Gifted or not, relationships can be difficult. Much of my research in my masters thesis focused on the impact of relationships on learning and the focus of three years of intense study into curriculum along with interviewing teachers confirmed that yes, relationships are difficult. In a school setting, there are many things that contribute to these difficulties.
1. Assessment. Learning is about opening yourself up to new ideas, taking risks, exploring the distance between what you know and what you have yet to discover and potentially being transformed by the experience. Knowing that this journey is constantly being “evaluated” can place stress on the relationships in the school setting as evaluations lead to expectations.
2. Expectations. Schools are rife with expectations coming from students, parents, teachers, administrators, community groups, economic think tanks and government about what could and should be happening in them. Because the expectations are so varied and needs are so different, there are some things that schools are able to deliver and some things they are not due to this diversity.
3. Diversity. As much as we would like to say we embrace diversity, it is impossible for us to ever fully understand the experience of another human being. When I ask colleagues to imagine what it would be like to be a gifted student in a classroom, the assumption is that it would be easier than it is for most. They can’t begin to imagine the sensitivities, the self-doubt, frustrations and worries that can plague what appear to be the most capable of students. In the same way it would be difficult to fully understand the experience of other groups of students: ELL students, FNMI students, LGBT students…and ultimately all of our students. Outside the building everyone has a story and experience that they carry with them into the school environment.
So what did I learn from researching relationships and their impact on learning? That ultimately good relationships emerge from believing the best about ourselves and believing in the best in others. It means letting go of assumptions when things get challenging and seeing if you can find out what the other person needs. It means practicing flexibility, forgiveness and humility while embracing care. Institutions are what they are: places designed to help us conform to the perceived needs of our society. What makes them positive places is the humanity that we bring to them as we navigate the expectations and the diversity. Once I help my gifted students understand the nature of institutions, my favourite resource for addressing how we can bring in our humanity is The Virtues Project. The core belief is that we are all born complete with the virtues required for this difficult journey full of difficult relationships. Our work is to honour and bring out the best in each other along the way.
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