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.