Category Archives: Gifted

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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Wipeout

Most days, I feel as though I’m floundering from task to task on my to-do list, knowing each is important somewhere in the grand scheme of things, but still feeling unfulfilled and unsettled because despite knowing that all of it matters somewhere, it doesn’t feel like any of it is worthwhile and I find myself feeling resentful of everything. It’s like a never-ending game of “Wipeout” in which there is no winner.

This whole pandemic has been incredibly difficult because so much of it has simply been survival, jumping through obstacles to get through each day, each week, each month, and ending each day, week, and month deflated because goals and ideas have to be tabled in order to make room for the support of survival. So much of it has been taking on tasks and projects to ease burdens, fixing problems, figuring out how to overcome the seemingly endless roadblocks that get in the way, listening to others share their thoughts on all kinds of topics, all of it sounding like criticism even when it isn’t meant to.

And some days, despite the ever expanding to-do list of little tasks and checkboxes without checks in them, feelings of resentment and hopelessness, my bucket is filled by people who share the things that bring me joy, hope, and purpose and who share a piece of what I want my career to look like because it does make up a huge part who I am and my place in the world.

When I became a teacher, I was certain that I would remain in the classroom and had mixed feelings when I found that I wanted to do more and “more” would require me to give up my safe space where I had some semblance of control and felt confident (most of the time). I found that the “more” I sought would require being uncomfortable and unsure of myself, my knowledge, and my abilities.

I cannot afford another Master’s degree or a Ph.D. and I don’t know that either one would provide the growth I seek–the first Master’s degree certainly didn’t. I don’t enjoy formal research, nor am I eager to get bogged down in the endless stream of district level meetings, paperwork, school law, or waivers. I don’t want to be a principal when I grow up. This is as close to “admin” as I want to get, to be quite honest. And while I worry as I see so many friends who began their teaching careers around the same time as I did working toward administrator licensure that I am somehow behind and not heading in the right direction, I know that I would not be happy in a fully administrative position.

I get the opportunity to work on some level with several education-based organizations whose missions I truly believe in. Sadly, none of this work will pay a mortgage or buy food for furs who refuse to get jobs. Much of this work is far outside my comfort zone and challenges me to learn and grow in my knowledge of all that is Gifted.

I don’t claim to be an expert in gifted education and I never have–there’s so much to learn, I probably never will be an expert. Statistics and research studies don’t roll off my tongue in conversation about gifted education, but after serving and working alongside these kids for the past 15 years, I can tell you that they need advocates. They need someone who will stand next to them with guiding questions and encouragement while they try the things that make them uncomfortable, the things that aren’t typical, the things that don’t fit neatly into a Google form. They need someone who will go head to head with a colleague and say, “THIS is what she needs.” They need people who will “go to the mattresses” and fight for outside-the-box thinking to help a floundering gifted student. They need people who will provide support to educators serving them and preach challenging the process rather than quiet compliance from the rooftops. Gifted kids need something *different*in their educational experience, and doing the same thing as everyone else isn’t different enough.

Gifted kids need advocates who will focus on what’s most important, learning and growth, not checkboxes, to-do lists, and activities to prove they can regurgitate information. They need a cheering section when they take a risk and then hit an obstacle and wipeout, encouraging them to get out of the water and try again because that’s when the learning happens. And that is where I need to be, with others who will be their advocates and cheering section.

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Who, Not What

Gifted is who they are, not what they produce. ~Linda Silverman

Every year for the past 15 years, I have attended a variety of conferences, classes, trainings, and other professional development. Most have shared sessions about strategies to work with struggling learners, ways to ensure accountability and engagement, and often, the social-emotional needs of kids whether it be trauma informed, multi-generational home lives, kids in poverty, or a mixture of everything, including current situations, such as existing with distance learning to hybrid to in-person and back again through all of them.

All of these things are important to learn, and you don’t learn it all in teacher school. Teacher school shares generalities, theory, and lets you dip your toes into a variety of things, not focusing on any one in particular because every school, district, state, and population has their own way of doing things.

When I was a little girl, my report cards had letters. A, B, C, etc. I had one D ever (until college math for English Majors, when I took my D as a gift and ran) and I earned every point of that D and paid dearly for it. I was given a C in PE in the fourth grade because I still, to this day, cannot run a 12 minute mile unless it’s completely downhill and a bear is chasing me. Teachers wrote comments like, “Teri is a joy to have in class” or “Teri is very talkative (or “quiet and shy” after the 5th grade)” or “Teri reads too much in class, and should not be reading books above her grade level” and my personal favorite, “Teri should spend the summer memorizing her multiplication tables at Our Lady of the Broken Ruler summer school using flash cards.” Perhaps these weren’t the exact words the teachers used, but what’s important about them and why I remember them so clearly, is that none of them shared anything about who I was as a learner or otherwise. My parents looked at the letter next to the subject and assumed I was learning what I needed to and doing my work in class. They never met with my teachers (except that one time I got the D…poor Mrs. Morales, having to deal with my father who was a long way down the river of denial about his little girl’s science research skills) and rarely saw my work, tests, writing, or much of anything else.

I think about the comments on the report cards I received as a child and I realize that my parents had no idea, based on report card comments, what my strengths in school were, what I needed to learn, where I was excelling, or where I was drowning. My teachers didn’t really didn’t know who I was…they only knew what I produced and gave it a grade according to a point-based percentage-based scale.

Our kids’ families deserve to know that we see who their kids ARE…not what they produce. Yes, they should know that Joey is missing 23 assignments and that Janie needs to work on her math facts. And they need to know that Joan is kind to her classmates and they need to know that Jack is a wonderful helper who talks a lot in class. Those are separate conversations. Parents need to know that we really SEE their kids.

John connected with the main character of the novel. He noted in discussion that they both are passionate about skateboarding and have only one or two good friends despite knowing a lot of people. In addition, John saw himself in the main character when the character worked together with his close friends to organize a petition to get a skateboard park in the neighborhood near school.

Stephanie truly sees herself as a scientist, moving through experiments in class methodically, noting questions she has along the way, and being precise in her data collection. I notice that she does the same in her writing, developing her stories according to what she thinks a particular character might do if a situation presents itself (hypothesis) and changing things as she writes according to the data she collects about other characters.

Matty sees the world through his doodles during class. His notetaking demonstrates a high level of understanding of the content we discussed this quarter and he can explain his note-doodles in great detail, incorporating both what was discussed during that session as well as comments of others and his own thinking.

John, Stephanie, and Matty may not have turned in one assignment. They may have bombed every quiz, had their camera off during class, or typed “poop” 9,000 times in the chat just to see what would happen and who would get angry first. But the comments address who these kids are, not what they produced.

John is a leader and connector. He has a vision of what could be and brings people together for a purpose.

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Stephanie is an observer. She notices details and sees the importance of the little things.

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Matty is an artist, seeing connections between ideas through the images he creates. This child sees the world differently.

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Perhaps comments like these aren’t things you can put into your report cards (space, required format, drop down comments). But parents need to know that you truly see their kids. That you know who they are. That you recognize that they are more than a series of ticked boxes and completed assignments.

I challenge you this week, before Thanksgiving Break, to reach out to as many of your students’ parents as you can and let them know that you really SEE their kids and recognize that gifted is who they are, not what they produce.

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has or ever will have something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” -Mr. Rogers

Trust

A friend asked me to think about what the word “trust” really means. I’m presenting at CAGT on Monday (Please register here! It’ll be fabulous and virtual and you’ll get to see ALL the sessions because you’ll have access for a while after!) and really thought I was mostly done with the presentation itself, but the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that the work we do with our gifted kids hinges on trust and I needed to go back and revise my presentation a bit.

I am a huge proponent of teaching self-advocacy to kids, particularly gifted ones, because their whole lives their parents have been the ones to fight the good fight on their behalf. They need more challenge, not more work. They need to be in the higher level Bible class because they already learned everything taught in the one for their age. They want more time on the field to get experience vs. riding the bench every game. They’re not being bossy, but want to be heard and understood by peers and teachers. They may need to approach a project or other work differently, and need to be given space to do that without repercussions.

Every time a teacher says that all the kids have to do the same thing otherwise their work can’t be graded, my heart breaks a little more.

We really need to think about the purpose of the work we’re assigning. I’m sure that none of us assign it to give ourselves something to do at night with a glass of wine or bourbon. We should look at the work we ask kids to do not as an assignment, but as a measure of progress…and progress looks very different from one child to the next. Why does everything have to look the same? And why does it all have to be evaluated exactly the same way?

Amy McInerney got an award every quarter for her perfect penmanship when we were in grade school because she was able to form her letters to look EXACTLY like the ones in the workbook. Mine weren’t any less neat, but they looked a little different than the ones in the book. I made my T different in cursive. My Q looks like a Q and not a swirly 2. My D looks like a D without a combover. But mine didn’t look exactly the same as the book’s, so I never get the award and got a lower grade in penmanship than she did.

Because I make my capital letters a little different doesn’t mean I didn’t make progress…it just looked different. But teachers often feel that if anything looks different than the model or the example, it shows that the child should a) have to do it over b) take a lower grade because it’s not what the teacher was looking for or c) have to “let all the other kids do whatever THEY want too.”

The cry for conformity is loud…and frankly, I’m tired of hearing it. Now is an excellent time for change…since we’re revisiting what school can look like anyway.

When I talk to kids about self-advocacy, the first thing I ask them is how they feel about the adult or peer they need to talk with about something. Some are afraid, because their parents always took care of it and here I was asking that they do it themselves. They are afraid of the teacher or person saying “No” and then being humiliated. Some are excited, because they have a lot to say and would love the chance to do something the way they envision it for once. It does come down to trust though. Do they feel they can trust that other person to listen to them first of all, and do they trust them to at least consider what they’re requesting?

I had a student once who was brilliant and could talk about anything we were learning. The kid loved to be the center of attention and was incredibly creative and dramatic. The thought of hand writing an essay, or even typing one, created anxiety and the child shut down altogether. Some teachers would see this as refusal to work and give consequences like “You can’t go to recess until this is complete” or “You will have to do it for homework.”

I sat with this student one day and said, “Tell me more about how you would show what you know about the work we have done together if I hadn’t assigned an essay.” The things the child came up with! So creative and unique (and so much more fun than writing an essay)! Finally, we settled on a newscast, which would have to have a written script (which wouldn’t be graded for neatness, spelling, or anything other than content) and be recorded using a program we had on the computer. We created a rubric and specific “must-haves” for the work. And it was brilliant.

We created trust that day. And from then on, I began giving kids the option to do things I came up with or determine what would best suit their way of showing what they knew. We worked together to talk about what the most important things we needed to evaluate to show progress. Those things were the same regardless of the end result. Doing this gave them the opportunity to problem solve, back pedal, collaborate, or fail forward and reflect on the successes and what didn’t go as well as they thought. They always knew that sometimes I’d need them to do something specific because I needed something in particular and I’d be honest with them about what I needed and why (like an actual essay to measure their progress in writing an essay), but having that freedom most of the time helped them grow in their confidence and self-advocacy skills.

I think what hurt the most were the times where they were confident that other teachers would do the same as I had, only to be shot down with no discussion or support for their learning self-advocacy. More than once I watched confident and creative kids come back to my room after asking for what they needed saying that another teacher had never even let them explain their idea. I hurt for them. And I hurt for the teacher, too

Think about what that did to the student. Think about what that did to their relationship with that teacher. Think about what opportunities were missed.

Our work with these tall poppies is so incredibly rewarding, adding this layer of trust makes it that much better.

Season of Sacrifice

I have had “blog” on my to-do list for almost a month, yet kept moving it to tomorrow, and then next week, and finally sat down today, my one day of weekend, to write while a Nora Ephron book plays on my phone and the laundry launders. I still feel the guilt of sleeping almost all of Labor Day, waking up to phone calls from colleagues and texts from others needing information, ideas, or support. Each apologized for texting late or early, calling multiple times, asking questions that they can’t remember if anyone asked or not already. I told them no apologies needed….this is our Season of Sacrifice.

Tina Boogren (Self-Care for Educators) talks about the “season of sacrifice” in her presentations, podcast, and books on self-care and support of teachers beginning their careers. It’s the season of the school year in which educators across the globe sleep little, getting up early and going to bed late, work longer hours than usual and forget to eat, and eat worse when they remember to eat at all–ordering DoorDash or GrubHub or running through the drive-thru at whatever fast food joint is on the way home and still open. It’s the season where teachers see few people beyond their coworkers and some seem to forget they’re married and carry parent-guilt around in a large Target-brand rolling suitcase behind them interspersed with teacher editions, laminating to be cut, a computer and tablet, gradebooks in various states of “done,” and reading material about new and improved teaching strategies.

This year’s season of sacrifice involves relearning everything, going back to our first years of teaching and feeling like failures, figuring out how to remake lessons to work in a virtual classroom AND possibly an in-person one without allowing kids to collaborate, talk, sit near one another, and still honor the fact that a third group won’t see any assignment until late that night or the weekend because they’re completely asynchronous and working on school after parents are home from work or on weekends because everyone has other obligations in the evenings.

It involves teaching ourselves how to use technology that makes us uncomfortable and angry, fielding questions from families and those outside of education about when the hell schools are going to “go back to normal” because none of this is sustainable. It involves sharing fixes or shortcuts with everyone else as we find them because none of us has ever done this before…and some are happy to experiment on behalf of others. It involves using phrases and words we hate in with the fire of a thousand suns because we can’t think of others that fit: robust, out of the box thinking, asynchronous, new normal…

It also requires sticky notes to remind ourselves not to read the comments on news stories or on social media, the ones blasting teachers for “not wanting to go back to work after a six month summer break” and demanding they take pay cuts or lose jobs altogether in favor of paying parents to be at home with their kids while teachers teach online. This season requires us to bite our tongues and not try to explain to those who can’t understand what toll this is taking on us, our school communities, our colleagues, our own families, and ourselves.

This year’s season of sacrifice means teachers and parents are asking for resources and there’s not budget to purchase it. It involves writing grants that won’t be reviewed for another month hoping that it will pay for a part of what’s needed, but not soon enough.

It’s staring at spreadsheets, data, comments, and emails all asking for more when there isn’t more to give. It’s praying that dedication to the greater good will allow teachers to agree to take on blended classes or a class they never planned to teach to accommodate cohorting requirements and hybrid in-person groupings. It’s going in on Sunday so that a colleague can find a little peace and have one day with their family before we begin again on Monday.

It’s hoping that health for all of us holds out until…until God knows when…and that we don’t lose anyone to the multitude of things that could collapse it all…everything from COVID itself to mental health needs to family needs.

It involves a lot of tears, guilt, shame, frustration, and worry whether what we’re doing is right…or enough. And it involves purposely reminding ourselves to find the beauty in small things:

poetry written by children that paints a perfect picture of who they are

teachers sharing student work with excitement and pride

square shaped clouds at sunset

art shared that excites others to try it too

books written eons ago that are still relevant

coming home to patient pets, curled up on rumpled sheets and blankets

a couch covered in furs without jobs while I work sitting on the floor

Spotify playlists collaboratively created with other teachers to share the music that brings each of us joy

sleeping until the sun is up and seeing the sun shine on the mountain during our walk to the park

It’s the Season of Sacrifice for sure, and I have no idea when it’ll be over this year. Take solace in those little things and write them down to read when you feel there aren’t any good things and everything is awful.

There’s No Crying During Zoom Wine School

Shortly after the world stopped turning and we hunkered down at home in mid-March, a restaurant not remotely local to me began having a wine class every Sunday via Zoom. Friends shared the link with me, and I started going. They said the learning was good, but the chat was why they went. It lasts about an hour or so, and the chat was full of good people, funny people, and people looking for connection when there was so little to be had.

I started going and I don’t think I’ve missed a week since. Someone created bingo cards and there are t-shirts (I have two). Another proposes a wine school field trips when all this nonsense is over. There are guest speakers, winemakers, wine buyers, sommeliers, and other people from the restaurant world from their local area and beyond. And yes, the chat is spectacular. People worry when others don’t come or are late. I have never met any of these people yet I am willing to spend an hour or so of my Sunday afternoon with them and look forward to it every week. I learn some things about wine, and yes, that’s interesting to me, but moreso there’s connection, which many of us are lacking.

Social media right now is a hot mess. A friend deleted FB from his phone and is slowly managing withdrawal. Others have blocked friends and family because conversations have ceased to be kind, and others have simply unfollowed in the hopes that those people will stop commenting on posts to create drama and cause problems. In many ways, it’s almost as bad as it was just before the 2016 election, with outright lies, misinformation, denial of actual occurrences, unkindness, insults, and refusal to understand that behind every opinion is a human being.

A friend noted the other day that now that the 4th of July has passed, summer break is more prep than relaxation. In the before times (probably the best description I’ve heard yet), teachers spent a lot of July working on curriculum, taking PD, prepping their classrooms, supporting Target singlehandedly with school supply purchases so there would be extra just in case. This year, none of us know what to do because we don’t know what school will look like. Trump and DeVos are calling for all schools to reopen and things to get back to the way they were or else they’ll pull funding–kids don’t get sick, right? State and district-level administrators are brainstorming ways to keep kids and staff safe and healthy, while still complying with the demands of this administration out of fear they’ll lose MORE funding and have to cut even more positions, putting additional teachers out of work.

Building level administrators have it the hardest I think. While upper levels ARE thinking about kids and staff, they aren’t the ones fielding questions about exactly what the fall will look like and how their kids and families will be impacted. If you flipped through social media lately, you’d think that teachers were once again the problem and they didn’t want to come to work. But that’s just it–we do want to come to work, desperately…we miss our kids and families. Teachers are researching things on their own like face shields vs. masks, fresh air and how to get it into windowless classrooms, how to create a flipped classroom to maximize the time they get with kids, what to do when there is no AC and air recirculates throughout the building, how to have class outside or online while some kids are at home, how to create a community of learners who aren’t allowed to be anywhere near each other nor see one another’s faces, and what to do when teachers have left the building and go home to their own families, their own kids…is there a pile of teacher laundry in the garage and a shower to hose off with before they walk in the house to be with their own families?

While I was listening to wine school this afternoon, I came across a post a friend shared on her social media from someone else and I got a little teary which then involved some questions from others to just me if I was ok (Lambrusco doesn’t generally evoke tears I guess). Remember, none of these people actually KNOW me…but they could SEE me, and that mattered an awful lot.

I’m not a religious person necessarily, but sometimes, we have to pull out all the stops and call on whatever higher powers might exist. This is the post:

From Kathleen Caldwell Dial, “Wrote this today in response for a group of friends asking how they can pray for me. Wanted to share with you…

As you know, I believe in the power of prayer. Here are some ways you can pray for me, and any school leader at this time: Pray for our health, the health of our staff, and the health of our students. We love those we serve. Pray we can be innovative with safety measures given the resources we have and the mandates given. Safety is our highest calling. Always has been. Pray we can appropriately and excellently staff the array of school options we are giving families. We long to do great work and make a difference. Pray we can strongly support student and staff social/emotional/mental health and character development. This matters. This isn’t one more thing on the plate–it is the plate. Pray we can accelerate learning. Pray we can have the stamina needed for the big work and long days we have before us. Pray for wisdom. We have never done this before, neither have those who lead us. Pray for us to lean on one another, and our teams. Together is better. Relationships are central to our work. Pray for us to keep hope in the equation. It can feel like we are hard pressed on every side. Pray for our hearts. ❤️

Whether you are a praying person or not, these are the thoughts that our educators need right now. They need to know that they are supported. They need to know that you recognize that their fears are not selfish and that they’re not trying to get out of work. They need to know that their lives matter. They need to know that the things they are trying to do for the kids and families they serve matter–they’re well aware they won’t make everyone happy but they’re trying. They need to know that the public recognizes that they understand that there is risk involved in re-opening school…and that they’re scared too. Everyone from the first year teacher to the seasoned teacher and all of them in between and around them is scared too. A lot of what if’s are hanging over us, putting even more weight on our shoulders.

It was good to be seen today by those at wine school…just seen. They didn’t ask me to fix anything or go deep into explanation, didn’t make me feel bad for having feelings and showing them to a hundred plus people I don’t know, didn’t share their opinions on anything. They simply said yeah, we get it. And that was enough. We can get through this together.

Falling Apart or Falling Into Place

This is the time of year that teachers begin to notice changes.  Some changes are easy to spot.  Joe grew what seems to be a foot over Winter Break.  Annabeth and her sister got braces.  Jed’s voice has begun to change. Kids are more gangly (or less) and are better (or less) able to recognize where they are in space.  Awkward misunderstanding-based interactions become less frequent.  Behaviors teachers are tracking become less frequent or require fewer redirections.

They can walk in a straight-ish line from the classroom to another location and it didn’t take six years to get them into a mostly reasonable line to start with.

Other changes are more subtle.  Some kids seem more mature, more responsible with fewer items lost or left behind every afternoon.  Some are suddenly more independent. The mass exodus of pencils out of classrooms slows slightly.  Angry outbursts happen less often and kids seem more mellow.  More writing happens with less complaining about how utterly awful it is.  Confidence has appeared.  The ability to make and defend arguments improve.  Random acts of kindness happen more often with no expectation of reciprocation.

Newer teachers are beginning to feel hopeful. The days become less focused on surviving until dismissal and more focused on growth, both for their students and for themselves. They don’t feel like everything is falling apart every moment of every day.

They’ve gotten into a bit of a groove.  One or two nights they stay late to prep for the week, and are starting to take more time for themselves on weekends, setting boundaries about planning and prep at home to make room for time with spouses and friends. They know where they put things in their classroom and why…and can find them again with more ease now.  Watching them teach, they seem more at ease, both with content and flow, but also with their role in the classroom, whether that’s “Sage on the Stage” or “Guide on the Side” at any given moment.  They’ve grown the eyes in the back of their heads and are now able to tell Toby to put it away without ever turning around.  They know when CJ has a cell phone in her lap to text Josh across the room and can confiscate it without a word, beginning the draft of an email to CJ’s father while giving the next set of instructions so she doesn’t forget to send it later.

Their “teacher bladder” has kicked in and their ability to consume lunch in 20 minutes while fighting with Bob Marley the copier has improved.

They’re willing to share strategies and learnings with others now.  They have more confidence in their own abilities and have a better idea as to what they need from their colleagues, mentors, coaches, and principals.  They feel more comfortable asking for what they need and brainstorming solutions with others.  They’re digging into data and looking for opportunities to challenge their kids…and themselves.

They start thinking about next year.  They see the light at the end of the tunnel…and it looks promising.

There are still frustrating moments of course.  There always will be when you aren’t working with widgets.  Some afternoons at 2pm, visions of being a barista or bartender look pretty good.  There’s gripe sessions over wine or beer with friends and spouses (and opportunities to teach their spouses and friends that griping doesn’t mean they have to fix the problem…just listen) that lead to a reset of sorts.  Sometimes that verbal processing leads to newfound determination and ideas.

And for me, it’s the time of year that I look at my growing to-do list and hope that I, too, find my groove before June arrives.  I need to find a good schedule for the things I’ve put on my plate: getting into classrooms to observe, supporting kids in the moment, and other projects that have due dates…mine or someone else’s. Another round of conferences begin next month and I want to grow in how I present sessions to teachers.  The feedback received in the fall was great, but now I need to tweak to ensure I’m not the only one having fun.  I want to create a solid induction program that makes sense for both new teachers and those new to us, that focuses on the most important practices and gets to the heart of our mission and vision. So many projects.

I had the opportunity to be with kids for a little while this week and did an impromptu mini-lesson based on an objective listed on the whiteboard. Once the kids got started, a parent volunteer in the room noted that she thought I ought to be with kids in the classroom all the time again…I was a good teacher. She was so sweet to say so. I do miss it. I miss the predictability of it all and the control I had over how my day went. There was little chaos in my world then, and I was protected in my classroom from anything else going on in the building. I had one job…and it was glorious.

I chose this. I could have said no. But it was a chance to grow and learn. A challenge. An opportunity to innovate something that we hadn’t had before. I was handed the opportunity to build my own job–few people get to do that in their lifetime. And even on the most frustrating and difficult days, it’s still glorious. Every day I learn something new and feel more confident in the decisions I make. I don’t second guess myself as often, and yes, I still screw up. I’m willing to ask for support and learn quickly what I don’t know when a situation arises. And there are lots of those.

I’m no less a teacher. It just looks different. And my tall poppies are educators, learning to navigate the field of their own tall poppies, with all of their beautiful quirks. It’s all falling into place.

The Morning After

“We presented at Comic Con!”

There is a bit of child-like glee in that statement, and I’m fairly sure we said it a thousand times driving home from Comic Con last night.  Yeah, it’ll look nice on a CV, but the feeling of accomplishment alone is pretty awesome.  We got to speak to our tribe.

I haven’t been in the classroom for two years, and that knowledge is hard to swallow some days because I just figured I’d always be in the classroom.  I often forget what it feels like after a lesson goes incredibly well…there’s a legitimate high from it, and you roll over every moment, over and over again.  The nodding heads, the whispers of understanding, the thinking faces, and the ones incredibly difficult to read–those are the ones you’re trying to get something resembling a reaction from and the moment you see a tiny flicker of understanding, a slight softening of the furrowed brow…success.

Adults aren’t that different from kids.  They come in with an agenda of what they want to learn from a session like this.  These people waited HOURS for our session and while surely they were off enjoying the rest of the con, they stayed to see US.  We had the last presentation slot at 6pm.  This is the slot reserved for the newest presenters or those that the organizers aren’t sure will pull an audience.  It’s the pity slot.  “Well, you’re new, and this sounds like it could be interesting, so we’ll see…and even if no one shows up, the experience will be good for you.”  And in the world of education conferences, you take the slot they give you until you have built a name for yourself and can request something different.  And that takes a minute.

But people came.  I worried all day that no one would come and I tried to sell our session to everyone I sat next to in another session, everyone I stood with in line, and even those people waiting impatiently for their phones to charge while they people watched.  I worried as our session time neared and people dressed as characters I couldn’t identify began making the mass exodus to the exit…who would be left to come to our sessions?  Any Wookies and Daleks had left hours ago, and only a few Hufflepuff remained.

Educators often tend to go to those sessions for which they can justify having gone to their administrators.  At Comic Con, sessions tend to lean toward the use of comics and graphic novels in the classroom, cosplay, a tiny bit of STEM.  More than one audience member in other sessions I attended questioned how one could possibly incorporate comics and graphic novels into a very structured classroom environment, one in which what you teach and how you do it is dictated from on high and there is a price to pay when you deviate from that structure and insert anything from outside.  It makes me so sad to hear that at any conference, but moreso at this one…innovation is a huge piece of Pop Culture Classroom and Comic Con…  So teachers end up in sessions that they can tie directly to how they are told to teach.  Sessions that stick strictly to their content area.  Sessions that don’t challenge them to think outside the box for fear that they’ll bring back an idea and infect other teachers with the concept of innovation.  Or they aren’t allowed to go to any conferences at all…no learning for you.  Administrators often forget that their teachers are students too.

Alohomora.

In the Harry Potter books, this was a spell used to unlock doors, windows, or other objects.  It’s a real word actually, and it means “friendly to thieves.” As I worked through the slides the last few weeks it dawned on me that teachers invite others to borrow and steal their ideas, transforming them into something they can use to benefit kids.

Our hope was that our presentation might unlock some minds to the ideas we presented, the most important of which is that gifted kids need support beyond what typical learners do and creating connections to the things they enjoy is what reels them in and makes learning fun.  I think our spell worked.

I was exhausted when we finally got home.  I am still exhausted, but today, instead of being the presenter, I get to simply be at Comic Con, people watching, listening to authors talk about their books and projects, meeting a movie star, looking at the art I love that connects feeling to color and backstory.

I won’t dress up.  My inner perfectionist won’t let me yet until my hair is longer, I am thinner, and I can create a perfect cosplay.  I don’t want to insult the character by doing it wrong.

I’m still a bit on cloud nine about our presentation (hence the stream of consciousness) and the number of minds we might have unlocked…and exhausted or not, I’ll just let that carry me for a while.

 

School has been over for about a week, for kids anyway, and I’ve been working on several projects all at once, a little at a time.

One project is a presentation that I’m giving with a friend at Comic-Con.  Yes, Comic-Con…where those who don’t cosplay are in the minority, but there’s no judgment either way.  I went last year both to Educator Day and then again the next with my love and a couple friends, and I kept thinking to myself, “You know, you could totally present a session for teachers…”  And so, when the call for proposals went out, I submitted one and asked a colleague to present with me.

It always intrigues me that at general educator conferences, no matter where they are or for what purpose, they very rarely include any sessions that address the needs of gifted students.  There’s always several that address remedial needs, support, and intervention.  There’s always a whole bunch for typical learners, sharing myriad ways to skim the surface and barely touch the standards.  But there’s not often anything about what gifted kids need…not even a mention as a sidenote in a session.  The general education community simply doesn’t recognize that gifted kids have needs that need to be met.

As we’ve been working to put together this presentation, taking our expertise with working in the classroom with gifted kids and meshing it with our own geek passions and lessons and random conversations we’ve had with kids about them in the context of academic learning, lots of memories surfaced.

The two boys who refused to speak anything but Wookie to me for two weeks during my second year of teaching.  I saw them.  I honored it.  (And I got an earful for not disciplining them over it.)  But when they were ready, they did anything I asked because they knew I’d understood who they were.  And that was far more valuable to me than simple compliance.  We had a connection.

The boy who, upon arriving to school the Monday after seeing the most recent Star Wars movie, says to me (after weeks of “Don’t any of you DARE spoil the movie for me!”), “YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER DIED!”  And I teared up in the doorway…while the rest of the class watched me try not very successfully to hold it together.

Life skill: No spoilers, no matter how excited you are to share something.

489th commandment: Thou shalt not make your teacher cry at 7:55 a.m. on a Monday because the man she was going to marry when she was 8 died in a movie when she was 41.

The gaggle of kids who spent two years with me in language arts writing about things like Minecraft, Pokemon, Endermen, and a host of other geek-related topics…and ONLY writing about those topics.  They wrote narratives with alternate endings and revised characters, informational books and historical timelines, persuasive essays on why parents should allow them to play, and essays connecting the games, cards, and characters to real life issues, people, and events.  A piece of me hoped they’d grow out of it before the end of the year, and start writing about things that mattered…and then I remembered: when you’re little…those ARE the things that matter.  They don’t have to write about poverty, homelessness, or suicide yet.  There’s a purpose in these explorations…and they’re important.

The girls who asked on more than one occasion if it was ok to cry when reading a story or a non-fiction piece…  Of course, it’s ok…we connect to characters and people…wonderful authors and writers paint pictures of people with whom we can.  That’s part of the beauty of being human.  I handed them tissues and sat with them a while.

As my friend and I ran through what we would say for each slide, who would talk about what part, I caught myself getting teary-eyed remembering each one of the kids who inspired a phrase or story, or how I felt, a gifted kid myself, watching an episode of a sci-fi show or reading a fantasy book, tearing up when something awful happened to a character I loved or I had a moment of deep understanding.  “Ohhh…now I get what he meant.”

I’ve been on the verge of tears most of the day.  When my phone went off early this morning with an alert that Anthony Bourdain had died, probably by suicide, I really hoped it was one of those hoaxes that would pop up with “JUST KIDDING!” later on, news outlets scrambling to account for their screw up.  As the alerts kept coming, my sadness grew.

We’ve lost one more of our tribe.

I mentioned it to someone in passing, and they couldn’t wrap their head around why I’d be upset about a TV personality, a brash and sarcastic food show guy, committing suicide. They thought I was being silly.  It wasn’t as though I knew him.  We weren’t friends and I’ve only ever seen him on TV.  They couldn’t understand.  He was one of us.

It’s like the girls and the stories…  We connect to certain people, real or fictional.  I’ve said for as long as I can remember that I want to eat and drink my way through a multitude of countries–I don’t want to “see the sights.” I want to experience the life in another country.  I started watching Rick Steves on PBS share tiny, hole-in-the-wall places to stay and eat on PBS, and when Anthony Bourdain began his adventures, I followed.  I followed because he showed the reality of the people he was visiting, the human side of them. People’s grandmothers cooked for him, opening their homes and families to him and his cameras. He got them to share about life where they were, how politics around the world impacted them, how history had changed their worlds, and what challenges they face every day.  He talked with them about the history of the food they shared, the preparation of a dish, and the cultural significance of it.  He asked them about their families, their everyday lives, their hopes for the future.  A typical food show presenter wouldn’t go to all that trouble.  He was intentional about what he chose to share and how he chose to share it…he had a purpose in every moment on camera.

Our tribe lost a member.

So when my friend and I present next week in front of an audience of hopefully more than three Daleks, two Chewbaccas, and a member of Hufflepuff,  the pieces of our gifted world that we share will have a greater significance.

Linda Silverman said something along the lines of “Gifted is who we are, not what we do.”  And as educators, honoring the “who we are” part when kids are passionate about something, no matter how geeky, silly, or insignificant we might think it is, matters.  There’s often more to it than we know…and the kids need us to SEE them.

Like a Tardis, they’re bigger on the inside.