Category Archives: Social/Emotional Needs

Gifted and Struggling with Relationships? The Virtues are a Good Place to Start

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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Free Time: Critical for Gifted Children Who Engage in Philosophical Thinking?

“Is this a monoculture?” My daughter was four years old when she asked this question as we were driving through a rather large city on our way to an event where my band and I would be performing. I was not surprised by her use of the word, it was from a line in our song written from the perspective of a dandelion: “I don’t fit in your monocultured world…” But to hear a young child ask the question while surrounded by traffic and tall buildings, knowing her penchant for natural outdoor spaces where her imagination could run free, took the whole band by surprise. “Yes,” said the bass player looking out the window, “I suppose it is.”

There is a chapter by Deirdre V. Lovecky in the book Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child edited by Neville, Piechowski and Tolan that speaks to young gifted children being natural philosophers. It is full of examples of some of the complex questions that you might hear from a young gifted child regarding things like time, the nature and origins of the universe, and why we only see one image through two eyes. They are questions that may surprise us considering the age of the child but also signal to us the amazing process by which these young minds formulate an understanding of the world. This is where the gift of free time is so important.

Lovecky asserts that we “need to allow them plenty of opportunity to explore the natural world without giving them predefined answers” as this may “limit thinking because new directions the naive child might take are cut off prematurely.” p.142. She means without the TV, video games and computers that are detrimental to this exploration. A better option for free time would be “common household objects or old-fashioned toys, such as blocks” in addition to “reading extensively or being read to from books with complex language” which can also promote “complexity of ideas.”

While it can be a breathtaking experience to take part in a philosophical exchange with gifted child, the process of forming paradigms based on concepts that evolve out of abstract thinking is complex and can become an emotional minefield for these children when they attempt to navigate the world through these “untested” and sometimes rigid paradigms. This is where the really challenging work of parents and teachers begins.

First they need us to talk about their interesting ideas. This can be pretty taxing on our free time! But as these curiosities evolve into developing paradigms, Lovecky reminds us that “caring adults can help them discover their own internal resources while providing the intellectual, emotional and moral support the children need so they can integrate reasoning and compassion into wise moral choices.” p.143. Seeing the connection between the questions and the paradigms can take a lot of time and understanding.

Ten years later, my now 14 year old daughter tells me how my mother’s farm is her second home. She has a pretty special connection with her grandmother who knew at the age of five, despite growing up in the city of Berlin, that she was destined to be a farmer. There are no pesticides on my mother’s farm but lots of diversity in her garden and her ideas…and a lot of free time. All in all, a pretty safe and stimulating place for an introverted young girl to explore her place in the world with a caring adult who has seen so much.

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Anxiety: From Gordon Neufeld to Kazimierz Dabrowski and beyond

If you consider anxiety from the standpoint of the role it has played in the survival of our species it is more hero than villain. The flight or fight response in an ancient ecosystem is not much different than the knee jerk reaction that steers us away from situations that appear risky. Without it, we would not only be incredibly vulnerable to the “predators” in our environment but our ability to assess other danger would be impaired. As a diagnosable disorder it becomes less heroic as it can inhibit us from fully participating in the experience of living. It can also present itself in a wide array of circumstances with varying degrees intensities which can often make it difficult to discern or impossible to miss. So what is important to know when you are working with or parenting an anxious child?

Where I like to begin with understanding and addressing anxiety is the work of Gordon Neufeld whose book Hold On To Your Kids addresses it from the perspective of parental attachment. His work revolves around the idea that children have an “orienting instinct” which compels them to find their direction from a source of authority and comfort. This “attachment bond” in their early life is with their parent and can be a powerful ally in keeping children safe from influences that may not have their best interests at heart. Parents also play a powerful role in signalling to their children who may be trusted when they are in new situations. The communication between the parents and other adults involved with the child can indicate the sharing of this attachment bond. This is why the relationship between the teacher and parent is so crucial. It signals to the child that their parent trusts this other adult to be the child’s source of authority and comfort (safety) when the parent is absent. Something as simple as meeting and greeting the other adult in the child’s life with warmth and respect can go a long way in alleviating anxiety. As parent or “other” adult in a child’s life, we have a huge responsibility in maintaining that authority and comfort (safety).

My second “go to” theory for understanding and addressing anxiety is the work of Kazimierz Dabrowski. Anxiety plays a pivotal role in his theory of positive disintegration which can be described as the process by which one becomes actively involved in crafting/cultivating one’s personality and engaging in the work of moving to a “higher” level. While this in itself may sound as simple as maturation, the intensity of the experience will vary and for some individuals this becoming one’s own person through “separation” from the perceived expectations the world can be fraught with anxiety as they wrestle over “fitting in” and potentially the sacrificing the “self” or not fitting in favour of claiming their “selfhood” risking loneliness. This can once again be exacerbated by gifted characteristics that make it difficult to “fit in” given intellectual abilities, learning disabilities, areas of passion, intensities and sensitivities. Once again the responsibility of the adult is creating the safety for this anxious self discovery to occur, with the added understanding of the child’s need now to challenge that authority to find and set new boundaries as they do this important work.

Seeing anxiety as natural and helpful can often go a long way in helping anxious children understand that there is nothing wrong with them for feeling this way. But when the anxiety becomes so strong that it interferes with quality of life, having support in overcoming them is necessary. From learning breathing exercises to setting up a step by step program, there are many tools available to work through anxiety. I like the website where they have strategies and resources directed at youth, adults and parents when honouring the need for attachment and disintegration is not enough.


‘Tis the Season to be…Anxious?

I can’t remember any of the gifts that I received for Christmas as a child. Unless of course you count the year I got the radio that I still have kicking around the house somewhere. But I know why I remember it and not others. (Long story…) I believe there might also have been a wagon full of blocks? Not sure. And while I am certain that I always received and anticipated gifts, it is the magic that preceded and surrounded them that I remember: our living room transformed into a magical Christmas wonderland with a tree full of candles that were lit while we sang carols in the kitchen waiting to be summoned. A special Christmas Eve supper that was the same each year followed by a reading of the Christmas story. Playing games until the wee hours of the morning.

The purchasing of Christmas gifts however, has always and continues to fill me with anxiety. There are so many competing narratives that are invoked at this time of year that always have me carefully navigating the distance between Santa and Scrooge, religion and secularism, scarcity and abundance, intention and expectation. I now understand the “grumpiness” that enveloped my father in the weeks preceding Christmas as I know he was as conflicted as I am this time of year. In the end, I have learned to do what he did, submit myself to the comfort and joy of the traditions and make a firm budget to govern all forms of giving.

David Jardine posted a wonderful article on his site this week entitled “I Love the Terror in a Mother’s Heart” that I believe helps to explain the market forces that attempt to use anxiety to lure us in both as parents and teachers as we try so hard to do what is good for our children and students. As we consider the many options of gifts that may support passions, interests and learning I believe ultimately it is the things that we do together without fail that become the greatest gifts. Sing some songs, eat some great food, share some wonderful stories and have a wonderful holiday season!

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Stop. Listen. Know when and how to advocate.

It is the second week of school and I am greeted at breakfast by a child with sad eyes. “Please don’t make me go to school Mom. My teacher is mean!” And with this she bursts into tears.

“Wow, this is the first I’ve heard about her being mean. What did she do that’s mean?” I ask.

“It’s hard to explain, she’s just mean. Please don’t make me go back!”

We move to the couch where where she can cuddle next to me. “Can you tell me what happened yesterday?”

“She said she was going to really push us hard this year and make us move out of our comfort zones! I don’t want to move out of my comfort zone!” There is another round of tears.

“And you’re already uncomfortable because you’ve had to change schools?” Her head nods inside my hug. “And you’re sad because you didn’t get the teacher that you already knew at school?” She nods again. “And you’re worried because none of your friends are in your class?” Another nod. My husband gives me a look clearly indicating that he doesn’t believe I’m improving the situation as the tears continue to flow. When the they slow down I try a few different approaches. “Have you thought about why your teacher might have said it?” I ask.

“Because she’s mean!”

I try a different approach, my teacher approach. “Did you know that learning is all about pushing yourself farther than you thought you could go and that’s not always comfortable but when you show yourself you can do it, it feels good?”

“Learning should be fun, not scary! And her face and voice was mean when she said it!”

“Can you show me how she said it? I want to hear her mean voice.” My daughter turns to me with a scowl on her face and  says “I’m going to push you hard this year and get you out of your comfort zone!”

“Whoa that is mean!” I say, “Let me try.” I put on my best scowl and with a bit of a growl in my voice I say, “I’m going to push you hard this year and get you out of your comfort zone!” She gives me a deprecating look, “That’s not it!” I try again, each time a little sillier doing my best Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck imitations. Before long we’re both laughing. “Did you know, when I was studying to be a teacher I was told not to smile before Christmas?”

“That’s dumb! Why would they tell you that?”

“I think it was because they thought that some kids wouldn’t take you seriously if you smiled too much and then they would ignore the classroom rules. It’s hard to get things done if students aren’t following rules.” She gives me a thoughtful look before wandering off to get ready for school.

If you look up the word advocate, it is all about speaking; speaking in favour or in support of something. But perhaps this is where we miss the mark. I could have gone to the teacher and shared with her extensive research on the importance of building trusting relationships in the classroom or conversely I could have told my daughter that life is about learning to work with many different kinds of people and asked her to give the teacher a chance. Both would have been advocating but both would have been far less successful than simply listening and hearing with my heart. On many days, this will be enough…but not always.

I can’t tell you the number of times in my role as coordinator for the Gifted Program that I have been told that my intense, highly sensitive students need to learn coping skills if they are going to survive in this world. We ache for these children as we work hard on strategies to help them cope and while these strategies can be important, we must not forget the listening.

Let’s imagine you speak up about something that is really frustrating or hurtful (and there are many ways you speak out, not just with words) and no one hears you.  You may be tempted to raise your voice and before long you are screaming and have created a major incident. So you are told that when you feel like screaming there are many things that you can do to keep yourself from screaming and thus avert future incident. Still no one knows what prompted you to speak in the first place. Maybe you just needed someone to listen and help you understand the intensity of feelings that you experience. Maybe there are things that you just don’t understand and it’s frustrating because you’ve always been told you’re smart. Maybe some of the things that happen in this world just don’t make sense and are you the only one who sees it?!? Wouldn’t you want at the very least, someone who listens? If we are the ones who take the time to listen, we will know if we need to take further steps.

Which brings us to the students who have stopped screaming. The students who have learned strategies to cope while trying to deal with the frustrations and hurt on their own. The ones who may take a long time before they trust that you are actually interested in what they have to say and willing to listen. The ones who may need us to begin speaking on their behalf because when listening won’t be enough. Now we must learn the hard work of advocacy, the work of changing the environment (when necessary) that prompted  and perhaps ended the screaming in the first place.

Advocating. When we believe we are right, we tend to like the sound of our own voice and yet here is a time we must listen once again. Until we can understand the mindset of the individual or organization that we believe is failing to meet the needs of our children, it will be difficult to advocate for change. Dr. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, established a online community called The Society for Organizational learning where you can find protocols for balancing inquiry and advocacy. As I read through the conversation templates I realize that I still have much to learn about advocacy, especially in a time when it feels like so many of our conversations have become restricted by time and utilize abbreviated forms of communication.

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Like-Mindedness and Finding Your “Peeps”

I have been known to tell parents and teachers that some gifted students will have difficulty finding good friends; like-minded individuals who will understand them. “If you look at the normal curve,” I say, “there may be one other student in 100 who are their intellectual counterpart and the odds of them being of similar gender and interests are working against them.” It’s part of the platform of our pull-in program, that we give these students the opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals, so we pull them together for eight days a year and while there definitely is a sense of familiarity, it doesn’t quite feel like enough. For myself, I also look forward to the times when I can meet with “like minded”colleagues who are working through some of the same issues as myself which is why I was really looking forward to the 11th Annual International Dabrowski Congress held in Canmore AB last week.

There were 95 people from all over the world attending with many sessions dedicated to understanding both Dabrowski and how his work relates to giftedness. In the last session where some of the keynote speakers were delivering their final thoughts, Dr. Linda Silverman commented on just how diverse our group was despite the fact that many of us were working in the gifted community and all had an interest in the work of this one psychologist. While some individuals commented on how the conference felt like a “homecoming”, Dabrowski’s work was taken up in so many different ways  that it was still possible to feel a sense of “distinction”. However, if there is one thing that was shared, it was the passion of the presenters in communicating not only their understanding but their belief that the Theory of Positive Disintegration offers us a powerful framework for supporting individuals in crisis.

Since the conference I have been reflecting a lot on this notion of “like-mindedness”, how it relates to friendships and finding our “peeps”. Without going into Dabrowski’s theory too much, there is a place in it where he speaks of our getting to the place in our mental development where we become involved the autonomous process of creating our “personality”.  Through authentically claiming our difference we allow others their differences as well and the process of exploring and celebrating these differences can be the basis for a different kind of relationship rooted in empathy as opposed to like-mindedness. We are all on different journeys and our travels will inform us in unique ways.  So how does this help our children/students? Sometimes we do everything we can to help them “fit in” and “make friends”.  If instead we encouraged them to claim their “uniqueness”, celebrate their difference and build on their strengths, we set them on the path to authenticity where their comfort with themselves allows them to be comfortable with the differences in others…even if they’re not like-minded mathematicians, bookworms or philosophers. Sure, it may take time to find that elusive “soul-mate” but then again, I have found some of my “peeps” in the most unexpected places! Click on the image below to read more about gifted friendships.


A Summer of Books and Beyond…

“Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; [the Lakota] knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.”  Luther Standing Bear (c.1868-1939)

One of the things that really surprised me this year during my pull-out sessions were the number of students who told me they preferred not to go outside, whether it be for a fresh air break or a bit of a field trip to the local bird sanctuary. Knowing the draw of a good book, the pull of my basement studio and my fascination with the portal to the world that rests in the touch of a finger on my iPad, there is a part of me that can understand the competition these attractions can provide, but this summer I urge you to not only spend time outdoors, but to really fall in love with where you live in the natural world. If you want reasons I can quote you several books: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, The One Straw Evolution by Masanobu Fukoaka,  Epitaph for a Peach by David Mas Masumoto or Barbara Kingsolver’s: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I firmly believe that there are things we need to know that only the land can teach us.

My mother, a farmer and avid environmentalist, grew up in Berlin during World War II and says that it was a book that changed her life.  She can remember at five years old reading a book about wilderness survival and held that dream until adulthood when my father brought her to a farm in the middle of nowhere in northern Alberta. She thought she had found paradise in the hard work of making a life on the land. I grew up in a wilderness playground where nature taught me many things perhaps most importantly, the concept of unconditional love as I became a forager for wild berries. To this day I experience it as the land around me and my garden produce (with very little help from me) an unbelievable amount of rhubarb, saskatoons, apples, raspberries and strawberries making me feel rich and loved in ways that I can’t even begin to describe.  (The vegetables take a little more work  and I learn other things from them!)

Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives. Wendell Berry

While I can’t find the English version of the book my mother read, there are other books that can lead to a curiosity and interest in getting outdoors (especially if you read them in the shade of a tree!) My favorites include: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell or Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry. Then start exploring! In our part of the world, there are some great places to get back to nature:

Pipestone Creek: camping, playground…dinosaur fossil bed. Historic Dunvegan: mission and trading post.  South Peace Centennial Museum in Beaverlodge: you don’t want to miss Pioneer Days in July. Two Lakes: if you really want to get out in the wilderness this is a beautiful place to go. Red Willow Falls is a little more difficult to find, but it is definitely worth the adventure getting there. Kleskun Hills: a family favorite, with some great little hikes and a lot of history. There is so much to love about our place in our world…summer is a great time to discover it! Perhaps you have some special spots or books to share?

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
— Rachel Carson
Check out the links below for more summer ideas!

Teaching All Children Like They Are Gifted

I can’t believe I missed it. Twice. I twittered Rick Wormeli (keynote at our teachers’ convention) to make sure my friends weren’t pulling my leg. “Did you really say that when all the teachers in your district received gifted training, the instruction for all students improved?” He tweeted back a one word response. “Yes!”

I had the good fortune to do my practicum in a gifted program with one of the most brilliant teachers I have ever met. That early mentorship had a profound influence on how I teach, even when I wasn’t teaching in gifted programs. I guess it’s why sometimes as the gifted specialist I struggle with the question “how do I teach this gifted student?”  Differentiated instruction, flexible pacing, room for extension and choice as well as acceleration must be embedded in our practice. To try to accommodate in that way for a single student is daunting. To do it for an entire class, strangely enough, is far simpler. But teaching gifted students is not simply about strategies. It is the gifted students themselves who have taught me the most about what it means to be an effective teacher.

One of the hallmarks of gifted students is their sensitivity. I often think of them as the frogs who because of their permeable skins, give us early signals to the toxicity in the environment. What makes their environment toxic? A lack of authenticity, caring and understanding.

1. Gifted students need passionate teachers who are experts in their disciplines. You can’t fake passion. If you’re not excited about what you’re teaching, if you can’t see the importance of it or why it is meaningful- they will know. Telling them they have to suffer through it like generations before them is not a good enough reason. While some of them will be polite and still do their best, others will call you out or simply tune out.

2. Gifted students need relationships to take the risks necessary for authentic learning.  Being in the same room for 200 days a year does not constitute a relationship.  They need to know that you care and that you see them as an individual. Many of them have tempered down their thoughts and ideas because they fear being misunderstood or standing out. If you want to see what they are capable of, you must cultivate a relationship with them. But you can’t force it. Sometimes it is just a matter of letting them know that you are there and are willing to listen when they are ready to share. I have waited months to earn the trust of students but it has always been worth the wait.

3. Gifted students need teachers who are not intimidated by people who are smarter than they are. I will never forget the math prodigy I taught years ago when he was in grade eight. He struggled with humanities because it was not his thing. His book responses and written work were adequate but not stellar. Then I asked the students to bring in a favorite book to share with me and he brought in Douglas Hofstadter’s book, Godel, Escher and Bach. I worked through the first few chapters, but from our discussions it was obvious he understood it far better than I did. Eventually we connected through poetry as he explored math in a pattern of words that left me in awe. I still keep a copy of the book on my nightstand and every once in a while I try it again. (He was also formidable at Scrabble…I didn’t have a hope and I’ve always considered myself pretty good at Scrabble.)

4. Gifted students need you to understand that they may develop asynchronously. I’ve worked with gifted kids who were completing university level courses yet still cried over getting a low mark in a different discipline area. I’ve seen students who could read Egyptian heiroglyphs throw temper tantrums if they couldn’t make their structure hold weight. I’ve known students who played with adults in professional jazz bands on weekends yet goofed off and never get anything done in class. Yet I still hear over and over that we should not accelerate students to meet their academic needs until they are socially ready when the truth is, they may never fit well into a classroom or social setting…until they find their passion or intellectual counterparts.

Passionate expertise makes differentiation easier. It allows you to see the many paths to a similar destination. Relationships are key to differentiation. How can you help students get where they need to go if you don’t know their starting point and what ignites their passion? When you don’t have all the answers, you get to model what it means to be a lifelong leaner and you give even your brightest students permission to not need to know everything. And when you understand that intellectual and social development vary from child to child you can understand the need to be flexible in how you think about students and plan for them.

Why I Do DI (Destination ImagiNation)

I think it might be a record…I’ll have to ask when I get to Tennessee. In the past four years I have managed and co-managed (with a LOT of help) more than 50 teams. In the weeks leading up to the big tournament, I do my best to stay off  the emotional roller coaster that many of my teams feel compelled to ride. I bite my tongue when I have an idea that would make things much more straightforward and simple. I wrack my brain to keep from asking leading questions looking for ones that will help the team move forward. I talk to them about the unity, trust and trustworthiness virtues while they argue over details like who will do the paperwork or clean up the mess. I go home at the end of the day with sparkles all over my butt, duct tape stuck to my shoes, paint spots on my pants and a sheepish look at the custodian as I make my way out the door.  And I swear to anyone who is still talking to me that I WILL NOT DO THIS AGAIN!

And then I go to the tournament. If there is last minute drama, I don’t really notice it (mostly because I am rushing from room to room to get to all my teams).  I watch the presentations as some come together as never before, while others run into glitches and soldier on.  I listen to the genuine laughter of the audience as they watch the performance of original scripts.  I watch things quit working and then get to observe one or two of the members leap into the gap to lead the way out. I watch my engineers beam with pride as the appraisers ask them about their ideas. I watch my artists talk earnestly about their process. I watch the faces of the parents as they see their children present. I go home feeling so proud of every one of them, not because of the results of the tournament but because I have experienced the journey.

I know the degree to which the teams developed their perseverance, diligence, cooperation, trust, trustworthiness, forgiveness, humility, self-discipline, respect, unity and enthusiasm. I’ve seen the perfectionists take risks, and the introverts step out. I’ve watched the highly sensitive student learn to manage their emotions while they taught the rest of their team about empathy and flexibility. I’ve watched teams dream big dreams and then learn how to scale things down to make them work. I’ve watched teams start small and then keep adding bits and pieces until they surprise themselves with how it all comes together.  I have been to the messy, complicated, complex, tearstained, joyful heart of creativity and observed its power of transformation. And that is why I do DI.

Giftedness 101 with Linda Kreger Silverman

This past week I had the opportunity to travel to the mid-high campus of Westmount Charter School in Calgary where Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman was presenting. The author of Gifted 101, which I consider to be one of the best books ever written in terms of giving a comprehensive overview of all things gifted, she has had a powerful influence on the assessment of giftedness. So much so that the new version of the WISC will reflect the more than 50 years of research she has conducted with gifted children.

There were several topics that she touched on over the three days of her session: parenting, assessment, visual spatial learning, the gifted in secondary school and the personality traits of the gifted. I am going to highlight some of the points from each session. What I find interesting as I review my notes is how sometimes the expertise she offers seems so straightforward, simple and I hesitate to say it: obvious. But you shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of what she is sharing despite its simple elegance.

If our Child is so Smart, Why Aren’t our Lives Easier?  In this session she shared an interesting chart that compared the time we spend parenting our children vs the time they will spend caring for us. We all chuckled as we reflected on the karmic significance of this but the point was not lost. Her broader and more controversial point was this: no matter what schools you put them in, it is their home life that determines what they will do with their lives. I have had many conversations with parents around the degree to which school experiences have influenced their children, and when your child feels like they don’t belong and aren’t appreciated, you would move to the other side of the planet to make them feel accepted and understood. But Linda cautions that you must remember your own significance as a parent to recognize their individuality, accept them for who they are, to listen, be honest and support their passions. The list goes on but the meaning is clear…these highly sensitive, emotional, curious, intense, perfectionistic children need home to be a safe and nurturing place.

Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner  “Are you a piler or a filer?” Linda asks her audience. You only need to look at my desk to know which one I am, although I can be a filer when desperate measures are required. Gifted visual-spatial learners can be a conundrum to those responsible for their learning as they don’t respond well to learning that is quite often auditory and sequential. Beyond being organizationally impaired and unconscious about time, they may have difficulty with easy tasks but show amazing ability with difficult and complex ones. They do not learn from repetition and drill and showing their work after they have arrived at a correct solution may be impossible. They think in pictures instead of words and are whole-part learners making step-by-step learning difficult for them. What can we do? For strategies for visual-spatial learners, visit

The Gifted in Secondary School The discussion around this topic was quite fascinating as Westmount provides a congregated setting for secondary students. Some of the questions that their teachers had were very similar to the ones that I have had asked of me, in particular the question of whether students remain gifted for their entire life. “Can we change the code if they are no longer demonstrating their giftedness?” The need for specialists who are able to engage students far beyond their grade level becomes evident in secondary school as the double whammy of not providing adequate challenge to a mind that is beginning to question the nature of the institution can create the illusion of lazy. A “lazy child” can be symptomatic of a learning environment that lacks opportunities for abstract reasoning and is focused on achievement of specific outcomes. As I write this statement it is important for secondary educators (I have been one myself) to understand that it is not an indictment of the teachers themselves but rather trying to draw attention to just how different the needs of these students can be with the added complexity of what is often an unwillingness to demonstrate ability within the normal expectations. In her handout there was some information about how to conduct student discussion groups with gifted learners that might be worthwhile exploring in our district.

The Assessment of the Gifted As attested to in previous posts, the area of assessment is one of the most perplexing for me and my angst was somewhat alleviated when Dr. Silverman made the statement “I know when a child is gifted, I cannot tell you when they are not.” Understanding the nature of “g” with brains that are often wired differently from the norm is not simple or straightforward.  If we are looking for the essence of giftedness, she tells us that we will find it in the abstract reasoning so timed tests, discontinue criteria/test ceilings, coding and other tests can throw us off. The other thing that makes a difference is rapport building…gifted students often need to feel there is a relationship before they will perform. But there are ways to address many of these items and I have brought back some great information to share with our district psychologists as we continue to grow in understanding our gifted learners.

I am so grateful to Westmount Charter School not only for hosting this event, but also for extending the invitation to me to attend. Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman will be at the international Dabrowski Congress in Canmore this summer and she is definitely worth seeing! She also offered to come to Grande Prairie to work with our program here so I will definitely explore this possibility!