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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
When I had my own classroom, I ate lunch with my kids. Initially, it was because we wanted to build relationships and norms, then it turned out that we didn’t have enough staff to cover everyone’s lunch. I had a plan period afterwards so me being with my kids for a half hour for their lunch wasn’t a big deal. When I moved into my current position, I covered lunches for teachers too, because again, we didn’t have enough staff to cover everyone’s lunch. When we did have enough staff for coverage, I still had lunches with kids–kids who asked to have lunch with me, kids who needed somewhere quiet to be, kids who just needed to be anywhere else for a little while.
Some people would have been irritated that they had to be with kids during “their” lunch, but I found it afforded me the opportunity to see kids in their “natural habitat.” I got to watch kids and listen to their conversations, finding out what they enjoyed, what they were into, what they were doing after school. I got to see friendships blossom, conflict be worked through (sometimes with help), and connections created.
It was fascinating to watch the kids grow in their understanding of one another, their empathy for one another, and their acceptance of one another. It was also a great chance for me to see areas of strength that wouldn’t be captured on a test or in class. I learned who was a gymnast, who wanted to be a doctor, who loved theater, who was in clown school, who was obsessed with Minecraft, who skied competitively, who was a budding environmentalist, conservationist, or scientist, and who was a natural leader.
Today, prior to the chaos that ensued at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., I had 45 minutes of a “Lunch Bunch” with first and second graders in a video chat. They are precious little souls, but today in particular, it was a glorious period of my day where I saw hope. It was evident who could be a leader, who was still getting to know others, who wanted to connect. Yes, they talked over one another (because six and seven year olds do that), but they were kind and polite to one another. They talked about songs, stuffed friends, their dogs, their siblings, video games, and plotted play dates from their carseats using their mother’s phones.
The part of my role that I love most is when teachers are able to see the things that I do in kids…and things that I miss because I don’t get to be with kids in the same way anymore. When they notice that the reluctant reader is a wonderful artist. When they see how one who fails miserably to learn multiplication facts can bring people together and plan a performance or a rally or a party. When they see the emotional intensity and sense of justice in one who is quiet in class but writes with passion. When they recognize the real connections a child makes with characters in a book and feel all the feels so very deeply. When they can see the advanced thinking and problem solving skills at work when a child is creating a project that requires spatial vision despite their inability to write a report to explain what they’ve created and why it was important during the Crusades. When teachers can make the effort to give choice, accommodation, options, and the opportunity to do things a bit differently to make things a bit more equitable and to see what a kid can do without constraints. When they can see past the academic challenges, the meltdowns, the tantrums and work avoidance to truly see a child for the gifted human being they are. That’s the thing I love most.
Gifted kids aren’t always the easy kids. They’re not kids who fit neatly together like tinker toys. They’re puzzles with millions of pieces and several pieces under the cat, the couch, and the pillow, hidden until someone takes the time to move things around to locate them. For some of these puzzles, the pieces are hidden so well that it takes a special sort of teacher to find them. They are why I do what I do, and why I choose to be where I am. They are what is behind my “Why.”
Don’t get so wrapped up in being a teacher, a parent, an administrator that you forget to watch kids being kids. You might miss a glimpse of who they really are.
I had my hairs did the other night, properly PPE’d and precautioned as one can be in the hairdresser’s chair. I adore my hairdresser. I love that she remembers what I said I wanted five weeks ago. I love that I can let her have her way with color and cuts without a lot of input. Do we want highlights? Sure. What do we want to do with color? I dunno, whatever you decide is great. She did an amazing job, and my hair looked fabulous when I picked up my pizza next door and headed home for the last Zoom meeting of the night.
Did you know that we are hardwired to see the negative before we acknowledge the positive? I think that gifted kids (and adults) tend toward this more than most–perfectionism is a thing, people…and it’s so easy to see what’s imperfect…
I focused on my hair that night in her chair–it did look amazing and for a minute or two, I felt pretty.
But I heard my inner critic note that I looked so tired even behind my mask, and my face had gained weight (the mask wasn’t helping), and the cape made me look fat, and oh dear God, that wasn’t the cape making look fat–I AM fat. When did my knees get so big? I don’t remember this sweater being that tight. Where is my waist? I had one once. And the list went on in my head as I walked into the little pizza place next door to get my small veggie pizza (without olives) and cheesy bread (because cheese)…and continued most of the night. The negativity going on in my head almost had me in tears by the time I headed to bed.
This morning, I was in a meeting and we shared our bright spots. Our staff has been reading and working through Elena Aguilera’s book Onward for a couple of years to help build emotional resiliency in our staff to better be able to support each other and the kids we serve. I couldn’t get past the idea that negativity bias is really a thing. And then I started listening differently to teachers.
Initially, I’d ask at the beginning of a coaching session, “Tell me, how it’s going?” to get the ball rolling and to get an idea of how they were doing and then could guide the conversation from there. I thought this was a great intro, not realizing the can of worms I was opening up by asking such an open ended question.
The session often began with the name of whatever child was driving a teacher nuts that day.
“Oh my gosh I’ve had it! Joey isn’t doing any work–nothing gets turned in! Parents don’t respond to emails, and I’m bending over backwards to try to get them to work and nothing is happening! What’s our policy on suspension for lack of work production?”
Sometimes, the answer to my question was simply “Fine.” You and I both know what “Fine” with no additional elaboration really means.
Asking probing questions opened more worm cans full of issues, problems, and negativity. Rhetorical questions about procedures and asks that seem like one. more. thing.
It was a rare day when the initial response was something positive. I felt drained afterwards, sometimes cried if there was time, and the sense of defeat was heavy to carry around.
Because of my study of Aguilera’s work, I changed my question the last couple of years to “What’s going well?” to force teachers to think about the glows before we get into the grows. Wait time is important here, as often teachers need time to set aside the problem they brought with them to find something good. Sometimes it was personal, sometimes it had to do with a student or colleague. But it was always genuine, and from there, the conversation could become more reflective and problem-solving in nature vs. venting
My bright spots this week weren’t big ones. I found out that my fellowship is offering a stipend. It’s always nice to get unexpected money. My favorite jeans fit. I found a book on Audible that I need to read but can’t settle in and touch pages…it’s one I just need to listen to a couple times.
Teachers I’ve connected with this week saw their own good things…kids are happy, despite COVID, and looking forward to Winter Break. Some are growing as writers and beginning to enjoy it, others are enjoying getting to share their work with peers, and some are looking forward to units coming after the break.
Despite COVID, and all the BS that has come with it, there ARE bright spots. Help your colleagues and staff and kids find theirs before they do anything else this week…like Santa, bright spots do exist.
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.
We are experiencing a unique time in education due to this pandemic. It’s a great time for us to rethink what education can look like and determine what’s most important. So many of us are trying to fit square pegs (traditional in-person learning) into round holes (distance/hybrid/hyflex/on-demand learning).
How’s it working for you all?
I’m seeing incredibly dedicated and amazing educators exhausting themselves trying to replicate in-person instruction online with the same high level of expectation that they have for themselves during a regular year. They are spending hours before and after school planning elaborate lessons with multiple tech components intended to engage students, and then creating another set entirely for those who have to work at different hours. They’re working long hours, isolated from one another, and frustrated that kids aren’t engaging in class.
I’m seeing children spending hours online in a number of meetings/classes that is commensurate with what would be expected of someone earning executive’s salary because that’s where the learning is put. Being stuck in front of a screen is becoming the norm…and I know how I feel about the multitude of meetings *I* attend in a week… I imagine kids are over it even more than I am.
I’m seeing parents and kids upset and overwhelmed because there’s just SO MUCH and it’s really difficult to determine what’s most critical, what’s a quick check, and what’s a big project that needs to get broken down. Small tasks become a never-ending to-to list that parents wouldn’t see if kids were in school because teachers are now collecting information through “assignments” that they’d typically get via conversation or over-the-shoulder observation…that damn to-do list and all its tasks are right there in the “missing work” emails that generate weekly showing all the ways their kids are failing…and all the ways they’re failing as parents.
I’m seeing families frustrated because things keep changing–going from in person to hybrid to distance and back again. There’s little any of us can do about this except wear masks when we’re out and limit time with people who aren’t in our bubble…
And I’m seeing gifted kids checking out and saying, “Screw it. Why should I bother?”
A friend says that while in a gradebook, this might look like a “lost” year in terms of learning, but it really isn’t lost. We have an opportunity to change what we’re doing. Now, that doesn’t mean we work feverishly over Thanksgiving break to recreate everything in our “classroom” and redo all the plans we’d put together. (I say this on purpose because *I* am that sort of teacher…and I know some of you are too.)
Think about how we could create an environment in which kids are engaged and learning and incorporate accountability as well as self-advocacy and ownership while minimizing screen time and OUR workload in terms of grading things and creating new learning opportunities? Here are some thoughts:
Limit the number of assignments in a week to 3 or fewer and be intentional in their assignment. Give kids options–if there are five items on a worksheet, they must do three. All of those assigned will correlate to the primary standard/s you’re targeting, so there’s no need for them to do all three. There are courses for which there will HAVE to be more, or more steps to complete a full assignment, but there is no reason that kids should be spending hours after class working on assignments that are repeats of each other all week, often one assignment can encompass multiple pieces of learning.
Set limits around the time kids spend working. If the work can’t be done in the 20 minutes of class that’s remaining, it’s too much. Ask the kids to help you gauge time they should be spending working. Get their feedback about what made it take so long or why an assignment was quick to complete.
Here’s an easy one. Instead of assigning a Google Form quiz, see what resources you have available for self-driven learning. Do you have subscriptions to online programs like ALEKs or others that kids can utilize for a certain number of minutes each day to show progress on specific standards you’re working on as formative assessment in lieu of a quiz on top of it?
Another easy one. If you’re reading a novel or series of articles or chapters, can you create questions that allows kids to read on their own during class (staying available for questions but allowing them to disconnect) and create free-form responses and not multiple choice options for a way for them to show what they know? Yes, online quizzes are easier to grade, with either right or wrong responses, but does it tell you what they LEARNED? No–it tells you they can guess well and that there is one right answer. Why not give five comprehension questions and have kids make a FlipGrid for two of their choosing and one that you choose that requires them to connect the text to a big idea or concept that was at the center of the reading. Have them include vocabulary critical to the reading in their answers–two birds with one stone, and you spend a half hour or so a week reviewing their videos.
Innovate and Let Go
Think independent study projects that are developmentally appropriate instead of fully teacher-led lessons. “Kids, you’re going to teach class today. I’ve attached an article I want you to read and a 2 minute video to watch to our classroom stream, and I want you to review them and determine the three most important things we need to know about this topic. Let’s meet back together at 9:45 and talk about it.” Then send them off to do it. hey all might have a different part of the topic to review and some may be finished, and others might not be–there’s your opportunity for flexibility–does Josh want to look more into his part? Does Donna need more time? You might have them make a sign using words or pictures to show what they thought was the most important for other (writers, scientists, historians, mathematicians, engineers) to know and share it at the beginning of class tomorrow. Encourage kids to connect what they’re learning to the things THEY see as important…for many, YouTube, MineCraft, Roblox, and RPGs are their jam. Tie in history, science, engineering, art, language, culture, drama, music, sport, movement…
Have kids who work through content at different times and don’t attend class when it meets? Provide the recording of your lesson and the time when the kids show their responses or talk about what they learned (no…this isn’t GIVING them the material or encouraging them to cheat–it’s simply providing guidance since you aren’t there to help)…and provide them the same assignment to do and have them “turn in” a photo of their contribution, making sure you share it with the class.
Collaborate with colleagues and communicate with families and get them on board with assignments like cooking together as a family or doing chores together and writing a reflection on the experience, perhaps inviting them to share stories of family members or friends past or memories of their own childhoods. Ask them video chat Grandma CJ or Uncle Jed and interview them about their favorite recipes from childhood and then try to make them together. Report back to the classes via video or written piece to share with everyone. What’d the kids learn? More than one teacher can be in on this kind of assignment, evaluating progress for their individual standards. Math, history, interview skills, clarity in thought, cultural relevance, writing (informational, opinion, and narrative can be contained in the same piece of writing), and tech if they choose to make a cooking video, as well as perhaps a new appreciation for the people they’re sharing their bubble with, which is immeasurable. And you get to learn about your kids…and build relationships with them at the same time
There will be challenges to this, of course. Some buildings are very locked down and inflexible about what class should look like, but if you have the opportunity to innovate somewhere within that, give it a shot. Be flexible with those who are struggling with access–communicate consistently with parents about how you can help support their child and be creative with solutions. Remember too that learning isn’t concrete–it’s a process. For our little ones, some things may still need to be teacher led for a while, but giving them the opportunity to go off on their own and work is still valuable and teaches self-reliance. Quizzes and assignments often tell us very little about what kids have learned even if they can regurgitate information, but when you give them the opportunity to show it, demonstrate understanding, and think about it in different ways, you’re shown more of what they actually LEARNED.
We have a unique opportunity to change the way we look at learning right now, particularly with our gifted students. Providing opportunities for choice in process and product leads to engagement, self-advocacy, self-motivation, and reflection. There is no right way to do this, friends, but if we have to build the plane as we fly it, why not innovate a little–kids will tell us how it’s going before we crash and burn if we ask. Their feedback matters…this isn’t about us.
I have thoughts on social-emotional needs too…but that’s another post.
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.
Stephanie is an observer. She notices details and sees the importance of the little things.
Matty is an artist, seeing connections between ideas through the images he creates. This child sees the world differently.
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