I want you to imagine for a moment that you are surrounded by people who understand your passion. Picture being enveloped by people who feel all the things that you do so very strongly. Visualize sitting 3 feet apart or across a room from someone else who has the same values, worries, and hopes for the kids you serve. It’s a good place, isn’t it?
I attended the National Association for Gifted Children convention in beautiful Denver, Colorado (at a VERY spendy “resort,” where wine is $10 a glass and “spaghettini” is $24…both worth every penny). They talked about “expanding our tents” to be more aware of the giftedness of children of color, children who are labeled “behavior kids,” and others who need something different than neurotypical kids both academically and emotionally.
In one of the pre-convention sessions, the speakers talked about the idea of expanding our tent. Giving more space within gifted education for those who get overlooked and passed over…because of their skin color, ethnicity, gender identity or orientation, socio-economic status, and language. The “Gifted Tent” should encompass more than just high-achieving, compliant, white students. Everyone should be welcome…and sought out.
My head hurts.
But my heart is happy.
This is the first year that I didn’t have a session of my own to stress out about, worry over, edit continuously while at a conference like this in a long time. I was in the exhibition hall and overheard others who were breathing sighs of relief that their session was over. We commiserated over the love of sharing with others against the anxiety over it on a hundred levels. It was nice to not have to prepare anything…just show up and be there to take it all in.
I suspect that the women I sat with at the bar, and the group who sat over near the windows, and the people at the bar, are all here for the same reason. We want to improve and get better at what we do. We want to learn and understand. We want to support others, find support for ourselves, and be among people who get it.
A good friend said a long time ago that there is a place for everyone in the world. Everyone has a purpose regardless of ability, intelligence, or schooling. Some of us choose to work with specific populations of kids for a reason. For some, we want to give back to the system that provided us with our own education. Others, we want to support those who deserve and need strong teachers and role models. And still others, we hope to help others SEE the kids that others don’t…the ones that people overlook, think will be just fine, and don’t see a purpose in serving beyond what’s expected for the “middle.:
[squirrel] I have probably 15 unfinished posts right now…all around essentially the same thing. Someday I’ll finish them.
I spent some time reflecting on the sessions I attended. Some were inspiring. A few made me want to apologize to kids I’ve had in my class for not knowing or understanding better. All of them made me think.
What do we want gifted education to look like? What’s the ideal? What’s ideal AND sustainable?
Who do we SEE? Who are we missing? (Yes, I made multiple lists…)
What do they need? What do they want their education to feel like?
What do their families, their teachers, their peers need from us?
The tent is expanding. If we work intentionally together, we can fill it with those who need us to SEE and support them…all of them.
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.
Back in the pre-COVID days when I was in the classroom, I was fairly adept at determining what success looked like in my classroom. Sometimes I used rubrics (writing or projects), sometimes standards correlation tables (usually for math), but most of the time I watched and observed the kids while they were working. It wasn’t about the assignment necessarily, but how they went about getting it done. The process often mattered more than the product.
There were those who flew through, doing everything exactly the way I’d modeled, and they might be able to speak to one or two parts of the work and explain their thinking. And there were those who took very odd routes (that worked a lot of the time) to get what they needed to done or those who used “It’s in my head” and indeed it usually was. And still there were those who got stuck, not knowing what to do next, or lost altogether because the words were different this time, the numbers different, or the work itself wasn’t something they cared too much about or were struggling to connect with. All of these things told me whether or not we were being successful.
(I say “we” intentionally. My kids being successful and growing toward greater understanding meant that I was doing something right. It was incredibly evident when I had done something wrong, both to me and to them, and being the un-filtered sweet things they were, they also had no problem telling me that a particular lesson stunk…and I was ok with that feedback–as long as they could tell me WHY it stunk.)
Because I had the opportunity to see the kids working, asking and answering questions, pushing back on strategies, reminding of format or necessary pieces, teaching in the moment with “Hey kids, let’s stop for a minute…” I was able to know in my gut, even before they finished, whether or not they’d gotten what I’d intended them to get out of the lesson. And when it was evident that they hadn’t, sometimes I’d have them finish regardless because the process of doing the work was important too, and I’d go back and re-strategize ways I could help them understand or do what would show growth toward mastery.
COVID and hybrid/online learning has changed that and now teachers are struggling to determine what success looks like in this alien world we’re living in. Teachers have had to strategize ways to measure progress differently, and they’re moving away from conversation, conferencing, and over-the-shoulder formative assessment, to Google form based quizzes, JamBoards, PearDecks, and photos of completed assignments (that may or may not have been completed by the kids on their own). Teachers can’t observe the process of kid-work from a Google Meet or Zoom Room. It’s just not possible and they are replacing observation with concrete types of evaluation to save their own sanity and lose some of the cognitive load that all of this has caused.
Parents mean well, particularly with their little ones just beginning school, when they offer to help or write for their child for an assignment, but part of a teacher’s measure of progress will always be the child’s own handwriting, coloring, words, and ideas. Part of learning involves the struggle. That’s so difficult for parents and kids to wrap their heads around–particularly the gifted ones who are working with perfectionism… watching kids struggle is so difficult, especially when you know you could make it easier for them.
One doesn’t learn to tie one’s own shoes by watching someone else tie them or switching to velcro or slid-in shoes. We don’t learn to make ramen (because we’re the only one who wants it on soup night) by watching mom or dad do it for us. No one learns to play hockey by watching Miracle on Ice. And we don’t learn to replace bathroom vanities, sinks, and faucets by watching reruns of This Old House on their own. In order to learn how to do it (and when to ask for help or call a professional) we have to actually give it a shot by ourselves.
The most beautiful words a child can utter are “I can do it myself!!” and even if the buttons are all wrong, the outfit is horrific (but would surely inspire some nut at New York Fashion Week), the shoes are on the wrong feet, or the writing is totally illegible to anyone but the child…it’s a win because the child advocated for their right to fail forward and make progress toward being self-sufficient.
The struggle is a valuable piece of learning…and teaching. Some say that writers, artists, and musicians are the most creative people on earth, but I know for a fact that it’s teachers. Teachers right now are doing several things at once: helping the kids in the room learn and observing their work in real time, helping kids online learn and trying to evaluate their work when it shows up in their inbox, and help kids who are trying to learn at odd hours because family work schedules and virtual learning aren’t compatible with no ability to observe or discuss much in the moment. And they’re trying a hundred different ways to do all of those things every day, and sharing what they learn with the other teachers in their world
So our measures of success have to change. It doesn’t mean working harder, longer hours, or putting together multiple sets of slideshows or finding more engaging videos for specific students. It doesn’t mean evaluating all the kids using a google form assessment for which there are definite correct answers. It doesn’t mean working yourself to death providing 47 different learning opportunities in one day and trying to grade them all, agonizing over holding Georgie accountable because they only did 30 of the 47 opportunities you worked so hard to provide.
Measures of success right now might be that you are able to identify the most important thing you want the kids to understand and grow toward mastery of in that lesson. It might be that you notice you have to change something in your presentation format because you forgot to teach how to use it…or really aren’t sure how to use it yourself but it sure sounded good in the moment. Measures of success might include that James is showing up to class and is fully present…that he’s healthy and happy and has something good to share during class. Success is that when you talk with Mary, she can tell you her story and show you with pictures (that may or may not look anything like what she’s telling you) how it goes…when before she didn’t know about beginning, middle, or end. Might be that Ciaran whispers to his mom who is off camera that he can do it himself during class and finally turns in a writing assignment in his six-year-old scrawl written at a diagonal despite lines on the page. Perhaps success is that LeDarius asked for a book about dogs to read for fun, when before he wasn’t willing to read at all, but because you gave him tools like audio books or LearningAlly, he feels comfortable asking for more…he is a reader now.
And sometimes, measuring success is simply a note from a parent acknowledging that they see what a teacher is doing and is thrilled that their child is happy at the end of each day, excited to go to school (whatever that looks like for them), and takes over dinner conversation talking about what they learned that day, or a sincere thank you from a teammate for an idea you mentioned in passing that worked really well for their kids.
Sometimes the measure of success isn’t something you can add to the gradebook that ties directly to a standard, but the little things that keep you going…the tiny bits of progress you get to see every day and the encouragement to try something else tomorrow.
Look for the little things. A flower doesn’t magically appear out of the ground one day…it takes time and noticing the little things like a bump in the earth or something green poking through is what shows growth is happening. The process of growth matters more than checking off boxes. Seeing the process play out ought to be your measure of success.