Thursday, August 07, 2014

Those who teach, learn.

One of my tasks as a teacher of gifted children is to not only teach my students content, but also teach them how to handle difficulties they face.  These students are in a unique position, because their intelligence allows them to understand problems and difficulties in life that they aren't emotionally ready to handle yet.  So even though they are quite smart, their intelligence makes them vulnerable to emotional manipulation by others. They also want so much to be liked and accepted by their peers, though it is rare that it happens for them, unless their peers are other gifted children.  That love and acceptance of themselves and their own identity is one of the biggest challenges I face as a GT teacher.  I have found, however, that teaching these things to my students has had an effect on me as well.  The teacher is learning, and possibly learning more than her students in this case.  

Lesson one:  Don't put my energy into things I can't control. 

This can be events or people.  Gifted children are notorious for taking on world problems or being upset about failed relationships.  One of the big items on our wall is the "Circle of Control."  It's a borrowed concept from Stephen Covey, but the gist is that the students should put most of their energy into things they can control.  This is huge for them.  A lot of their worries, and mine for that matter, are on people pleasing and wanting others to be OK with what they are doing.  As I digest this "control" concept, I find I personally care less and less about pleasing others.  I can't help, for instance, if someone wants to believe a falsehood about me (apparently I have brain-washing abilities) because it makes it easier for them to ignore the real issues they are facing. I can't help if there are people in the community who do not believe in gifted education.  It is a waste for me to worry about those things.  I can't tell  you how freeing that is.  At this point in my life, I am reaping the benefits of not allowing that manipulation to take place.  I have learned to just put my head down and get busy.  That busy-ness has turned into rewards, and the results are what I wanted in the first place!  Others appreciate someone who is genuine and not working an angle, and that approval has come in tidal waves.  I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.

Lesson number two:  Growth mindset

This is such a big concept, and solves so many issues GT kids face, that it's almost magic.  Growth mindset tackles persistence, creativity, grit, perfectionism...anything that will keep a gifted child back.  We all have internal tapes or voices, telling us we can't do things, we'll never make it, and so on.  We worry about all of the what if's and make decisions based on fear.  There are also external tapes in the form of people in our lives who take on the role of that external voice, keeping us in the past by not recognizing our growth, actively trying to keep us from growing.  They allow growth for themselves, but not for us.  Growth mindset allows for the filtering of those voices, and that's what I love about it.  It also helps us identify how we need to grow.  There was a student who was working a math problem with a friend in class, and they were stuck.  I would come around and ask how they were doing.  "We don't get it," was their reply.  I would ask for specifics, but they would just repeat.  In asking them to think about their mindset, they found that they had given up.  "What would get you to a growth mindset," I asked.  They determined trying harder was they key.  Then they asked the right question regarding the math problem.  Once they did, they were able to finish, and hand in a correct answer.  At that point, I could care less if they answered correctly.  The lesson learned about trying harder was way more important!

Life is messy and complicated.  Having some simple truths that help guide our thinking and decision making is so important.  I wish I had known these things about twenty years ago.  Boundaries in relationships would be different, and relationships might have been saved.  But that was then.  By moving forward, I'm finding I'm attracting the right people in my life.  It sure makes life more rich and complete.  Life is definitely good.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset

I teach gifted kids.  By gifted, I mean the educational definition.  I am aware that every child has gifts and every child has something special they bring to the table, but I am talking in particular about children with an IQ of 130 or above.  There are many myths about the gifted child, with one of the worst being "they'll be fine" without services in school.  It's a catch-22 for a gifted child, really.  On the one hand, they are never really challenged the way everyone else in their class is, so they learn to give 25%-50%.  (I came up with those figures because most gifted kids go into a classroom knowing 50% to 75% of the material to be presented already.)  Yet this is the same complaint teachers give when working with gifted children:  they're lazy and they give up easily.  This topic could really be its own blog, and there are many GT teachers across the nation taking up this cause.

However, I am in the classroom, with only gifted children.  I struggle with this aspect of gifted children quite a bit.  From the time they are small, things come easy to them, so they avoid things that are difficult.  Human nature on steroids.  By the time they get to me, many really don't like to be challenged, and will do as little as possible, all in the effort to avoid the uncomfortable.

I came across the notion of fixed mindset vs. growth mindset, and I have thought about these concepts as they relate to my GT kiddos.  I started realizing that these kids have a fixed mindset about learning ("I give up," or "This is hard," or "I just can't learn math.") and it was be in my best interest to try and change it.  It worked well last week.  Two students have a mind block about math, and any time they learn something new, I get arms crossed, with "I just don't get it" coming out of their mouths.  This week, when it happened, I looked at them and asked which mindset they were experiencing.  "Fixed" was the response.  I asked what they need to say to themselves to move it over to growth mindset.  They told me, then they worked through the problem to be the ONLY students to get the problem completely right.  That was proof enough for me.

I've applied these thoughts to my own life as well.  I'm recognizing some fixed mindsets I have about a difficult relationship that just won't go away.  On one hand, I have begun to only worry about the things that are in my control.  I can't help if they have fixed mindsets about me and my family.  There's nothing I can do to make them see that me or my husband have grown over the past thirty years. (It's a little frustrating to be locked into who you were 30-something years ago).  I can, instead, see how they have changed and possibly speak to them from that point of view if we ever come in contact again, even if they may not do the same.

I share with my students the fact that I apply these principles to my life as I learn them.  I want them to see adults as lifelong learners.  I want them to know that they aren't expected to have it all figured out and try to come off as experts.  It's OK to be in the learning curve.  In this way, I'm hoping to influence genuineness in children who won't be concerned with keeping up with appearances, but are instead growing into the people they are, with the strengths they possess, so that they aren't trying to "Keep Up" with anyone.  I learn along with them.  We're growing, together.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kid President

Here's a little pick-me-up.  Such great thoughts with simple reminders about daily life.  You're alive.  You're awesome.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Busy Times, Thoughtful Times

You know, as a teacher, it's difficult to know whether or not your students like you or not.  There's not a lot of praise in the line of work, at least not formally.  But I don't think it's why a person gets into this line of work anyway.  You have to be pretty sure of yourself, that's for certain!

This time of year, though, is a time that people, especially kids, make sure their teacher knows they are appreciated.  It comes in the form of chocolates, gift cards, poinsettias, notes, books, secret santa gifts, dog treats for my dog, and most importantly, hugs.

However, praise aside, the real gratification a teacher gets is the one that is hard won.  After going over and over a skill or an idea or a concept numerous times, and seeing the look on the child's face when they get it, it is really hard not to have that warm, fuzzy feeling.  Those are bonding times, and hopefully those moments are the ones the child will look back on some day and think, "That teacher really cared about me."

It makes the busy-ness and the work worthwhile.  I'm glad I'm a teacher.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Things I Love, 2013

In looking through my old posts, I found a few of these posts, and they always seemed to be in the Fall.  I need to update, since it's been awhile, so here it is, in no particular order:

1.  Bo.  He's so fun, and brought so much to our family.  We waited a long time for a dog.  I think we got the best one.
2.  Studying.  I'm drawn to it, and am most content when I'm learning something new.
3.  Scented candles.  They always make things pleasant.
4.  Starry nights.  I love looking at the stars.
5.  Friends.  Sharing and caring is always good.
6.  A good tv show.  Like Downton Abbey.
7.  Friends and tv together.  Like a Downton Abbey tea party.
8.  Spelling Bees, when they're over.  The gasps and anticipation from the kids in the audience is priceless!
9.  Hanging out with my kids.  They are pretty neat people.  I like them a lot.
10.  A good laugh with Big Dad.  He keeps things fun.
11.  Chocolate Chess Pie.
12.  Thanksgiving at the White's.  Our kids look forward to it every year.
13.  The first fire in the fireplace.
14.  The first snow.
15.  Christmas dinner, and everything before that.
16.  College acceptance letters.
17.  A good night's sleep.
18.  My new iPhone.
19.  Still love that "Ooohhhh" when kids learn something new.
20.  Kids who learn they really do know how to write!

Things That make me go "ew."
1.  Pride-it actually makes me sick to my stomach.
2.  Peace at the cost of someone else's dignity.
3.  Deceit
4.  Liars
5.  Feigned caring
6.  Masks.

I think the good far outweighs the bad.  And I can choose who I let into my world, blood or not.  I choose those who love me and mine for who we are, and I choose to leave out those who don't have our backs.  Life is too short to be filled with junk.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Exploration and Moonshot Thinking

Our gifted class is studying exploration this year, and as always, I'm learning more than the kids.  I really wish I could have learned like this when I was their age!  The idea of exploration is contingent on curiosity, and after studying people like the Vikings, or Lewis and Clark, we came up with a list of attributes that are crucial for an explorer to have.  They are, in no particular order:

1. Goal setters
2. Prepared
3. Creative
4. Curious
5. Risk takers
6. Have a sense of higher purpose

There were more, but the class seemed to focus on these the most.  We decided to use them as a guide for their future projects.

Our task from now until Christmas is to explore the ocean.  The students are going to choose the place or thing they want to explore, and they are going to design a vehicle that will allow them to explore it.  For one year.  See, we watched this video called "Moonshot Thinking,"  and in that video there was a statement that caught our attention.  A person said, "If you want to make a car go 50 miles on a gallon of gas, you just need to tweak the engine a bit.  But if you want to make a car go 500 miles on a gallon of gas, you've got to start over."  We figure people go into the ocean and explore for a bit, and take snippets of information.  We want to explore more than the 5% that has currently been explored.  We want to explore over a long period of time.  If we are studying whales, we want to be able to follow them for a year, wherever they go.  We want to design the vehicle that will enable us to do that.  And we want to design using nanotechnology.  Especially the application of graphene and nanotubes.  So that is what we're doing.

So these 3rd, 4th and 5th graders will be glimpsing not only the world they plan to explore, but also the world of applied scientists, engineers and biologists.  It's an exciting world we live in, and worth exploring.  Why not get creative in how we do it?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Learning and Sharing

You know, learning is a lifelong venture.  I believe that to my core.  I have never felt that there will come a time when I've "arrived" in learning and can finally turn off that part of my brain and just relish in what I've learned, and only impart my wisdom and knowledge to those who know less than me.  In fact, I think I learn even from the youngest among us as well.  It always amazes me how much a young child learns in such a short time.  That level of learning would burn me out at this time in my life.

There's this children's book called "Zoom."  It's a wonderful book and kids love it. It starts off with the page above, and with each page turn, the reader is pulled back to see more of the picture.  This picture happens to be the comb of a rooster. The page after this is of two kids looking through the window at the rooster, and the page after that is the house the kids are in who are looking at the rooster.  On and on the book goes, and each page turn gets "Ooo's and Aaaah's" from the kiddos.  It's pretty fun.

But then I relate the book to life.  I ask them, "If each page represents something big you've learned that changes your view of how the world works, and this entire book is a lifetime, where would you say you are in this book?"  The responses are wonderful.  The 5th graders and most of the 4th graders get the question and what it means.  And quite developmentally so.  They give answers like "Maybe two or three pages into the book."  I had one third grader, though, tell me he was close to the end of the book.  I said, "Really?  Because I don't think I'M even halfway through it!"....just to give him some perspective.  But he thought a second and said, "Yeah.  I'm almost to the end.  I'm pretty smart."  Mind you, all of these kids are gifted kids, so they will get questions like that, but this child's answer makes me smile every time I think of it.

I have been asked lately, however, to teach adults.  It's pretty humbling, because I am only a few steps ahead of others, but there it is.  My expertise is about gifted kids, specifically those who are twice exceptional and may have some learning difficulties.  I'm concerned about the RTI process in our schools, because kids who are gifted, but have learning disabilities, are not being identified.  There was a time when students were identified with full out educational psych evaluations, and it was easier to see if a child had a learning disability with that information. The current system is reliant on teacher knowledge of what a twice exceptional child looks like in the classroom, and that training just isn't given.  I teach gifted kids at two schools whose combined population equals 1100 students.  I have one twice exceptional student.  One.  Out of 1100.  It's sad, because that means there are quite a few students who are not receiving the services they desperately need.

We've zoomed in on education over the last 15 years or so, but I believe it's time to zoom out.  We need a paradigm shift in regards to how we are serving our students.  THAT's some knowledge I know I can impart.  If I'm wrong, I'm willing to learn.