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Posted by on Nov 10, 2019 in Guest Commentary, In the Metro

November: When GT Families Confront the “Now What?”

November: When GT Families Confront the “Now What?”

It’s November. Something about brisk winds erasing autumn color signals arrival of the “Now What?” Two months into the school year, the question works its way into people’s thoughts and lands on GT families in particular ways.

  • Learning / SEL needs aren’t being met and conferences didn’t go the way I’d hoped: Now what?
  • MAP scores are over 95th percentile and people resist talking about acceleration options: Now what?
  • CogAT results are back: Now what?
  • Open Enrollment deadlines are in January and students have to register for Middle School or High School classes after the holidays: Now what?
  • I need to choose PreK/Kindergarten for a child who might be gifted: Now what?
  • My student doesn’t see the point of repeating content or skills they already know, but the teacher wants to see perfect work at grade level before they will consider differentiation or enrichment: Now what?
  • My student is disengaging from school, has trouble finding supportive peer connections, might be dealing with an undiagnosed learning difference or mental health need, and/or ... Now what?

Back in August, we facilitated conversations with parents of elementary and secondary students who wanted an early start on facing these and related concerns that had surfaced during last school year. What we heard drove home that parenting and advocating for GT learners is HARD, even under favorable circumstances. It’s uncertain and stressful. It’s time consuming. It’s packed with contradictions, judgment, persistent myths and second-guessing. What does that mean for families who don’t know where to turn, how to get started, speak the language, or have the means? Means can include awareness, access, background, connections, time, transportation, and financial resources. What does that mean for those kids?

In all honesty, those August conversations hit me HARD. What wasn’t hard: putting together the list of “Now What” examples. Each one has a personal twist. Each one reflects something we heard during those August conversations and patterns we’ve noticed about local parent concerns since this MCGT chapter started serving St. Croix Valley communities in 2012. Those August conversations hit me hard, in part out of recognition that families whose kids are entering school now are facing many of the very same GT hurdles our earliest members faced seven years ago; it also landed hard related to matters at home.

It’s taken me several weeks, but I realized that I am grateful for the “Now What?” That question, that inner voice are what motivated people to start this MCGT chapter. Without that question, my own family wouldn’t have discovered what we know now or explored other possibilities. Without that question, we wouldn’t have found families who could offer ideas and lessons learned. Without educators who are willing to ask and discuss that question, we — my family, this chapter — would be in a much different place.

Asking “Now What?” shows curiosity, a passion for learning, and a problem-solving mindset that aims to reveal and correct what otherwise might remain unseen or unresolved. Parents need that question as inspiration to look into how to support their GT learners, to listen to the often correct instinct that they should consider other pathways. Educators need that question, in recognition that strategies for serving GT learners may be missing from their instructional toolkits. Students especially need that question to grow skills that will help them self-advocate and start to take ownership for their learning.

By governor proclamation, November also brings Gifted and Talented Youth Week in Minnesota. It brings the NAGC Conference (this year in Albuquerque, NM — check the NAGC Facebook page and the #NAGC19 tag on Twitter for highlights) and the annual MCGT Conference. I spent much of the MCGT Conference in three equally excellent sessions on giftedness and identity with keynote speaker Alonzo Kelly, until I decided it was probably wise to choose something else: a workshop on GT learners and writing hurdles led by local expert Tina Van Erp. Late in the day, I stopped to talk with Carol Maleug. Carol is MCGT’s past board president and was our January 2018 guest speaker. I shared what I’ve described here, that I’d been finding it tough to see people facing some of the same struggles and feel like the needle hasn’t moved much. She pointed out that success sometimes involves keeping that needle from slipping backwards.

As the winter months arrive, we’re bringing back our Coffee Conversations (cocoa if you prefer!) — informal gatherings aimed at tackling your current Now What? questions and seeing them through new eyes. The first one will be SUNDAY, 11/24 at 1:30pm at the Starbucks Coffee on Woodbury Drive near Culvers, followed by one on SATURDAY, 12/14 at 11:00am at The Daily Grind in downtown Stillwater. We are also planning one during Winter Break where school-age kids can join us for board games — see our next newsletter or a future event update here on the website for more info.

So… now what? The reality is that people have been asking that question about gifted learners in this country for over 100 years. It’s only through asking questions and continuing to advocate that the GT learners around us can hope to experience the support they need. Dr. Jonathan Plucker, serving NAGC Board President and Julian C. Stanley Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, wrote about the path forward in an op-ed that appeared in the Albuquerque Journal this week:

Education is a great equalizer, yet our nation does not consistently support advanced students, especially low-income, and racial and language minority students. Too often, these students are drastically under-challenged in school, leading to boredom, underachievement and incalculable amounts of lost potential. Research is clear that the academic needs of gifted and talented students are rarely met in regular classrooms…

But equal lack of opportunity is a strange approach to equity. We need to expand availability and access, not eliminate services. Researchers and educators have identified and implemented a range of pro-equity strategies that provide opportunity to all students, including the use of universal screening using local norms, use of flexible ability grouping, and culturally responsive teaching and assessment strategies. The research is clear: This is a solvable problem!

– Guest commentator Margaret Thomas is current chapter president of St. Croix Valley Gifted

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now what