On November 11, I had the honor of presenting at the National Association for Gifted Children annual convention. Here some highlights from the event and thoughts for where I think gifted education can take on a global perspective.
The NAGC conference is both an academic and pedagogical experience. It is a mix of theorists, practitioners, psychologists, teachers, and administrators. What I will say about this conference that makes it different than many of the other conferences I attend is that this group of people is incredibly focused. They attend sessions no matter how early despite staying out late at special events. They are there to learn!
Like with most professional organizations, there are special interest networks. NAGC is no exception. The one I belong to is called Global Awareness. It's a small group, but anyone who finds their way into the group finds a home there. The members are welcoming and take the time to value the experiences of its members. One of the things we discussed this year was how we are at a point in education where being global can't be something extra. I've said this many times over the past few years: It's a necessity for ALL learners!
Session Highlights & Themes
Race and identity were the two big focal points for me this year. Angel Harris, director of Duke's Program for Research on Education and Development of Youth, gave a thought-provoking keynote about systemic problems in education and the lack of equity they create. His talk was grounded in research and a humorous approach to a problem that many people are talking about within silos and many don't think is a problem at all. At its core, it is a listening problem and an inability to understand diverse perspectives and experiences. So I set a goal for myself...to try really hard to approach difficult conversations with curiosity and do my best to listen to what the other person is saying. Small steps can make a big impact.
Self- Identity and Global Connection
Thinking about approaching challenging situations with curiosity, I presented my session. This, in and of itself, is a challenging situation for me. I get incredibly nervous, sick nervous. I always have, but I continue to put myself into these situations because it helps me grow (or at least I keep telling myself that it does). If you repeat something to yourself enough it becomes true right? As I observed the participants engaged with my identity prompts, something clicked for me. I was in a groove, flow as some call it. I was enjoying the work. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new journey for me.
I came home with many ideas about curriculum design using the parallel curriculum model and visual learning, but more importantly, my feelings on the place of gifted education were clarified.
Gifted education can be viewed as elitist. Outside of the field, it is full of misconceptions including the opinion that "all students are gifted." While I think it is important to understand the nature and needs of gifted students and adjust our learning environments accordingly, I think we are doing a disservice to children when we make gifted education a separate thing, pulling students away from their peers and even congratulating them for their giftedness (that's like congratulating someone for having green eyes). But right now it has to be like that because without the separation, these students wouldn't get their needs met and wouldn't be able to be around students and teachers who "get them."
What really needs to happen, however, is a shift in thinking about the way we design our learning experiences and classroom spaces that allow for flexibility to meet the needs of all students in authentic ways. But what exactly does that mean?
Reimagining school is a complex beast that I have been trying to wrap my head around for years, but we have reached a critical point where we just cannot ignore the necessity of reaching ALL students in meaningful ways.
So let's get some dialogue going:
- What are your thoughts about flexibility in education?
- How are you helping your students develop their identity and connect with others?
- What are the systemic barriers to creating an equitable education system?