flexibility. In my mind, the value of using the virtues as part of a social/emotional curriculum for gifted learners cannot be understated. But it is not the kind of curriculum where each week you choose a virtue to study and learn. It is a daily search and acknowledgement for the virtues that are already there that need acknowledgement and/or cultivation.

This recent Ted Talk by my mentor in the Virtues Project, Christine Ayling, is a great place to get an introduction to what the project is all about as well as the five strategies in working with the virtues. In 2016 it is my goal to continue learning how to further develop the five strategies she talks about in my own life and practice as well as share some of those insights here. All the best to all of you in 2016!

The (Gifted) Journey: Two Recurring Phases

This past October I had the chance to attend a Global Mentorship Retreat for the Virtues Project International Association in Calgary, Alberta. I was very excited to attend as I have been gradually growing my understanding of how to infuse the virtues into my personal and professional life for the past 10 years. The mentorship provided me with an unbelievable opportunity to connect with others from around the world who have been using The Virtues Project in so many different ways to address issues as diverse as the suicide epidemic in Japan to working through the trauma unleashed by the Truth and Reconciliation hearings here in Canada to Virtue Schools in Finland where children learn from a very early age that they are born in potential with all the virtues in them and they are encouraged to not forget that they possess these as they begin encountering the challenges the world is going to put before them.

I had the chance to sit and chat briefly with one of the founders of the project, Dr. Dan Popov during one of our breaks. I took this opportunity to share a bit about my work with gifted students as well as my interest in Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and how I was using the Virtues Project as a means of introducing students to the idea of understanding that they have the power to define their character through consciously cultivating the virtues that they value. After my very quick description of TPD, Dr. Popov wondered whether the theory could be reduced to two phases, a question that has had me pondering ever since. The first phase is the one where everything is right with the world and we go forth with confidence feeling that all things are as they should be. The second phase? When things are not right with the world and we are tasked with adjusting our worldview in order to restore “rightness”.

While reductionism often fails to capture the nuances and details that can give us comfort as we stumble through uncertainty, this simplification also resists the idea that once we get through this stage or this phase or to this level, things will be as they should be. A complex and changing world is going to continue to throw us curveballs. Pendulums will continue to swing. What we once took as gospel truth may be shown to have been incomplete as research uncovers new ideas and concepts. Add to this complexity the certainty that most of the people and organizations around us will be making “adjustments” as they work to integrate new things into their worldview. And so many individuals to varying degrees who do not fit neatly into existing “systems” to start with, may well be tasked with a constant search for and creation of sometimes fleeting moments of “rightness” with the world and with who they are in this world.

In his article “Keep Radiantly Well” David Jardine (2015), recently retired from his position in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, reflects in another way on this “rightness” when he asks how we can maintain the “beauty” in places made ugly by “panic, defeat, feat, retraction, entrenchment, reification and hostility.” In it he also reminded me of a quote by political theorist Hannah Arendt who spoke of how the world “must be constantly set right anew” and that we must “educate in such a way that setting right remains possible.” (1969) For those of us in the system this can feel like a monumental and fruitless task. But Jardine tells us not to retreat, but go into those places where beauty is being compromised and be of service. Dr. Dan Popov’s keynote address echoed this sentiment when he asked us all three questions: What use will I make of my gifts? Who will I serve? How will I serve them? The third question leads us back to the virtues because how we serve, be it with love, steadfastness, patience, integrity is what will truly make the difference and allow us to keep the beauty in sight as we work through the struggle.

In one of my favorite Christmas movies “While You Were Sleeping” there is a scene where the father speaks to one of his sons where he says something to the effect “Every once in a while you get one of those moments where everything is alright and everyone is okay,” and his son replies “This is not one of those moments.” They talk it out, their world shifts a little and the movie continues on through some bumps to the inevitable romcom happy ending. (I am a sucker for a happy ending!) But isn’t that what all great stories are about? We start with the status quo, something shifts, and suddenly the protagonists are required to adjust and somehow set things right again, even though nothing will never be the same. Those who are able to persevere through the trials over the course of a lifetime grow in resilience and character and at different times and in different ways find their moments of “rightness”.

For other perspectives on the ages and stages of of giftedness, follow the link below:

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Understanding Overexcitabilities: The Basics

Overexcitability is part of the larger Theory of Positive Disintegration. (TPD) developed by Kazmierz Dabrowski. TPD is an important theory offering insight into personality development and the role anxiety and psychoneuroses play in reaching one’s developmental potential. Looking at the overexcitabilities independent of TPD is problematic as they drive developmental potential and need to be understood and supported in that context.

WHO experiences TPD? At the 2014 International Dabrowski Congress there seemed to be some controversy over the use overexcitability scales particularly as a predictor of giftedness. This makes sense as Dabrowski believed that the percentage of the population that experience positive disintegration is somewhere around 30-35% while giftedness is considered to occur in 2% of the population. While research indicates that the overexcitabilities occur to a larger degree within the gifted population, they are not exclusive to gifted individuals.

WHAT is “overexcitability”? “Overexcitability is a characteristic of the nervous system involving higher than average sensitivity to stimuli (a lower threshold to stimuli) and a higher than average response to stimuli.  Dabrowski described five main types of overexcitability: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional, and emphasized that the latter three are critical to development and in particular, that emotional overexcitability drives and guides higher development.” (Taken from PositiveDisintegration.com.)

WHEN is it an overexcitability vs “something else”?  The key element here is focus. A child with an intellectual overexcitability may exhibit ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) behaviors until they are given a task that they find intellectually stimulating at which time they are able to focus. Sometimes this incredible focus can look like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). There are also times when an emotional excitability can look like a trauma response. And there are also times when there can be a dual diagnosis where an individual has been diagnosed with ADHD and be gifted as well. Webb et al. have done a great job of working through Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of the Gifted which you can find here. This article does a great job of describing how the intensities and sensitivities can manifest themselves in gifted children.

WHERE can you find strategies to cope? Again, as I work through understanding Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration it is very important to note that the overexcitabilities are not distributed in equal measure and the various dynamisms do not contribute to developmental potential in the same way. Every child is unique so there is no cookie cutter fix. That said, this article at SENGifted is a great place to start to put together something that may work for you and your child. There are also some specific strategies relevant to specific overexcitabilities here.

WHY does it help to have an understanding of Dabrowski’s theory? In my experience of working with individuals who experience emotional and intellectual overexcitabilities, the danger of seeing this independent of personality development through positive disintegration is that there can be a tendency to pathologize it into a behavior problem rather than work to understand and acknowledge the transformative work that is taking place.  The approach we use in supporting children with overexcitabilities is the difference between them seeing their sensitivities as “bad” “immature” or  “overreactions” and developing a self-understanding to how they experience the world as part of a quest to become their best person. For parents and teachers here is the gift/burden: “The richer the developmental potential, the greater number and variety of conflicting and mutually opposing elements are brought into play, and the more disequilibrium is produced.” (p. 64. Theory of Levels of Emotional Development, 1977.)

HOW we handle overexcitabilities can make all the difference. The first and most important step is to manage our own reactions. How we respond to that “intense response to stimuli” will go a long way to nurturing the safety and trust required to build a relationship where the adult can empower the child through finding strategies that will help regulate responses but not inhibit developmental potential.

For more information/perspectives on overexcitabilities you can follow Hoagies Blog Hop at the link below.

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