Tag Archives: giftedness

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!

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One Simple Intervention

If you are looking for one thing that could make a difference for your gifted child/student this year, you might want to take a look at Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Carol Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University and her work has been hailed as one of the greatest breakthroughs in how we think about learning. In a nutshell, she explores two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. On her website she asks us to “Think about your intelligence, talents and personality. Are they just fixed or can you develop them?” How you respond to that question can make all the difference.

Now to most of us the answer appears obvious. Of course we must work to develop these things. What is important about Dweck’s work is how we develop and influence the mindsets of children through the use of instruction and praise. When we focus our praise on innate abilities and/or outcomes we can inadvertently develop a fixed mindset. When we focus on effort, we develop a growth mindset. The difference between an underachieving and a successful gifted student might in part involve how we speak to them about their intelligence. “I know you’re smart.. now I want to see what you can do!” According to Dweck’s research, comments like this could do more damage than good. The New York Magazine did an interesting story on it here.

So if intelligence, talent and personality can be developed through a growth mindset, then why would we need a gifted program? The answer to this comes from an understanding of how we organize systems to meet the need of the majority. Education systems organize classrooms based on age as physical and cognitive development tend to follow a certain timeline. But we know that not all students don’t fit that timeline. Just ask my daughter, who in grade six towers over most of her classmates. Her body is on its own timeline and it’s all I can do to keep her fed these days! Cognitive development of gifted students can be on a different timeline as well. Finding ways to keep their minds “fed” so they can continue to develop their intelligence, talents and personality is important work.

There have been years as a teacher where I started students off with the question “Who Am I?” as a way to get to know them and create self-awareness. Perhaps this year my question should be “What am I doing to become the person I hope to be?” Maybe you have another question that might work. If so, please share!