I love the messiness of fragmented thoughts winding together to form something extraordinary. To me, the greatest gift is when someone invites me to collaborate on the conceptualization of an idea. It has been an honor to go through this process many times and share in the success of others when their ideas come to fruition. The following is a unique story of how a former gifted student invited me to help her conceptualize her dream.
Several years ago, summer was nearly over and back to school professional development was in full swing. I was kicking off the school year with a group of teachers in Portland, Oregon when a bright-eyed millennial walked up to me giddy to say hello. The beautiful young lady gave me a hug and I realized the young lady embracing me was Mandie, my former gifted student that was now all grown up. That day was the beginning of a delightful mentoring relationship that I hadn’t expected.
Several years had passed and our friendship blossomed. I watched Mandie grow both personally and professionally. For nearly a year she told me she wanted to start her own school and enroll in a Ph.D. program. Through deeply listening, I sensed a mismatch between what she was saying and where her heart was really wanting to take her. I invited her to grab some time on my calendar so we could find congruence between her heart’s desire and her giftedness.
Our coaching call had a familiar cadence. Mandie spoke logically about enrolling in a Ph.D. program and using the research from her dissertation to start a charter school. After a few open-ended questions, the conversation took an interesting turn and Mandie became more and more animated describing how she would equip the leaders in her virtual school with the necessary skills to build a strong sense of community and belonging among the student body. Like peeling back the layers of an onion, the spirit of that spunky 10-year-old gifted child I remembered began to emerge as she described how to masterfully create school culture using a unique blend of social media and grassroots student leadership development. In that instant, it became crystal clear to both of us that Mandie’s mission in life was to share her successful formula for equipping and empowering virtual schools to create invaluable human connections in the online environment. It was in that moment that hello edu was born.
Mandie invited me to come alongside her and help conceptualize her dream, a dream that doesn’t require a Ph.D. or a charter school of her own. Like all dreams, it starts with an idea followed closely with a carefully executed plan. Next week, I have invited Mandie to continue this story by sharing the foresight one needs to make a dream come to fruition.
Servant leaders can help gifted learners knit together their ideas to create their envisioned future. Below are three conceptualization strategies teachers (and parents) can leverage to become a fierce ally to the gifted learners they serve.
Boldly seek innovative solutions- Teachers need to help young people boldly seek innovative solutions. These solutions may or may not have been explored in the past, and sometimes the servant leader needs to point out the path that the child may have overlooked, a new and different way of reaching a potential solution.
Creating a well-designed learning experience- Creating a well-designed learning experience allows the student to participate in lessons that begin with the end in mind. Servant leaders help students begin with a clear understanding of the end result and then begin to lay the foundation of what is necessary to reach the desired outcome.
Making decisions between what is good, and what is best for students- Making decisions between what is good, and what is best for students, means differentiating between the two. A servant leader’s role is to help the learner see where they have come from and where they are going. The wisdom of an adult, coupled with a servant’s heart, can illuminate a young person’s path in ways they cannot see on their own. This wisdom helps differentiate a good path, from the best path.
Servant leaders help learners with both conceptualization and foresight. Conceptualization is the creative process people go through to cast their envisioned future. Foresight is the logical steps necessary to reach the end goal. When leveraged properly, conceptualization and foresight will help students dream big dreams and reach those goals through a thoughtful, step by step process.
In the comments below, or on your favorite social media using the hashtag #giftedresources, please share stories of students you know who are reaching their dreams.
On September 13th, 2017 our community was shaken to the core to learn of a school shooting at Freeman High School, a small rural community south of Spokane, Washington. Freeman Scotties are the epitome of small-town USA and parents from the Spokane area are known to choose to place their children into this school district over their local school district. In Freeman, everyone knows everyone, people look out for one another, and students have deep relationships with their teachers and peers. The school is the heartbeat of this community and on this fateful day, people were saying over and over “not here.” Not in our town. These things do not happen here. Our community is different—not here.
Nobody is immune and school violence can happen anywhere. The alleged shooter sent disturbing notes to friends threatening to commit acts of violence. His friends listened and the notes were turned over to the school counselor. The school followed protocol and he was suspended for three days and could not return until he had passed a mental health evaluation. September 13th was his first day back to school after being suspended and he shot four students, killing one.
We believe teachers and parents must rise up as servant leaders in classrooms, and in their own homes, to care for all children. One way to do that is deeply listening to kids. I can only imagine the difficult conversations families were having after the shooting. I can image parents holding their children close and listening to their concerns, answering their questions the best they can, and being fully present as they worked through the emotions after a traumatic event.
The servant-leader has the ability to listen deeply to students and address cognitive, social, and emotional concerns. Gifted students tend to have heightened sensitivity, known as overexcitabilities, which causes them to feel things more intensely. Listening is a critical teacher attribute that can transform a community of learners.
The purpose of this article is to share three listening strategies teachers can leverage to become a fierce ally to gifted students. These strategies can be used by parents also to build improve their relationship with their child.
Knowing when to speak and when to listen- Knowing when to speak and when to listen is important because in stillness comes reflection. An invitation to children to share what they are thinking comes through deep listening, and wait time. Sometimes, in silence, comes a gentle invitation to say more.
Lifelong learning and intense curiosity- Lifelong learning and intense curiosity allows the teacher to continue to listen to students and grow from those interactions. Gifted students ask complex questions about the world around them. Deeply listening and helping them find the best human, print, and digital resources is a gift teachers can offer their students.
Seek to Understand- A servant leader listens with their eyes and their ears. “Listen” intently to help the child move toward the learning goal. Listen to those things being said, as well as those things not being said. Seeing what the student is sharing, posting to social media, and talking with their friends about can offer a perspective on how that student is really doing on a social and emotional level.
Listening is one disposition of a servant leader when leveraged properly, can heal the hearts of gifted children. In honor of Sam Strahan, the victim who died in the Freeman High School Shooting, practice one of these listening strategies to become a fierce ally to the children you serve. Share the results in the comments below or on social media using the hashtag #giftedresources I am looking forward to hearing more about how you are transforming education for the students you serve.
If you feel led to donate to the Go Fund Me account set up in Sam’s name, you can do that here.
Do you remember the allure of the old Jetsons cartoon? I used to watch that show dreaming of what my future might hold. I thought about life with a cleaning robot like Rosie, where I could just press a button and walk away. Just like that, many of the “chores” I would have as an adult would be gone. Today, I took a huge leap toward that envisioned future and bought myself a robotic vacuum. I hope it will deliver on the promise of that I can press a button and come home to a clean house.
If only life were that easy in the classroom. It may work with household appliances, but teaching is all about positive relationships with kids and that doesn’t happen with a push of a button. It takes patience, persistence, and a deep commitment to grow, nurture, and develop the whole child. This is especially true when working with gifted students because developing a relationship with a young person who challenges you, asks questions that you can’t answer, and needs constant intellectual stimulation can be exhausting.
Building relationship requires a teacher to know and value their students, outside of their value as a producing member of the classroom, by taking a personal interest in each child, and helping them build a positive classroom community. This endeavor requires a high level of commitment, but the benefits can last a lifetime. The purpose of this article is to help you commit to the growth and development of the students you serve. Below are five commitment strategies teachers can leverage to become a fierce ally to gifted students.
The beauty of this advice is parents can adapt these strategies and use them at home to improve relationships with their gifted children.
Allow students to be responsible for the learning and become responsive to the student- Teachers who are willing to give control of the learning experiences to their students and then respond to the unique need of each learner empowers the student with an appropriate level of freedom to explore their own learning objectives. Leveraging the power of free technology apps helps a teacher quickly and easily differentiate the readiness level and learning preferences of a variety of learners.
Fostering joint decision making- Fostering joint decision making creates a shared passion for the outcome of the process. Shared thinking benefits from input from both the teacher and the student leading to a greater ownership for the learning on the part of the student.
Access to a variety of mentors to enhance learning- Access to a variety of mentors to enhance learning allows the student to be in community with people both inside, and outside, of the classroom to facilitate learning. Gifted kids need mentors who understand them. I recommend connecting younger gifted children with juniors and senior National Honor Society (NHS) members. NHS requires students complete at least 25 community service hours and this mentoring relationship can satisfy that requirement. The local high school can help pair up students who share similar gifts and interest areas. Parents will be responsible for providing a safe place for them to meet and access to plenty of delicious snacks.
Creating a safe space to explore learning, relationships, roles, feelings etc.- Creating a safe space to explore learning, relationships, roles, feelings etc. allows students the freedom to try new things. When a teacher fosters a sense of community among the learners, they are providing a safe space that allowing a group of virtuous community members to practice virtues and support one another, both inside and outside of the classroom.
I compare this to a walled garden. The students have access to everything within the garden, but the wall around it keeps them safe. The teacher facilitates opportunities within the walls for students to explore interpersonal relationships, conflict resolution, authentic feedback, and other adulting 101 experiences. The walled garden provides the safety to practice these important skills before they are asked to do them in the real world.
Develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) to support teaching gifted students- Developing a PLN to support teaching gifted students allows the teacher to focus on supporting the gifted students in the classroom, while networking with a wider support community to guide as she develops into a masterful servant teacher. This wider network provides a safe space to ask questions, research theory and practice, and explore the more difficult aspects of teaching gifted students.
Please share an idea below for how you commit to the growth and development of the gifted students you serve.
The greatest advice I can offer is to discover that one thing in life that you love, become really good at it, and find someone to pay you to do it.
My area of expertise is how to leverage free technology apps to differentiate the curriculum for gifted learners. Leading professional development workshops, I have come to learn that for many teachers understanding giftedness, knowing how to use technology tools, and differentiating the curriculum to meet the needs of every student are unfamiliar and unchartered territories leading to fear and trepidation.
When teachers join my professional development sessions, it is my responsibility to be the best steward of their time, talent, and resources by listening and empathizing with their needs, being aware of what is needed, persuading them to become lifelong learners, and fully committing to their growth.
The characteristics outlined above align with the servant leadership characteristics needed to become a fierce ally for those you teach. The purpose of this article is to help you build a high level of awareness in order to grow and develop the students you serve.
The beauty of this advice is parents can adapt these strategies and use them at home to improve relationships with their gifted children.
Below are three strategies teachers can leverage to become a fierce ally to gifted students.
Acknowledge personal areas of weakness: Acknowledging areas of weakness allows the teacher to be human and acknowledge their shortcomings. This level of awareness requires bravery to search and find those areas of your life you may not want to come face to face with. One needs to investigate all parts of themselves in order to be able to help others do the same. Facing each day with a lack of ego and focusing on what is best for the students is the greatest gift you can give yourself and others. This means that you must be willing to come alongside your students and learn from them. Students sometimes know more than their teacher and that is okay.
Know students enough to meet them where they are in the learning process- Knowing students enough to meet them where they are in the learning process is the ability to be keenly aware of each child in order to make educational decisions based on the needs of the learner at that moment. This requires you to build a relationship with the student. Students want relationships with teachers that care about them. Show you care by asking questions coupled with a deep desire to listen to what is being said, and in some cases, what is left unsaid.
Teach to a child’s strength- Teaching to a person’s strengths allows the student to build on skills they already possess and have a natural talent toward. Imagine if people were encouraged to work on those areas where they are already functioning in the top 75th percentile. These are the areas that are going to give people the greatest leverage in post-secondary aspirations. I will never compete as an Olympic level gymnast, no matter how much support I receive, but I can outperform others in delivering an engaging training session. Gifted students are exceptional in at least one area. Help them find a coach or mentor who can guide them in that area and the payoff in post-secondary opportunities that come from that focused time and attention will be tremendous.
Over the next three months, join me as we learn to leverage Servant Leadership characteristics to become a fierce ally to the gifted students. Cheers to a vibrant, interactive school year.