Welcome to a collection of thoughts, questions and interesting links relating to giftedness ..............
You may also like to check out my website where you will find more information for children, parents and teachers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

TEAM means "Together Everyone Achieves More"

This post is a part of SENG’s National Parenting Gifted Children Week Blog Tour.
Take the opportunity to check out the list of participating blogs and find more posts about parenting gifted children.

Speaking up for your child is scary. It is hard work. Sometimes it feels like running on the spot. It can test your patience and commitment and it isn't a ‘one shot fix’. It requires confidence and being well informed. It depends on positive relationships and working together.

Over the last 6 or 7 years as an independent gifted consultant I have worked directly with more than 300 gifted children and their families, providing information, education planning advice and advocacy support.  Very often parents arrive at my door as the result of some sort of crisis – something has not been working and amongst the help they have sought they have discovered their child is gifted.

When facing the need to advocate for their child, the parents largely fall into one of 3 groups:
  • Those who want to know what they need to know, what they need to do and who then set off to guide the changes needed for their child to thrive.
  • Those who are willing but lack the confidence.
  • Those who hope the problem will go away.
The first group don’t always get it right first time, few of us do! But they are proactive, they set out confidently, have a goal in mind but are willing to look at other options when something doesn’t work. The outcomes are often positive, even if it takes a bit of tweaking along the way.

The second group generally hesitate and initially doubt their ability to manage the process. Very often these parents have not yet recognized their own giftedness and need to come to terms with that before they can be really effective for their child. Helping them build their confidence as well as their knowledge base can make a world of difference to their situation. They may need to check in at each new challenge in the early stages but gain confidence over time as the situation for their child improves.

The third group. These parents often wring their hands, reluctant to step across the threshold into the school and hope that now that they understand a little more about their child, the teachers will too and they won’t need to ‘make waves’. Things may improve a little simply because they understand the situation better and subtly change the way they interact with the child, so they sometimes feel justified in not speaking up for their child. But sooner or later things come to a head once again. These parents often come back for more information and support at every challenge, without yet recognizing that they have the power to change their course themselves. Over the years I have learned that I can’t help this group of parents very much until they are ready to be proactive. I can provide information and strategies but I can’t do it for them.
"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult."
It is human nature to fear change. When something has been done a particular way for a while, it feels like it must be a good way to do things. The longer things have been done that way, the better we assume them to be, even when there is evidence to the contrary.

Apart from wanting to ‘get it right’ for our children, the thing which seems most likely to cause us to hesitate is our own journey, your own school ‘story’. These personal experiences at school seem to have a powerful influence over how willing we are to advocate for our gifted children and how confidently we approach the process. If our memories of school are not positive, the thought of having to talk to teachers about our child can be intimidating. 

It is natural to hesitate and worry about whether we are ‘getting it right’. Perhaps that is a mark that school has left on us, even if unintentionally. With advocacy, as with life, it is actually less about ‘getting it right’ than ‘doing our best’. I advise parents to make the best decision they can at the time with the knowledge they have. With more knowledge or at a different time they may make a different decision, but if they do the best they can, it will be enough, at least for the time being. Trusting your intuition, or as some parents call it ‘making choices of the heart’, often turn out to be the right ones in the long run, what ever they are.

Parenting is tiring, with gifted children it can be exhausting. As Jan Merill (Laughing at Chaos) mentioned earlier this week ‘These kids are the ultimate in personalization’, and they don't come with a parenting manual. Parents need to draw on all the resources they can. Working with the teacher or school is just another resource parents can draw on.

For a child to thrive it takes team work and a willingness for all parties to listen to and learn from the other. The parent and teacher often see very different sides of the same child. Parents have expert knowledge about their own child. They know their quirks and foibles, what lights them up, what shuts them down. They have seen the child reach milestones and watched their skills unfold. A teacher, who only sees the child for part of a day, often over a single year, cannot possibly hope to know every child in the same sort of detail. The teacher however, can draw on a perspective the parent is unlikely to have. Building up the common ground by sharing what you know can make all the difference.

And a positive relationship with your child’s teacher can pay off hugely. Here’s a few pointers that have come out of talking to and observing parents’ advocacy efforts, along with the parents own words:

Do what ever you can to become known to the teacher in positive ways
“Volunteer your time to help them if you can. Go and help in the classroom, listen to reading, photocopy, staple, make costumes, help with science... what ever you can to be there and be seen to be supportive. At the very least the teacher knows you do not have two heads and breathe fire.”  
"You can not expect the school to go out of their way for you without giving them something back. The relationship has to be two way.”
Build trust
Talk to the teacher about things other than just your child, try to be interested in them as a person. They will almost certainly be more responsive when the purpose of talking to them is conversation rather than confrontation.

"It’s not only what you say to the teachers but how you say it that matters. It does not matter that you are ‘right’, if they have stopped listening.”
Say Thank You
Thank teachers for the little things they do and the things they try. Celebrate the successes, even the little ones and let them know when things are going well. Let them see you appreciate their efforts, even if you have not got the result you hoped for.

“Say thank you and make them feel appreciated for their efforts – frequently. Praise their good qualities – not just how they benefit my child but in what they bring to the field.”
Remember teachers have lives too
Parents can be a great resource for teachers just finding their way in the gifted landscape. Parent often read voraciously and come across articles that think might be helpful for the teacher too. Sharing this information in a non-threatening way is good advice. Try to avoid handing over a thick sheaf of papers and suggesting you meet to talk about it the next day. Teachers are more likely to find time to read a few pages here and there and it can help further to have highlighted what you most want them to read. Even better if you include something that acknowledges your request on their time. Chocolate could be what does the trick. (OK that one was in my words, the chocolate idea was a parent's. You can read more about The Chocolate Frog Thankyou in Gifted and Thriving at School)

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your child happy and thriving. That is the goal of almost every single parent with whom I have worked. It's important to believe that teachers also have the child’s best interests at heart, even if they do not always do things we think are ‘right’ for our children. While thriving it is not something that will necessarily happen overnight, to move towards it parents (who have the longer term view), need to be proactive and guide the process.

And one final word from a parent:
“Be realistic when talking about your child. Pick your battles carefully. Realise which battles are important and which are not. Does it really matter if your child already knows all their spelling words because they memorise them? Probably not. Does it matter if they’re meant to do repetitive busy work with those words for a whole week? That matters a whole lot more.”

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner