Wellbeing - Anonymous
noun – wellbeing
the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy
Today, my son made eye contact with another mum and initiated a good morning conversation. The text message from the mum, a family friend for years, brought tears to my eyes and melted my heart. She knew I needed to hear it. My well-being needed it.
I have focused on my children’s well-being for the past 10 years and this year, I am focusing on my own. I’m not saying that in a selfish way, but in a self-care way and hopefully in a way that models to my children how their self-care will lead to lifelong wellness.
My children are both in schools where they feel comfortable and safe. This wasn’t an easy journey, and like a roller coaster, the spirals down left us all feeling ill in the stomach, but when you hit the highs, you can see so much of the view and what is possible. By no means, was this journey done alone. The number of supporters we have had along our journey has been incredible, from medical professionals, family members, friends with kids who have similar profiles and friends who don’t understand my journey but understand my need to cry at random and different milestones and who nod and listen and give me a hug.
So, this year I am trying to become more comfortable, healthy and happy. Google dictionary, I am taking your OR and raising you to AND!
Comfortable. I am going to be more comfortable talking about my kids’ neuro diversity and asynchronous development. Yes, he can be gifted and have rubbish handwriting! I’m not going to shy away from my family’s normal in all it gory intricacies. I am going to model this to my children. I want them to see that I am comfortable with who they are and they should be comfortable too.
Healthy. I am going to go to the gym (for classes and not just the coffee shop). I am going to make sure I look at my diet as carefully as I look at my kids’. I am going to watch myself talk, treat my foibles with humour and love and cut myself some slack when perfection doesn’t quite happen. I am going to model this to my children. I want them to see that I am healthy in body and mind and that is something they can strive for and control too.
Happy. I am going to embrace our journey. I’m going to surround myself with the love and happiness of my tribe. I’m going to share their joys, be it a kid making eye contact for the first time, or a 6-year-old triple grade skipping or laughing about how your kid might be better at doing your taxes than your accountant. I also know that you can’t to be happy all the time, but by developing a love of contentment and revelling in the golden happiness of those key moments, I hope to build my resilience for the hard times. I’m going to model this to my kids. I want them to see that am content and happy and can share in the joys of others. I want them to see that I am resilient, even when those moments of happiness seem to be too far apart but be secure in the knowledge that another happy moment will come along.
I don’t know how much I’ll stick to, but it’s good to have a plan, so here’s to 2020 and my goals for well-being.
The intersection between challenge and wellbeing at school - Kylie Bice
“I thought the work would get harder when I started high school. That’s what I’ve been waiting for, for years. But it’s just the same stuff all over again.”
“I’ve been in Kindy for ages, when will I learn how to write?”
“The girls in my class are friendly, but I can’t talk about quarks and antiquarks with them because I want to fit in, and they just want to talk about boys and singers. I haven’t found anyone yet who I think will want to talk to me about quarks, maybe I never will.”
“I’m in the top group for spelling, but I’m not very good at it. I got two words wrong on my last test but I only started crying when I got home and sat on the trampoline. The trampoline is where I sit when I’m sad because I didn’t get 100%.”
“I didn’t learn anything at high school and the teachers all hated me because I disrupted all the classes, but still averaged 95% on all my tests. I would just read the textbook at the beginning of the unit and then I’d learned it all, so I didn’t need the teachers. I’m a cardiologist now, but still get angry when I think about my high school experience. It was all such a waste of time.”
These are actual quotes from gifted adults, children and adolescents, and all of them point to the connection between being challenged at school and wellbeing. All too often, gifted students are unhappy and experience school as place where:
– nothing new is learned,
– they are asked to revise and practice knowledge and skills they have long mastered,
– they have no intellectual peers,
– no-one is interested in their area of passion, or
– where failure is terrifying because they have never been challenged and so never experienced it.
These are the students at risk of questioning their own identity, underachieving, and seeing school as a place of boredom, frustration and a sense that they are nothing more than a number in a relentless system.
In order to maintain engagement and see the value in their education, on a daily basis, we must:
• Pre and formatively assess students to determine prior knowledge and avoid students practicing and repeating skills, knowledge and understandings they have already mastered.
• Make sure students are not asked to complete ‘core’ work before they can access the work that is genuinely at their level and will offer challenge. Gifted students often experience years of being ‘rewarded’ for completing their work by being given more, and over time they become demoralised or learn to avoid the extra work by finding ways to waste time.
• Avoid asking the strongest students to mentor, coach or teach other students. Teachers often do this with the rationale that this helps both students. In reality, neither the weak nor the strong student benefit from this arrangement. It is important to remember that our brightest students deserve to be learning new material rather than being a substitute teacher, just as other students expect to do every day.
• Avoid asking students to catch-up on missed work if they are out of the classroom to access extension work. This is especially true if the missed work includes unnecessary practice and repetition!
• Design learning tasks that have genuine challenge based on what is known about a student’s prior knowledge. Challenge can come from posing abstract and complex questions rather than low-order repetition or retell. Challenge can also come by giving students the work they are ready for including accelerative options.
In my role as an Education Consultant I see many teachers and schools who are doing a wonderful job of ensuring their gifted students are challenged, including those who may be underachieving or twice-exceptional. Nevertheless, we need to improve our consistent practice across Australian schools and sectors to ensure that our brightest minds see the value of school, that their time spent at school genuinely does have value for them, and that as a result of their school experience they are confident, self-aware, resilient learners and problem-solvers.
Through the eyes of an educator - Kellie Clarke
I wasn’t always a Gifted Education advocate.
In fact, when I was studying my dual undergraduate education and music degrees in NSW in the early 2000’s, subjects surrounding this field weren’t available at my university. Whilst I was repeatedly taught the importance of nurturing the academic and socioemotional wellbeing of students with a disability or learning disorder, gifted learners were never discussed.
Upon entering the teaching profession, my understanding of giftedness was, mistakenly, founded purely on the stereotypes that society had presented me throughout my young life. That all changed in my second year of teaching, however, when I was fortunate to teach Anna (name changed), a seemingly happy and well-adjusted 11-year-old girl. Anna’s IQ exceeded 153, she was a virtuosic musician on two orchestral instruments, had previously been year level accelerated, had a great group of friends and a loving family, and also, told me she self-harming.
Anna was the first time a gifted student had broken the ‘life is easy for gifted students’ adage that I had, until that moment, held dear, and I nor any of her other teachers at the time, ever saw it coming. Anna epitomised the stereotypical gifted profile that many educators continue to resonate with. She was incredibly high achieving, excelling far above year level despite her acceleration, attentive, well-mannered, softly spoken, meticulous and responsible. In the days, weeks and months which followed, we, her teachers, pondered how Anna’s wellbeing had been overlooked to the point whereby she sought release through self-harm? How had we been so blind to the pain she was experiencing? What could we have done, or could do in the future, to support Anna’s wellbeing further? Accordingly, Anna unknowingly set me on a path of deep personal and professional reflection, resulting in the creation of a relentless motivation to advocate for the needs and wellbeing of gifted learners within the school environment.
Fast forward 13 years and I have since completed my Masters in Gifted Education and have worked almost exclusively in this field for the past 6 years. Thanks to Anna I am uncompromisingly driven to help teachers and schools provide for, and nurture, gifted students’ wellbeing. Like anything in education, it is not an easy job. Through my eyes it appears that some schools prefer their G&T Coordinator to be seen and not heard (aside from after events such as the Da Vinci Decathlon, GERRIC programs, Math Olympiad, and ICAS testing.) I continue to have teachers tell me that they don’t understand why student X is feeling frustrated in class, as they are providing extra worksheets at year level for the student to do. Additionally, I also hear ‘student Y can’t be gifted, he’s only getting a C in (insert subject name here)’, thus exemplifying the role gifted stereotypes continue to play within today’s education system.
Other schools, thankfully, are further along on their gifted education journey. These schools are more receptive to the needs of gifted students by way of their gifted education programming, differentiation programmes and views toward acceleration practices. Also, and perhaps even more importantly, their willingness to educate teaching staff as to the needs of this heterogeneous population. One such school instigated a monthly Gifted Girls morning tea, whereby the gifted high school students had a regular unstructured social get together, thus greatly improving the students’ sense of belonging. One parent described these meetings as the single biggest highlight in her daughter’s 10 years of schooling. Another school recently began including aspects of gifted education into their regular staff meeting schedules across Prep-Year 12, as a way of not only upskilling staff, but also having gifted students viewed as priority learners within the school.
What about Anna, you ask? I, together with her team of teachers, worked diligently to modify our teaching practices, curriculum planning and pastoral programs to better cater for her and other gifted students’ academic and socioemotional needs. She also received extensive external support. Unfortunately, thing got worse before they got better, but with the right support, Anna has since grown to become a happy, healthy, highly educated and successful young lady. Little does she realise, but she also changed my life.
Finding Solace Away From Home - Sara Selkirk
It was January 2018 and this New Year had brought our family from New Zealand into a new home – Australia.
Within three weeks, by eldest had fallen off the monkey bars and fractured his arm, requiring surgery. He was four and a half. I will never forget his bravery and my apprehension as they took him into theatre. Nor will I forget him waking up from the anesthetic. He screamed. A lot. There was rage in his eyes. The nurses tempted him with Icy poles and he hissed at them and very expansively told them where they could go. It was then that the nurses looked at me and one muttered under her breath: “Is he always like this?”
It was a comment that was very familiar to me by now. People who met us, whom we played with often asked similar questions. “Oh he’s just tired” or “He must be getting sick…” I would often say. Those who knew us better knew that it was not the case.
This particular little powder keg has been catching everyone off guard since the day he was born. “Very alert” all the hospital notes said. Didn’t we know it. He never slept. He fixed my gaze in the car mirror at 3 weeks of age. He was smiling at the same time and giggling a few weeks after that. I felt crazy for showing him books at 6 weeks but I recall genuinely feeling like he was following the pages and the story. By age one he spoke over 100 words and had full sentences including complex and abstract topics by 18 months. It would take me some years, and another much more “typical” baby later, to really appreciate how abnormal all this was. But at the time he was just our special boy.
Family humored us for a while – being new parents, being the first grandchild. Yes, of course he was special, aren’t they all? But it wasn’t until the preschool years that we began to run into problems. His emotional outbursts were unsettling. He would shout and protest for hours over seemingly small incidents. The line between overstimulation and under stimulation was a fine one that left us on edge every day. Grandparents were adamant it was our “soft” approach to parenting and lack of boundaries. But how do you set boundaries with a 3 year old who won’t accept “because I said so “as valid enough reasoning? Who seems to have little regard for any kind of authority? Who questions everything? All the time.
It was an isolating experience. He attended kindergarten but some of his behaviors meant that potential friendships did not progress. Not everyone was willing to look beyond the behaviors to the wonderful inquisitive, kind and compassionate child. We had long conversations in caron the way to kindergarten about the melting point of titanium, only to have him open the car door on arrival and scream: “Bum bum poo poo!” at the top of his voice to his peers. He knew exactly how to modify his behavior to impress them. He flew under the radar well.
Whilst looking for other activities locally to fit his interests of science and philosophy we stumbled upon a one-day-a-week kindergarten extension program. I didn’t know much about this at the time but figured it would give us another day of childcare and seemed to fit his interests. Through his passionate teacher at this program we learnt about asynchronous development. We met a number of like-minded families with bright and quirky kids. To speak with these parents who had also had similar experiences was a breath of fresh air. Who had faced some of the same challenges, the same questions and same looks from others when their kids did or said something out of the box. It was unusual to suddenly have a network of friends whom we didn’t have to explain ourselves to. Whom we didn’t need to make excuses for.
Find Your Tribe - Love Them Hard - Tracy Riley
This blog was created by Dr Tracy Riley, as a member of the Board of giftEDnz: The Professional Association for Gifted Education. She has found her tribe in gifted education – and she loves them hard.
Your tribe is made up of the people you connect with through shared passions and commitment. Members of your tribe affirm, validate, inspire, and challenge you.
As Sir Ken Robinson reminds us, “Often we need other people to help us recognise our real talents. Often we can help other people to discover theirs.” Being part of a tribe enables validation of not only who you are and what your talents are, but also connects you with other like minds to kick around ideas, actively question and seek answers, laugh at the possibilities, and cry over the impossibilities.
Brené Brown says in her TED Talk, Finding our Way to True Belonging, “True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.”
In other words, being part of a tribe helps us become ourselves. From the shared experiences of learning, being, and doing with others of like-mind, we gain a greater sense of identity. We are inspired by the tribe, as its members drive one another to push the supposed limits of our talents.
This shared inspiration can be intense, creating what Sir Ken calls an alchemy of synergy – this is the power of the collective, who bring our strengths and interests together to create something much greater than our individual selves.
Find your tribe.
Gifted learners, like all of us, are seeking a tribe, a powerful sense of belonging, that collectively honours and celebrates their individual strengths, differences, quirkiness, interests, abilities and qualities. Even those who may prefer their own company and working independently will ultimately benefit from being connected to like minds.
Finding your tribe isn’t always easy, despite lists of tips and tricks on social media. Gifted learners may feel as Lissa Rankin describes in her blog, like “the odd duck swimming with swans, who all seemed to enjoy a sense of belonging I never quite felt.” Research in New Zealand concluded that gifted students seek relationships with others who think in similar ways, as intellectual peers and friends in and out of school. Being in like-minded peer groups for learning is one way to connect with others and feel a sense of belonging.
A maths ability group, gifted programme one day a week, or accelerated English class may not necessarily be a gifted learner’s tribe. As another meme explains, Your vibe attracts your tribe. Finding your tribe requires confidence, risk taking, a willingness to try new things with new people in new places. How can parents and teachers support gifted learners in finding their tribe?
Lisa Gemert suggests a range of ways to enhance self-concept in gifted learners that will give them the confidence to create their vibe.
Teach service, because when we serve others, we feel satisfaction and experience gratitude.
Recognise accomplishments and contributions.
Be practically optimistic (without platitudes).
Teach social skills, like manners and sharing, to assist with developing friends.
Encourage care for others, including pets.
Praise effort and persistence, constructively and specifically for outcomes
Teach goal setting and persistence with tasks pitched above their level.
Build confidence in their intuition, helping them follow their gut instincts.
Display and share the mementoes – awards, certificates, artwork, models – from their achievements.
Communicate your admiration, gratitude, and pride through notes in lunch boxes, messages in notebooks, text messages, or other ways that work for you.
Building confidence is a fundamental step in connecting with others, through taking risks, building new relationships, engaging in new experiences or facing challenges. As confidence grows, other practical ways of helping gifted learners find their tribe include encouraging them to join local clubs and community groups, participate in competitions, attend meet-ups, volunteer, play sports, start a new hobby, get a paid job, join an online group, or start a book group, club, or other shared activity. These types of experiences may be in or out of school, supported by parents, teachers, coaches, or community members.
Your vibe attracts your tribe.
How can you help ensure that all gifted learners have opportunities to connect with like-minded peers? Advocate.
The first step to effective advocacy is to know your stuff. Inform yourself on the importance of belonging (for all learners) and the difference it can make to engagement and achievement in school by reading widely. (Google Scholar is a good starting point.)
Maximise your impact by joining with other advocates through your membership in a professional organisation or association (like AAEGT), working with parents of other gifted students in your local school or through special programmes, or engaging in other learning, development, and networking online.
Share your messages widely by being willing to work with media – social media, print media, radio, and tv.
Whatever you do, advocate for gifted learners by reminding others that all learners need to have opportunities to find their tribe. Use inspirational messages.