Posted in Gifted Education

Less is More

“In Silence” by
Chiharu Shiota

Paideia approach to learning forces us as teachers to admit what crime we have been committing against children.

Dear friends, we are proven guilty.

Accustomed to the western rhetoric of educational pedagogy, we confess to you what penchant we have for control, dominance, and power over our children’s minds.

Constantly emboldened by its desire to conquer, the West has always been in position to press on to dominate any unclaimed terrain. It is always about more, not less. It is always about dividing, erecting and building what we possess. For the West, silence has been a ghost it must put on trial for daring to challenge its dominance.

We have been part of that history. The remnants of western thinking bore deep into our educational world views. And Paideia approach is pushing us to undo that very system of thinking.

The more we facilitate seminars among teachers and children, the more we learn to distinguish silence from compliance. Often times we have been attracted by silence and mistaken it with compliance, but they are not the same. Silence summons strength and builds expectation while compliance attempts to scatter it. Silence makes rooms for ideas while compliance drives out ideas.

 

“When a teacher waits for a child to figure something out . . . it conveys the message that [the teacher] expects the child to be able to accomplish it. Failure to wait conveys the opposite message. Waiting time also offers respect – a relational property that is the lifeblood of a learning community”

– Peter Johnson, Choice Words

We live in a culture that values opinion instead of listening to the values behind their opinion. Empowered by its aggression and power,  both children and adults are pressured to produce or do something to fill anything that seems to be unclaimed and open. Often times, we feel like wait time is a ghost we must fight to seize, subdue, and conquer.

In many ways, our classrooms have always mirrored this strange and destructive habit of mind of opinionated claims. We catch ourselves lifting up and honoring those who participate rather than those who choose to observe. We praise when a child lets an opinion known but penalize a child whose mind we can’t read. We say “you must participate” or we say “you get a participation grade because you spoke X time”.

We as teachers and adults keep on poking, prodding, and elicit responses from our children because that’s how learning can be quantified based on our standards. We force our students to show something to us, the sole judge and the authority in the classroom. We legitimize our power over our students and constantly “check their thinking” and validate or refute how they should think for themselves. Their thoughts have to be notarized, legitimized, and made right in the eyes of adults.

This is a crime committed against the minds of American children.

Co-leading Paideia approach to Socratic seminars with ELA teachers across all grade levels in middle school, I realize the beautiful role of letting go of control and allowing wait time to be part of our seminar experience.  Silence is an invitation for those who need thinking time, those who need to weave patterns, concepts they conjure up in their minds. Silence is the soft pillow they can lay their thoughts. It’s like a baby cradled in the hands of a nurturer.

Simply put, less is more.

For some adults and children, wait time is a torture. It compels them to start the rescue mission for the whole class by constantly throwing words like confetti. I agree that silence can be a quicksand. Without a framework or guiding questions, it can be a quicksand that would drag all of us down and invite murkiness, disengagement, and distraction; however, we should not be afraid to try it. 

We need to use wait time to gauge where children are in their quiet thinking journey. In that silence, we learn to reset our children’s priorities and help them shape meanings, ideas, and thoughts beyond what words can do.

Even when it’s not a seminar, let’s give our students think time. Let’s count down five to ten seconds before we move onto the next student or next thing on our list to teach. 

Savor wait time. Let’s slow down. 

Posted in Gifted Education

It’s All About Policy, Stupid

So when I woke up one morning from an unsettling dream, 
I found myself changed into a monstrous vermin...
- Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis 

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 2.52.08 PM

Kafka’s first sentence from his novella is the perpetual state of who I am as a resource specialist for Advanced Studies. I embrace this reality.

My district’s abnormally high number of “identified” gifted students whose families live in the college town brings unique challenges to an educator like me who has to operate within the state’s budgetary crumbs. Despite the legislation Article 9B that explicitly states that gifted services be provided through the local plan, by the time allotted monies from the county commissioners are distributed to the local district, they get spent on other crisis that demand attention. And I get to pick on the leftovers.

Because I felt like my round back was laid against the floor with my feeble arms and legs wringing in the air,  all I could do was to spend each day listening to people and their values behind their opinions whenever possible. There were times I tried to advocate on what students truly needed, but my voice came out as a distant hiss no one cared to listen.

".... Education policy creates the rules and standards by which limited resources are allocated to meet perceived needs" 
- Dr. Jonathan Plucker, Johns Hopkins University           
      

I realized that my entomological existence was the manifestations of the reality of educational policy that has a tendency to focus on the now of the educational crisis where the monies vaporize before they reach the needs of the brightest and the gifted. No matter how much the administrators and the district leaders advocate and support my endeavors, the existing barriers and troubles on advanced studies are deeply connected to federal and the state legislature.

It’s the failure to connect the importance of strong education policy on gifted education that shapes the infrastructure necessary to bring about change at the local level.

There isn’t much I can do to change the state of my being as a vermin. I woke up and there I was, but this is not to say that I am hopeless.

Knowing that it’s really the policy that’s causing the heartache, perhaps that in itself may be the hope that something can be done on my own end. I am not quite sure what kind of ladder I need to climb to effectively bring change to the policy at the state and federal level; however, there are some things I plan to do for the next several months to increase the sphere of my influence as a shareholder.

Here are my notes. I hope to:

Attend 2019 Leadership & Advocacy Conference, Alexandria, VA 

Research how other states are supporting gifted education. (So far, I follow @TXGifted  @NJAGCGifted ) 

Support and sharing gifted education policy resources with classroom teachers who are enrolled in the AIG licensure program LAUNCH via Elon University

Join the district’s AIG Plan Writing Team with other Gifted Specialists to revise the upcoming local plan.

Lead a poster session at NCAGT to share out the underrepresented gifted clubs my colleagues and I founded at our school.

Present effective gifted models that work at North Carolina Association for Middle Level Education

References

Gallagher, J. (2015). Political issues in gifted education. Journal for the Education of the Gifted. 38(1). 77-89. doi:// 10.1177/0162353214565546

Plucker, J., Makel, M., Matthews, M., Peters, S. & Rambo-Hernandez, K. (2017). Blazing new trails: Strengthening policy research in gifted education. Gifted Child Quarterly. 61(3). 210-218.

Vella, A (2014). “Metamorphosis” Retrieved from https://www.salzmanart.com/alexei-vella.html

Posted in Gifted Education

Saving Our Boys

JF2I grew up with a brother who struggled with mental illness.

My parents must have looked at the boy and thought something was wrong. He wet his pants in his third-grade classroom or hesitated to mix in with other shirtless boys who didn’t mind getting their shoes muddied from outdoor activities.

As a talented and sensitive artist, my brother did not cope well with the conflicting parenting styles; while our father harnessed him with reigns and latches to man him up, our mother hovered around him to compensate for what she thought he didn’t get from her husband.

By the time I was born seven years later, my brother saw my presence as a reflection of his own incompetence and an emblem of shame. I was my parents’ hope of what he could have been. At a young age, I witnessed his unmasked agony, which was raw and wild, often manifesting itself in verbal and emotional violence against me.

Looking back, his world of what it meant to be a man was a collage of parental obsession, a false sense of masculinity, and overprotection. An already a sensitive child who loved simple things in life, my parents’ norms and pressure drove him to run after the things he abhorred: power, success, and masculinity.

 Parents must invite their sons to be sad, afraid, hurt, silly and affectionate, and must embrace them as often as they snuggle their daughters. Sweet boys learn early on that they can defend themselves against loneliness by reaching out and asking for support rather than turning into people who, literally, grab for power.   

-Faith Salie @TIMES “How to Raise a Sweet Son in the Era of Angry Men” 

In his early 50’s, he is still searching for the boyhood he never had nor will ever have.

Before Father passed away, I remember how he summoned his courage to tell me that, as a father, he had so much anxiety about raising a son who seemed aloof, distant, and fragile. He didn’t know how to instruct him as he himself was raised by a father who always expected his to be “the man”.

I am not sure how to navigate this field of boyhood, becoming a man, or even how to listen to them.

Perhaps there’s nothing I can do to help the parents and the boys who struggle. Maybe “help” is not a right word to use here. Perhaps that’s the point. They don’t need my help. I just have to listen and know that they struggle to come to terms with their identities.

Posted in Gifted Education

Parents, Our Strongest Allies

Building a strong relationship with middle school parents isn’t on the priority list for many educators. Considering North Carolina’s teacher pay is ranked #35 in the nation,  who would want to carve out extra hours calling parents to introduce themselves and give positive feedback for every child? For that matter,  most conferences for the gifted children have been done around angry parents, Individual Education Plan(IEP), behavioral issues, or failing grades. What we end up doing is we keep empathy out and use hard data to justify that we are doing the best we can to do our job as educators.

And I’m tired of this fight of advocating for the children and parents of the gifted.

We as teachers forget that parents are not our foes. Parents don’t get to hear much about how gifted services are delivered in classrooms because most of my time is spent on managing neglect and lack of differentiation in classrooms. They want to know more but by the time they want to know more, it’s around the mid-year. The phones start ringing at both ends of school and home when something goes wrong.

As these children enter into the season of autonomy and communities of their own, parents and teachers are the ones to closely communicate with each other to hold our children accountable. It’s a must for adults to communicate to each other. 

So here’s my suggestion. First, I start early. Pick out a week to call the parents after school to introduce myself. There are many ways to introduce ourselves through digital means, but nothing is as productive and meaningful as phone calls or personalized emails. What this does is it opens doors for transparency and communications. 100 students is a lot to email but when we think about it, spending 1 week to make phone calls and emails isn’t too bad to set the tone for the entire year.

Secondly, listening to parents’ concern, struggles, and celebration is like gathering data on their children’s lives and all other areas I cannot otherwise observe in their classrooms. Through the mouths and eyes of the parents, I have access to their children’s private lives. Parents, too, need teacher support.

Thirdly, find ways to engage our parents as part of our classroom culture. Often times, they will have access to community resources that they bring to enrich our experiences.

In my tiny quarter in the 7th grade hallway,  I delight in engaging with the parents who care about their children. Our conversation ranges from what to do for their new-to-district child to how the child is doing in their classes. Surprisingly, I hear so much positive feedback on how our teachers are doing a great job recognizing the needs of their children. I don’t think we allow our parents to speak the truth about their children.

Parents are not aliens; they are our allies.