Summer…and Inspiration

I have started this post so many times over the past several weeks. I get about halfway through, and decide that no…that’s not really what I want to say. So it sits as a draft here, waiting for something to put me back where I was when I began writing. That’s what writers do though…start some pieces, finish others, and tie a few together.

I toured a local university’s physics labs this evening with colleagues. When I attended there, the building housing the labs didn’t exist, 3/4 of the buildings on campus didn’t exist and those that did had no air conditioning or too much heat or none at all, and grassy areas were non-existent. As I sat outside waiting for the others, I thought about the classes and professors I loved, those I loathed, and those I wanted to be when I grew up. I don’t use Chaucer in my everyday life (English majors unite!), but it’s a great example of what college is for a lot of us…what school as a whole is for a lot of us. The things we learn in school aren’t really applicable to anything…until they are.

I have always believed that we go about education all wrong. We say we want to grow critical thinkers, writers, mathematicians, historians, scientists, artists, engineers…but then we talk about how we teach subject areas: math, language arts, science, history… We have the opportunity to change how we think–we teach children how to be thinkers, writers, artists, etc. We NAME blocks of time by subject area because it’s tradition. Every subject area should bleed into every other one because they are all connected. Kids should experience math in science, writing in history, reading and spelling in technology, math in art, technology in theater, and reading, writing, and communicating in language studies.

Here’s where the inspiration comes into play.

Let’s reset and reimagine what we want school to look like for our kids. We have endured the most difficult school year that many of us have ever experienced. The kids we serve deserve to experience school differently this coming year.

They deserve to experience physics and explore it, not simply listen to us talk about it or read a textbook or articles about it. They deserve to explore the insides of a worm and compare it to the insides of a human (even if it’s done in a virtual way to save both the worm and the human). They deserve to understand how and why playwrights write and how their work reflects the time they live in, how journalists research the connections between events and people, and the ways that scientists record and reflect on data. They deserve to experience math as a concept that has a practical purpose before an equation or a rule. They deserve to explore, to discover, and to experiment. Their classrooms shouldn’t be so rigid that there is always only one correct answer–sometimes the wrong answer leads to the right answer for a different question.

They deserve to know how what we’re asking them to do applies in real life.

“You’re going to create a diagram in your notebook of what you see today because scientists record their observations in particular ways, with diagrams and written descriptions, to ensure that other scientists can learn from it.”

“You’re going to write about an event, noting the who, what, why, where, when, and how of the event using this organizer to help keep those pieces straight, and then the article you’ll create once you’ve made your initial notes will include specific details to tell your reader the story of the event because that’s what journalists do.”

Let’s think about what and how we assess. If you’re asking a child to write a description of what they see in a microscope, focus on the content of what they write and not their handwriting. Notice their handwriting and make a mental note that you’ll need to address letter formation and appropriate size, but let that go when you’re assessing how well your scientists or journalists can describe what they see. There should never be one big assessment at the end of a unit without lots of smaller, formative, informal assessments beforehand. You should be able to predict how your students will do on the common assessments you and your colleagues give…and should have addressed issues early on with additional practice, changes in how you’re teaching, and clearing up misunderstandings to ensure that all your students do well. And those assessments should be authentic application of what the kids actually learned, not just paper and pencil tests or Google quizzes with multiple choice and matching sections.

Think about how we present information to our students and support their learning. Do we rely on PowerPoints and slides to teach or do we allow kids to explore and discover and discuss before we clarify or explain? Distributed practice works. Inquiry works. Worksheets don’t grow dendrites. (Some famous researcher wrote a book about that…so I know it’s true.) Vocabulary should be explored and sprinkled throughout lessons and discussions. A list of words and definitions never inspired critical thought or wonderings.

Think about how we give feedback. Do we tell kids what they’ve done wrong, or do we ask them questions to better understand their thinking and help them see where the mistakes are or where revisions should be (and WHY they should be)? Is feedback clear and kind? Or is feedback insulting and punitive? Does our feedback encourage learning?

For our youngest learners, there are some things that simply have to be taught in a specific way. Reading is one of them. But there isn’t any reason for kids to miss out on exploring words and sounds and letters while they’re learning.

We have the opportunity to advocate for the kids we serve this coming year through our own actions. How will you reimagine your practice to benefit your kids?

Considering Assessment

Gifted kids like to know why they’re doing things. Why am I learning this? Why am I taking this test? What’s the point of this activity? Why do we have to follow a social contract? Why do I have to show my work? So often, we use some form of “because I said so.” Really though, we assess through student work and discussion, and what kids learn (or don’t learn) sometimes eludes us until we think about assessment differently.

In coaching teachers of gifted students, I know that they work incredibly hard to make whatever assessment they give to kids, whether it be formative (what do we know so far?) or summative (what did we learn altogether?), meaningful and one that will give useful information going forward. The idea of an open-ended assessment is scary, because what do teachers do when the students respond in unexpected ways? Many have moved to technology to create Google quizzes and exit tickets to try to capture what it is that they hoped students learned in a lesson and throughout a unit. And that’s fine…this year.

In my first two years focusing on teaching gifted learners, I tried to do what I was taught in teacher school: Create a pre-assessment and post-assessment that was exactly the same, one that used a variety of question types such as fill in the blank, matching, multiple choice, short answer, long answer, and perhaps a task of some sort to see whether or not the kids could use the information they’d learned to do something specific.

The kids taught me some things.

First, I found that kids can guess the correct answer on a multiple choice test because adults are dumb and we make the right answer obvious.

Why did William the Conqueror invade England in 1066?

A) He liked the view better from England than from France.

B) Harold II unfollowed him on Instagram and he was peeved about it.

C) William, a distant cousin of Edward the Confessor, said that Edward had promised him the throne of England during a visit to France. When Edward died, he came to claim what he felt was rightfully his.

D) William had been taunted by a French knight from a castle down the road and wanted to prove that his mother was not a hamster nor did his father smell of elderberries. Street cred, bruh.

I learned not to use multiple choice questions very often unless it was for an intentional purpose.

Second, I learned that giving kids questions in which they had to regurgitate information was only so useful. Yes, it told me that they remember that William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, but the questions requiring the regurgitation of facts didn’t show me that they understood the significance of that event, or why that person was important in the history of England, or why people invaded anywhere anyway. (Invasion is such a huge effort. Putting together an army, all the travel, uncomfortable lodging…is it really worth it?)

Third, tests of domain-specific vocabulary are not useful if the kids are not using the vocabulary in conversation about a topic, concept, or idea. Kids should certainly know what a variable is and explain its significance in a science experiment. However, knowing what it is and using it when speaking about their science experiment in a way that demonstrates understanding is more important. Helping children understand what an unfamiliar word in literature or poetry means is important–testing them later to see if they know the definition is not unless it is one that is necessary to understand texts going forward.

Lastly, when we create assessments, they often don’t get at the essential questions of a lesson or unit, focusing instead on facts, dates, events. The essential questions we plan for when creating a unit get lost somewhere…and we don’t always go back to them at the end of a lesson or unit to revisit them and make sure that the learning opportunities we provided actually helped students answer those questions.

Needless to say, I changed what my assessments looked like. I began offering more open-ended work throughout, asking students to explain thinking when a what-if questions was posed, or to elaborate on an idea or generate additional questions about a topic. My end of unit assessments were often hands on projects that provided kids an opportunity to show what they know in more creative ways, and there was always an element of explanation whether it was to share with the class the thinking behind what they did, share it with just me, or rate themselves on their understanding of the essential questions.

Did it take longer to grade? Yes. It was worth it though, because what the kids created often gave me more information about how I needed to tie ideas together in later units or how I might provide information differently in future teaching when I had to backtrack to clarify something or reteach it altogether. The clarifying questions that the other students or that I asked were helpful too–the kids then knew what other information they should have added or addressed.

Sometimes, I’d notice others looking in my classroom while kids were working on their assessments and there was concern written on their faces–how could I possibly know that kids had learned what I intended when they’re doing a project of choice that doesn’t require answering specific questions or writing essays to address a question. I had specific answers I wanted addressed in my head. The kids knew what they were because we discussed them before we began the work. We created them together sometimes, and sometimes I created them as we went through a unit or lesson. Assessments were almost always open-resource, so it also evaluated how well they had made notes, kept track of information, and what I needed to teach them so that they could have more useful resources available (which was often more than I thought.)

My favorite add-on to assessments was a blank page that said “What do you know about this topic that we haven’t addressed or that I haven’t asked about?” And often, that told me who went nuts with additional learning, who had a lot of background knowledge, and who found what we were studying pointless in the grand scheme, but picked up the little nuances anyway.

This year, there’s little judgement from me about how teachers are assessing students unless it’s really ridiculous and serves no true purpose other than to check a box that says “Yup! There’s an assessment!” This is not a typical year. This is not a year in which we have all of our kids in the same place at the same time. This is not a year in which everyone has the same supplies available. And this is not a year where we can guide thinking during an assessment the way we would if we were with our kids in the same room.

Thinking ahead though, and using what we have learned this year about using technology and adapting assessments (because this is how teachers spend our summers), how might we change our thinking going forward? Sure, using a Google form is great for a quick check-in, but will it really get to the heart of what kids know and how they can use that knowledge in other contexts? How will we know that they can generalize or stretch what they learned?

Summer will be here soon, so tuck this away for mid-June, after you have had two weeks of solid naps, but don’t forget about it. How we assess our gifted kids is just as important as what and how we teach.

Intensities

Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist, explored overexcitabilities as a part of giftedness: intellectual, sensual, emotional, imaginational, and psychomotor.

As a teacher, I often saw these in the kids I taught–the child who can’t learn enough fast enough. The one who can’t handle the breeze from the windows or socks on their feet. The child who never. stops. moving and simply cannot sit still (ADHD is often misdiagnosed in gifted kids because of this one…). The one who tells fantastic stories to go along with games or whatever they’re learning and sees the movie in their head as they read in great detail. And the ones who get called “drama queen” who cries at the drop of a hat, gets angry or frustrated quickly, just can’t seem to get a handle on their feelings, or is anxiety ridden to the point that they can’t do anything. Some years, I had several of each in my classroom.

I learned to make agreements with kids that allowed them to do what they needed to learn. All kids had options for seating…the floor, the couch, tall tables, the counter, short tables, regular tables, different chairs, standing desks, wiggle seats… They had choices and once the novelty of each wore off, they all settled into whatever worked best for them on a given day.

The child who had an endless supply of energy sat at the side or in the rear of the room to let them move and not drive their classmates nuts. I never cared if they needed to stand, hop, pace…if they were participating and working and not bugging anyone else, it was fine. There were times that sitting was the only option, but I tried to make sure that they were able to expel SOME energy beforehand. GoNoodle, though it drove me insane, was a good outlet for many kids–brain breaks are the kid equivalent of AAWs (attitude adjustment walks) for adults. Errand running, like carrying a dictionary to the other end of the school to a teacher who needed it (wink, wink), was also a strategy I used.

The children who preferred a particular kind of pencil over another because of how it felt in their hands had access to them, though mechanical pencils were often temporarily banned for all the lead that ended up on the floor or shared with friends. Options for coloring were always available–some prefer crayons over markers. Types of paper, where they sat, lighting in their workspace, and whether or not they used noise canceling headphones or soft music were options too. I couldn’t fix the seams in their socks, but I was happy to cut a tag out of a t-shirt because they’re just annoying.

The kids who needed to learn everything and went down rabbit holes or needed create and do things differently got the chance to do that…with parameters. It was easier to encourage the use of their intensities than fight them. This made projects and ownership of work a pretty big deal because most, if not all, were able to do what they needed to learn and grow…

Those kids who got labeled “too dramatic” or “too emotional”…those were more complicated. It was one thing for them to sob while they read a book–I do that too. But when they’re little, it’s hard to regulate all the emotions all the time. And oh gosh if one was also an empath…they felt all their own feelings AND everyone else’s… It was simply a matter of talking them through it, honoring the fact that the big emotions were just going to happen and once they’d calmed down a bit we could come up with strategies to name them and work through them so they didn’t take over every time. The kids gradually learned how to articulate the feelings and ask for things like a quick bathroom trip, or a walk to another room, or even just a quiet moment or twelve.

Gifted kids are so often told that they are “too” everything–busy, fanciful, emotional, stubborn or rigid… Really though they aren’t “too” anything. This is a part of who they are. As they grow and learn, they develop ways to use those things as strengths.

The kid who couldn’t sit still does Ninja Warrior competitions and rock climbs and runs cross country. Another found gymnastics and dance…and those are their outlets.

The child who had to know everything about all the things does projects on their own and shares them with the class and others, making their invention something that everyone can take part in. And the ones with incredible imaginations create places and beings that fascinate their peers, drawing them in to their storylines. And often kids with these intensities go on to do lots of different things with their lives because there are SO many things to do when they grow up–why do just one thing forever?

The kid who refused to wear socks and had their shoes off as often as possible because they felt confined learned the beauty of Birkenstocks and lives in them. They wear soft shirts and pants or wear dresses that are flowy. They use music to drown out the noise in their space so they can work and has a nail file nearby to futz with while they’re thinking… Perhaps they become a chef later in life with a focus on creating meals with the RIGHT textures and smells and none of the wrong ones.

And those who feel all the feels…they go on to lots of different things. Writing, being an ear for those who need it, and the arts–because the arts bring joy to others…and makes them think too.

This is living Gifted.

None of these intensities go away, but kids learn (with our help) to direct them into productive work, thinking, and activity, rather than focusing on how different they are from their same age peers who don’t feel the same way. These aren’t things you can lock away in a box until the end of the school day, or work day. Educators and parents need to know how to help kids learn to use these “superpowers” for good as they grow older, and learn to advocate for what they need to help them manage whichever combination of intensities they happen to have–it’s rare to just have one.

These intensities are a part of who our gifted kids are, no different than the color and texture of their hair or the color of their skin. They’re not bad, just different.

Living Gifted is Living Different. And that’s a good thing. It keeps the world interesting.

Testing Season

It pains me that we have a testing SEASON in education. It physically hurts my heart to know that we have to give children assessments created by someone who is not their teacher, that is designed to evaluate their skills and knowledge on things they may have not yet had the opportunity to learn, much less master, because no state teaches the same things the same way at the same time. (Freedom, ya’ll…) This year, because of the pandemic, our state was granted a waiver. Normally every grade level has at least two subject area tests with three sessions each, and certain grade levels are given the opportunity to take one or more additional subject area test, also with three sessions. This year, every grade level took one test in one subject area with three sessions, except the older kids, who took an additional test with three sessions. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It was a nightmare, and it killed me knowing that kids who understand and can use Algebra II were working on sixth-grade math tests…

Last school year, all testing was suspended because we were all “safer at home” and none of these tests could be done remotely. While I’m grateful for the waiver being granted in our state, I wonder if the Department of Education wouldn’t be better informed every year if they simply asked teachers to tell them about the students they serve. Here’s an example:

Ramona is eight years old, curious about everything, and reads chapter books like they’re going out of style. Her favorite author is Beverly Cleary, and she can read all of those books over and over again, finding something new in them each time. She enjoys writing and can write reasonable-length paragraphs that are on topic, but when she writes longer pieces, things go off the rails a bit and she ends up down rabbit holes. Her spelling is improving, and she is beginning to spot patterns in words to help her spell others follow the same pattern. Math is not her favorite subject, but she is learning to do multi-step problems, and because she is a strong reader, she is able to pull out what information is needed, what isn’t, and what the question is actually asking fairly well. She’s learning multiplication facts as well, using strategies of pattern-finding like she does for spelling. When she grows up, she wants to be a scientist, a doctor, a zookeeper, and a marine biologist. She’s fascinated with cells and viruses (and how they change and adapt), animals of all kinds and the habitats they live in as well as how they have changed over time, and helping others stay healthy. She has crowned herself Queen of Handwashing and reminds everyone to do their part so that no one gets sick. She is curious about history, particularly why people treat others the way they do. When we studied exploration, she felt awful for the people already living on land “discovered” by the Spanish and struggles to understand how one can discover a place another already lives. She’s active, climbs trees, and loves the outdoors. If her curiosity about the world around her is fostered, she will learn quickly and generate more questions and connections between ideas. She enjoys getting to know people and is kind to everyone, intrigued by their cultures and histories, and embraces both similarities and differences between them and herself.

This is what we want for future generations, isn’t it? Something like that presented to those higher up that shows her family and teacher are raising a good kid who will go on to do good things. Even when children are struggling, one could write something like this about them because teachers are able to see ALL the parts of a child–how his writing is slow going but he can tell you everything you would ever want to know about dinosaurs and loves building intricate architecture with paper and how she struggles to read but can compute complex problems in her head and creates art and music that is beautiful and moving. It can show how poverty impacts a child’s ability to progress as quickly as another and what happens when a child is seen for their strengths first, rather than their deficits.

Perhaps instead of testing season, we should spend those three weeks in the spring allowing kids to explore more of what they love, what brings their heart joy. Perhaps those three weeks would be better spent helping them learn to be a driving force in the world through their actions and service toward others. Perhaps those weeks would be better spent really SEEING our children, our students, the kids we serve as humans and acknowledge that we can shape the incredible future that they will create, rather than simply crank out a percentile or level of growth or achievement that may or may not determine our own employment going forward.

Educators, please remember that you don’t teach math, history, or a foreign language. You support children while they learn to navigate life and gather the skills necessary to make the world they live in better and make change happen so that the world THEIR children grow up in is better than this one. And you do all that while giving them opportunities to learn about slope and integers, William the Conqueror, and to understand another culture and language…all of which they’ll use to build, lead, and connect as they grow.

Unsure

It’s the time of year when teachers consider whether or not they will stay in a particular role, at a particular school, or even in the profession itself. A leader’s goal is to train up others to take on leadership roles, giving them the chance to spread their wings, or even leave the comfortable nest altogether. (A wise man said that in a training once…and it made a lot of sense.) Does the classroom aide who has worked to get their teaching licensure move out of that comfortable space belonging to others to their own classroom? Does the teacher ask for additional responsibility or growth opportunity? Does the administrator tiptoe into the university world or another industry altogether?

The last 13 months have presented such incredible challenges for us in education. We’ve been asked, teachers and administrators alike, to bend and flex like bamboo in a typhoon, pivot faster than Chandler on the stairs with Ross’s couch, reflect, redo, reimagine what education will look like in between quarantines, health checks, and demands for accountability. For some, all they hear are the complaints about what they’re doing or not doing, critiques from those not in education at all, suggestions that aren’t feasible or out of their comfort zone. And others have a role in which people come to them and they’re expected to simply listen, offer advice if asked, and just let the river of unkind, harsh, and critical words roll past with no attachment to any of them.

There has never been an industry in which I have worked where people come in and begin to criticize how things are done, processes, routines, resources, and personnel from the first moment of their arrival or so freely throughout their stay, whether it’s just moments for a tour or event, or in a specific position for a period of time, or even a complete outsider looking in from the outside. I would never dream of walking into someone’s place of business, something they created and refined, and begin telling them how their work should be done, their world organized, and how others should be doing their jobs. I would never assume that I am an expert and expect that an organization would begin to change on my demand to suit my expectations. Yet, this is the norm in education I guess.

Whether you believe that Myers-Briggs is accurate or just a load of BS, I find that much of it is accurate for me. I am an INFJ, and interestingly, I was an INFP up until I was provided the opportunity to take on more leadership type of roles, but there is a part of that P that still remains. I have always been sensitive to the feelings of others and find that I take their frustrations, hurt, sadness, criticisms, and complaints to heart, blaming myself for their unhappiness and need to point out things that they feel are wrong, make them uncomfortable, or that they don’t see a purpose in. I take words seriously, listening to feedback as though I’m expected to fix it to the satisfaction of the person giving it. I try to be someone who asks for little, takes on work so that it will simply get done, and often find that my efforts don’t matter, someone will find fault in it. Some days, I’m happiest in the background, working on projects that bring me joy, going it alone and being ok with that.

The last 13 months have made me unsure of so many things…everything from my purpose, my expertise, my work, and whether I’m even taken seriously professionally or personally. I wonder during this time of year especially whether or not someone else is better suited for the role listed on my door, the roles I have in my personal life, or that I’m simply not the right person for any of it and don’t fit anywhere.

Gifted kids and adults seem to have these periods of uncertainty now and again. I’m sure neurotypical people do as well, however I think the gifted are constantly trying to see where our peg fits into the world since for us, the holes and expectations keep changing–both those of the world and our own. Are we to morph into a square today? An octagon? Which version of ourselves is needed for this work, this group, this role? We hope that one day, we’ll figure it out and whatever it is will allow us to simply be happy in our choice, without all the constant uncertainty and doubt, settling in to a role that fits and that morphs with us as we change, rather than holding fast to its initial form.

I took my dog to the park after school the other day and the wind was just right for kite flying. I watched a father and his little girls moving across the open grass, trying to keep the kites steady as the wind shifted and changed in intensity. One of the two kites pulled itself free from little hands to go off on its own, eventually snagging in a tree a block or so away, yet remaining in the air, the tree holding fast to the string just enough to keep the kite up. Through tears, the owner of the lost kite stared at it and asked why it stayed up even though she wasn’t holding it anymore, while watching her sister’s fly higher and higher against the strength of her father’s grip.

This is what the last 13 months has been like. Moments of flight, despite the changes in direction and intensity, and moments being stuck in a tree, waiting for the wind to change to see what happens next and never feeling sure of anything.

Burst Bubbles

Most of us, even as adults, can remember times when things didn’t go the way we’d hoped. He didn’t call, a test went badly, we didn’t get the job or the promotion, Santa didn’t bring the gift we’d asked for, our stimulus check had to pay for something un-fun and adult-y.

We’ve all had our bubbles burst in one way or another.

The same happens to our kids. The teacher’s reaction isn’t what we hoped (think that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie gets a C on his “What I Want for Christmas” theme paper). Our peers aren’t as interested in something we’re passionate about. We’re taught to advocate for ourselves and able to talk with one teacher, and the next nixes any discussion of our ideas and requires that we simply comply, telling our parents we’re disrespectful.

So how are we teaching our kids to cope when the burst bubbles come in waves, one after another and seem to never end? Do we tell them to suck it up, Buttercup? Do we tell them that everyone encounters setbacks and to get over it? Or do we help them talk it through to get at the meat of what the burst bubble really IS?

My hope is that it’s the latter. It’s not the lost opportunity, the disappointment, or the impact of someone else’s disregard that is bothering our kids, it’s what the things they hoped for represent:

Someone seeing them as special…or just SEEING them at all.

Someone latching on to the “fish” for connection.

Someone noticing that they tried and did the hard things even if it didn’t go well.

Someone respecting them enough to see their side of things and at least consider their ideas.

All kids want to be noticed, seen, and respected. For gifted kids though, their school experience is often one of being either overlooked by adults and peers or criticized for moving too fast, talking too much, being too sensitive, not being good at everything, or not doing the things they’re asked because they don’t see the point or need more direction or support. Getting at the heart of a burst bubble situation is an area of growth for many of our tall poppies because so often what’s on the surface isn’t the problem at all…it’s just a symptom.

For those who work with, parent, or support gifted kids in any way, start asking questions when a child comes to you upset that something didn’t go the way they hoped. Why was that thing important? Ask them to name the feelings around it–would they have felt accomplished, happy, worthy if it had gone well? Would it have changed a relationship? Would it have proven something to themselves?

The burst bubbles for gifted kids are often multi-dimensional and full of nooks and crannies that are worth exploring.

Stay.

I have an adorable dog. She’s almost a year and a half old. COVID stole some of her prime puppy training time, which had to wait until summer when things reopened, and made it very difficult to practice being with people and out in the world in new places. We did some things…a friend created an online class, gave tips and pointers, but the only place I could practice was home for a long time…

We’ve started an intermediate obedience class last weekend and she’s working toward her Canine Good Citizen title. She’s so stinkin’ smart in some ways…and so utterly clueless in others. I can give a command and she’ll do it PERFECTLY and then the next time it’s like I’m speaking in tongues. I hear teachers gripe often about how they’ve taught how to get in line, how to go outside, how to leave the room, how to get a pencil, how to walk down the hall, how to ask to use the bathroom, and what six feet apart looks like eleventy billion times and it’s freakin’ MARCH and they still can’t do it.

That’s how I felt today in dog school.

The teacher asked that we put our dogs in a down and ask them to stay, then walk away. We’ve been working on this for over a year. She knows down. She knows down. She KNOWS down. She also knows stay. All that said, not so much with the stay today. So we have homework. That said, she was not the only one who has this homework, so I feel a little better. Everyone got the homework they needed today.

I reminded myself how I asked my kids to try again when they weren’t doing what I needed them to. Every time we went out this afternoon and evening, I asked her to try again in the same tone of voice I used with the kids. Calm and kind. It does come eventually…

So often I feel as though I’ve failed my dog completely. Being around humans is both exciting and frightening for her because COVID impacted our ability to go out in the world. There’s a lot of unknowns out there.

We have kids returning in a variety of ways this coming week. Some are coming four days a week, some two, and others are staying at home. Teachers are worried about how far apart the desks have to be and how to ensure only one child is moving at a time and how to get everyone the right supplies and not share anything and pool-noodle spacing when they’re going anywhere as a group and the even more constant “Pull your mask up” or “Put your mask on.” The fear of quarantine still hangs over us, though vaccines are happening and we’re trying so hard to be careful. Some days, it’s fighting a losing battle and you’re repeating yourself a hojillion times and you get so frustrated that they just won’t listen…

I want to remind all of us who are going through this to remember that this is scary for the kids, too. Many have gone a year without seeing friends without a screen between them. Some have only seen their parents and the Amazon delivery driver or Instacart deliverer. Others have only been allowed to venture as far as the backyard but only if none of the neighbors are outside in theirs. Still others have watched family members get sick and recover, or get sick and not come home at all. And some have heard at home how this is all a hoax and not true at all and we’re overreacting. Parents have tried to protect their kids, both from the virus and the news because that just makes things worse. All of them will be anxious (whether they can put words to it or not) and will show it in a hundred different ways. They want to do well, please their teachers, please their families, follow the rules, be with their friends, learn new things, see their friends and play together. Grant them grace and treat them with kindness and compassion.

We’re adults and the last year has sucked for us. We’re over the distancing, not seeing our own tribe, masks, maskne, hand washing, and cleaning protocols. Imagine what it’s like to be a kid and have your life just stop and everything change. They’ll learn…eventually. But give them the chance to try again as often as they need it… They know that this isn’t what school should look like…and they know we don’t like it either. Yet, we stay. Because while we may not get a high-value treat immediately after doing all of this, it will be worth it in the end.

See Me.

Behavior is a message. When a child is being disrespectful, disruptive, rude, or otherwise not the typical kid you know, they’re telling you something. In this environment, in which we have been crisis schooling, remote, hybrid, physically distanced, masked, barriered, pool noodle-spaced, and disconnected, behavior is a big Vegas style sign with neon flashing lights.

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See me.

Gifted kids, particularly the young ones, who have all the feels and not the vocabulary to express it, need to be seen by us all now more than ever.

Seen doesn’t mean called out publicly in class or in a zoom room for chatting inappropriately.

Seen doesn’t mean reprimanded in front of the class (and probably classmate’s parents and siblings) for not turning in work or for doing an assignment incorrectly.

Seen doesn’t mean calling out scores or missing work and asking where assignments are or what’s the plan for improvement.

Negativity bias is real…and every one of us have done both of these things at one time or another…especially when we’re tired, stressed out, worried, and have an eighth of an nerve left.

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Seen doesn’t mean praised publicly either. So many kids absolutely HATE being called out for just doing what they’re supposed to…because that’s not why they do it.

To SEE a child is a very different thing. It’s more than simply being noticed for your work, work ethic, grades, or talents. It’s more than happy notes home. It’s more than praising good behavior, kind words to others, improved effort, or hard work.

To see a child is to look beyond the surface, deep below the water of all their behaviors, from acting out in class to twisting their hair to chewing their shirt (or mask…because that’s a thing now.). To see a child is to dive deep and see that the raised hand is meaningful: “I want to show you what I know and share what I want to know.” To see a child is be willing to be vulnerable ourselves and go beyond the jellyfish to find what’s hiding below.

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What seems like a spoiled brat temper tantrum is often just not that at all with our gifted kids.

It’s frustration because I haven’t seen my best friend smile in 300+ days.

It’s sadness because I can’t hug my teacher, my friends, my grandparents.

It’s loneliness because my family brings me to school and takes me home and we never go anywhere anymore.

It’s anger because I do what I’m told in class and wait patiently and the only one who ever gets your attention is the kid who says dumb things in the chat.

It’s fear because I see that you gave us an assignment, but have absolutely no idea what to do with it or how to get it to you so you can see what I know…and I’m afraid to ask you to clarify it because you’ll get frustrated because you explained it 45 times, wrote out directions, made a video, shared it with my parents, and yet I still don’t get it.

It’s a request. See me.

When a child asks you to not use a particular term of endearment because it makes them feel “insignificant”….that’s powerful. That’s a child feeling safe enough with you to make a request.

See that I am barely holding it together. See that my brow is furrowed and I’m looking at you from underneath it. See that I’m clenching my hands so I don’t smack the child sitting six feet away who will. not. stop. making. noise. See that I have something valuable to contribute and ask me to share. See that I am having a hard time with friends–they all know each other already and I’m STILL the new kid and it’s February. See that I am a social butterfly who wants nothing more to make everyone I encounter happy by making them butterflies and snowflakes while you teach–I can listen and create at the same time, I promise. I miss my friends–please see that I’m just trying to connect. See that I haven’t learned how to handle conflict with peers and teach me how…I really do just want to be friends. See that I know things the books all say I shouldn’t yet…because when you’re X years old, kids typically only know this, that, and the other thing.

See my hurt. See my effort. See my love of learning–it’s there, I promise. See that I’m trying. See that all I want is for you to see me so I can know you and you can know me….the real me, not the one who gets angry and kicks chairs or sobs uncontrollably under my table covered in my coat. Believe my parents when they tell you they are at a loss too…I didn’t come with a manual.

See them. Please.

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Vessels

Human beings are vessels. We hold emotion, knowledge, opinions, ideas, intuition, empathy, and space in addition to all the physical stuff that our bodies house that keep us going. There is, however, a point at which the vessel becomes full.

There’s a story about rocks, pebbles, sand, and water being added to a big jar in front of a class. The point of the lesson was to be sure to keep sacred the big things, otherwise the little things will take over everything and there won’t be room for the big things, the things that are most important to you.

There’s another lesson in this though. Imagine the full jar sitting on the table with water all the way to the top, saturating the sand between the pebbles, the spaces between the pebbles and rocks. What happens when another bit of water is poured into the jar?

The water spills out over the top. It can hold no more. There is truly no additional room for one more drop. (I’m reminded of a scene from Monty Python, “Just one tiny wafer thin mint…”)

Something has to be removed in order for more water, or something else, to fit.

I remember talking with a friend whose child was in my class. The little one melted like ice cream in the car on the 45 minute drive home. Melted. Yelled and screamed and cried. Talked about how kids treated each other, how hard it was to concentrate, how difficult it was to keep up, how much they hated recess and lunch and PE, how no one ever shut up, how frustrating it was to not be able to keep up, to take so long, to feel like everyone was watching even though the teacher said to take their time. The injustice that was little kid friendships.

The child’s vessel broke open in the backseat of the car on the way home and left behind the remains of the day to be cleaned up by someone else later.

Everyone has a breaking point. A point at which nothing else fits. There is no more room in the vessel for a wafer thin mint or another drop of water or even another grain of sand.

Another friend said that right now, no one is living their best life. They’re right. No one is living their best life. We move through our days, masked, dodging other people, staying at home instead of going out, questioning every cough, sneeze, and headache, avoiding the news of more deaths as we’re able, becoming more resentful of the way the past several months have treated all of us. Reminding kids that you can’t hold their hand, or hug them the way you used to. Holding things together long enough to get back to our homes, classrooms, and offices to find a safe spot underneath a desk or in a dark corner of the room to have a good cry, letting tears cleanse the anxiety and overall crappiness of the day…the weeks…the months.

A wise woman told me that tears shouldn’t be held back–they have a purpose and can’t be held in forever. They carry with them all the emotions we can’t let out in the moment. They hold all the space we held for others. They hold all the words said in haste, out of frustration, in anger. They hold all the disappointment of what should have been, all the progress that should have been made, all the goals planned. Letting them out, is letting go. Cleansing.

So many of our vessels are on the brink of spilling…or exploding. None of us are living our best lives right now. The sand and water fills our jars and the big rocks get pulled out and set to the side, the pebbles emptied in a pile to make more room for sand and water because that’s what needs to happen right now.

We need to pause. Cry. Cleanse. And we need to let our kids do the same. So many of them are also not living their best lives with playdates and birthday parties, close whispers with friends and games of tag without masks. They’re stuck behind screens at home and at school, distanced from friends in a room, reminded a thousand times a day to put their mask up and stay a pool noodle away from their friends, not getting to see the family and friends who live beyond their homes. All of the connections we need to survive have been turned into Zoom meetings, online wine classes and happy hours, facetimed playdates and otherwise not-connectedness.

So pause. Cry. Cleanse. Let the jar overflow and make space for those things that are truly important: being human, connection, however you can get it safely.

And leave the melted bits and overflowed muck on the floor of the car for someone else to clean up later…or not. It’s ok to leave it.

Chatter

One of my current “other duties as assigned” during the time of COVID, hybrid, hyflex, and whatever else we call this learning involves hanging out with kids in a virtual study hall. It’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the day. I don’t get much work done sometimes, but the time is still quite valuable because I get to reconnect with kids, build relationships, and remember how wonderful they are.

I listen to them talk. To me and to each other…about whatever is on their minds. Some of them have such deep worries that fall out before they can catch them and put them back. Worries about health of their family, their friends, their teachers. Worries about school and friendships. Feelings about online work and the few kids in the room. Sadness because their friend is a blue day kid and they’re a green day kid and they can’t see each other at lunch or recess. Others can’t sleep because they saw something scary on YouTube when they were watching with an older sibling. And some, some don’t really have words for what they’re feeling and they just need to sit with me a while and lean against me a little.

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Listening to the chatter was how I learned that kids’ families were in crisis, divorces and separations happened, distant family members moved in, that a big sister was taking care of a little sister because both parents were out of town working. It’s how I learned that there were seven people living in a house intended for four, and it was loud, and the introvert didn’t ever get time to recharge and that was why they liked study hall–it was quiet…and the child we see at school is very much not the one that is at home. The chatter is how I learned that kids hate that they can’t play together like they used to and had plans to create sleds out of cardboard they found in the dumpster to be recycled so they could still play in the snow together at least. The chatter is how I learned that young gifted children often put incredible pressure on themselves to be perfect, to move at a rapid pace in absolutely everything they do, and refuse to acknowledge the idea of practice for the sake of improvement because some things just come so easy. Chatter is how I learn about the passing of beloved family pets, cancellation of vacations and get togethers, and excitement about special “dates” with their parent.

Teachers so often tell kids to be quiet, not talk, not blurt out, and otherwise not talk about what they’re thinking and feeling in the moment. I suspect we do it more so right now because kids on the screen talking + kids in the room talking = a thousand times worse than when they’re all just in the classroom talking. But it’s so important that we give kids the opportunity to share their ideas, their worries, their goals, their frustrations with us…rather than asking someone to come and get them out of class so we can keep teaching. They’re trying to teach US in those moments. They’re trying to teach us what’s important…and often it’s not the content we planned.

My challenge to you going forward this school year is to listen. Give lots of opportunity for the kids to talk to each other and to you, even if it means something doesn’t quite get done or you give up a few minutes of your time to just chat…kids shouldn’t feel that they’re in trouble when they have big emotions that they aren’t sure what to do with. Everything is so messed up right now that we are hyper-focused on what we need to get done (because the grading, online or otherwise, still seems to replicate during recess, lunch, and overnight), what we haven’t gotten through that we planned for, and what the kids are missing. The fact is, the goal posts have to move for kids because, to use a word I loathe, the past 10 months have been unprecedented.

And some days, they need US more than they need to memorize math facts or that William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 or that there are seven (or fifteen depending on where you look) states of matter or that a predicate nominative is always a noun. While all these things are important, right now, some things are a little more important in the moment.

And sometimes, they just need to lean against us a little…