Tips for Parents of the Gifted
In my last post (The Wheel Still Turns), Jane commented:
It is refreshing to hear of success in advocating for educating gifted children, but do you have advice for parents who may not have a dozen years to change the system? Do you have any effective advice for parents and children who need to learn in school TODAY?
Your question is important because I know countless parents across the country can relate to it, too. As parents, you see effects of a less-than-challenging curriculum that we who work in the schools sometimes don’t see. And of course, as parents you all rightfully want what is best for your children.
It can be an awkward and delicate position to be in.
The four suggestions that I posed in my previous post remain valid strategies that you as parents can use. Whereas those ideas were for teachers, parents, administrators, and gifted coordinators, I do have new info to add today that is geared specifically for parents of the gifted.
Karen Isaacson co-authored "Intelligent Life in the Classroom" with me, and as a mother of five gifted children (currently ranging in age from elementary school to college), she has a wealth of experience being in the boat Jane alluded to. Some of her parenting experiences were highlighted in her first book, "Raisin’ Brains", and others will be featured in her upcoming second book about parenting the gifted, "Life in the Fast Brain: Keeping Up with Gifted Minds", soon to be released from Great Potential Press.
Karen has helped many parents in Montana with a list of suggestions that she has titled “Working with Schools to Meet the Needs of Gifted Students.” She has given me permission to offer some of the list’s items here for you today. For the sake of clarity, her suggestions below are numbered and in italics while my comments on them follow each tip.
1. Be firm, but be kind. Stand up for your child without putting the teacher or the administration on the defensive. This is not you vs. them. This is simply a matter of you securing the best education possible for your child.
While I understand the desperation and emotion that fuels the parents who come in “on fire,” doing so only ends up creating more harm than good. It may yield some immediate results, but it also builds a wall between the parent and the school that may never come down. Additionally, the child finds herself in an awkward position if she witnesses the parent and any school personnel exchanging heated words. As school professionals, we desire the same things from you in this process that you desire from us: an open mind, honesty, respect, a willingness to give it a try, and communication. Parents & schools together: we’re all in it for the child’s best interest.
2. Be educated and informed. If you want the school to do more for your child, be prepared to tell them exactly what programs and opportunities will be of the most benefit, and be prepared to explain why. You must be able to support your position.
I know it’s counter-intuitive, but it is true that some schools/teachers are simply not aware of the many strategies that can be used to meet the needs of gifted students. In my opinion, this is largely due to the fact that most college teacher preparation programs teach future teachers nothing (or next-to-nothing) about gifted students. Consequently, most teachers are woefully under-prepared to deal with the challenges these kids present. That doesn’t mean the teachers can’t meet their needs, nor does it mean that they don’t want to, it simply means they’re still at the starting line in this process even though you as parents may justifiably assume that they should already be in the race. Most of these teachers secretly know they aren’t doing what ought to be done for their gifted students, and they do want to do what they can, but they’re not sure where to begin and some may just need a friendly nudge. Offering an idea or sharing a resource with the teacher can be all that it takes to get the process started. In my district, I’ve noticed that once a teacher gets started in the process of differentiating instruction (for example), he or she gets the hang of it and then does even more on his/her own, without the need for constant prodding/encouragement from parents or the gifted coordinator.
3. Remember that poor grades are not necessarily the teacher’s fault. While it’s true that some students underachieve because they are bored in class or because they haven’t been challenged enough, it’s also true that some gifted students will receive poor grades when they enter a classroom that finally does challenge their abilities.
Without adequate challenge, gifted students can learn it is possible for them to “skate by” on their smarts. They develop in their minds the myth that school will always be easy for them. Consequently, if and when they do encounter truly challenging curriculum, they are often unprepared to do as well as they could if they had been challenged all along. [Generally speaking. There are, as always, exceptions to the examples I give.] The child may struggle in an advanced course, and end up earning a B (or even lower), because he has never had to work that hard before and therefore doesn’t have the necessary work or study skills to earn the A’s he may be used to “earning” for little effort. I tell my students that a hard-earned B in a class where they are challenged and learning is a far greater badge of honor than any A for which they hardly had to do anything and didn’t learn much because the material was too easy. Learning is more important than the grade. Parents can help the child realize the difference between excellence and perfection by focusing on the goal of hard work and learning in a challenging environment, not a goal of straight A’s for the sake of straight A’s with no concern for whether not anything was actually learned.
4. Band together with other parents of gifted children to form a support group. This group will not only be able to provide emotional support and encouragement, but it will strengthen your ability to ensure adequate educational opportunities for your children.
A parent group doesn’t even have to be an “official” one. It could even just be a few other parents of gifted kids with whom you can share ideas, vent your frustrations, celebrate your successes, learn more about gifted children, and collaborate together with the school. “Official” or not, a parent group is an excellent source of support. Parents are often hesitant to admit they have a gifted child because they worry how their friends and family will react to the news. Parents of gifted children also know that parenting the gifted is not the piece-of-cake, golden, rosy path that parents of non-gifted kids can assume it to be. Gifted children can be VERY challenging to parent (and teach!). The myth is that those kids have everything going for them, therefore they present none of the ‘problems’ (challenges) that other kids often do. But the reality is that gifted children do present their own challenges, some the same and some that are unique. In talking with parents of other gifted children, you can learn parenting strategies and advocating techniques that have worked for them and – most importantly – you can learn that you are not alone in what you wonder about and struggle with when it comes to parenting your own gifted child(ren).
5. Be willing to make sacrifices of your time and energy to help out at the school or to supplement your child’s education. You can’t expect the teachers to do everything. This is your responsibility as well. Oftentimes, gifted programs are understaffed and under-funded. Volunteers are needed. This also demonstrates to the school the value you place on the gifted programs.
It’s a simple gesture - and it doesn’t even have to involve a complex project or a large amount of time. Whatever little way you can find to reach out to the school or to help is taken as a sign that you want to be a team player in educating your child, not an adversary who only shows up when you’re not happy with what’s happening in the classroom.
6. Do not be afraid to stand alone. Your child may often feel as though he is standing alone, and he will need your example.
Gifted children often feel sooo alone. They don’t always relate to kids their own age, making it hard for them to find friends who understand them. Even the ones who dumb themselves down (not the best phrase, I admit) and pretend to fit in still feel alone. Their peer groups tend to be limited to children born within one year of each other, unlike we adults who are free to chose our peer groups based on common interests, with age being of little relevance. Standing alone and showing your child that you can be strong and confident while doing so is a powerful example. You can show your child that there is no shame in being different.
As a gifted coordinator, I find myself in a similar position, too. It gives me a means of being reminded about what my students experience and go through. Here’s one example: A few years ago, someone brought a veggie tray with Ranch dip into the teacher’s lounge at one of our schools. Over recess, we teachers were re-fueling on broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. The problem: the carrot strips were unusually long, literally about 10 inches. And everyone was being so polite – not wanting to double dip – that they were all ending up with 8 inches of carrot that couldn’t be re-dipped. I, on the other hand, snapped my carrots in half before dipping so that I could dip twice. The reaction was a fairly sarcastic “Well, sure, you’re the gifted teacher.” We may as well have been out on the playground with all the kids! I share these kinds of examples with my students so they know that I still experience the same kinds of things socially that they do. And as a parent, you can do the same. It helps the child realize that she’s not alone in feeling alone.
7. Remember that you are the person ultimately responsible for the well-being and education of your child. Nobody else can advocate for your child like you can. You are your child’s champion.
[“Working with Schools to Meet the Needs of Gifted Students,” © 2006 Karen L. J. Isaacson]
As a parent, you have every right to advocate for your child! Come into the school. Be a part of the process with us. We can learn about the child from each other. We’re a team whose aim is helping the child become his best.
In future posts, I plan on sharing information about acceleration and some differentiation strategies. Hopefully that information will be of benefit for all of you parents out there, too, not just the teachers.
Have a great week, everyone! :o)