Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why aren't you advocating for your gifted child?

You watched as your gifted child struggled with boredom, apathy and underachievement. And at some breaking point, you decided to do something. You planned to speak with the teacher, challenge the administration, maybe even go to a school board meeting and complain. But then...you backed down. Nothing happened. The moment passed.

What stopped you? What held you back? What were the thoughts, worries, and fears - some realistic, some imagined - that got in the way?

Here are some reasons parents hesitate and fail to advocate for their gifted children:

“I don’t have the credentials”

Unless you have worked in education or childcare, you may not feel qualified or entitled to approach the teacher or school. Challenging authority may be difficult and if you assume that they are the experts, it may be hard to build your case. You can feel stymied if you believe that training as a teacher or school administrator trumps your perception of your child. Recognize that you are a vital part of this team of professionals whose job is to educate your child. The information and perspective you offer is invaluable.

“I don’t know enough”

Uncertainty, lack of information, and doubt can weaken your argument. Gather as much information as possible from your child, the teacher, school psychologist, other specialists, and anyone else who observes your child or the classroom. Read and learn as much as you can about gifted children and gifted education. Know the regulations in your state and community. Stay informed so that you can feel empowered, remain knowledgeable, and counter any inaccuracies.  

“I hate conflict”

Maybe confronting authority is difficult for you. Perhaps you hate conflict. And you don’t want to be disliked. Challenging your child’s teacher, confronting the principal, meeting with the school board all present the potential for conflict. You don’t want to be perceived as one of those parents; pushy and overinvolved, who thinks the world revolves around their child. Keep in mind, though, that you are fighting for basic, fair, and appropriate educational services that your child deserves. You didn’t ask for this battle. (You probably would rather be doing something else.) The school’s lack of resources prompted this fight and you are doing what any parent would - protecting the welfare of your child.

“I don’t want any backlash”

Valid point. Backlash unfortunately occurs when teachers, students or even other parents feel threatened. Although sometimes overt, such as when a child is teased by peers, it is often more subtle. A teacher may “not have time” to follow through on differentiated instruction, offer “extra” homework rather than interesting alternatives to the regular curriculum, or hold your child to a higher standard in terms of social/emotional behavior. And other parents may stop inviting your child to parties or make disparaging comments. It is understandable that you might hesitate in the face of this concern. Yet, if you don't advocate, nothing will change.

“Maybe the problem will go away”

Sometimes it seems easier to hope the problem will disappear. It might be simpler to assume that life will improve for your gifted child next year with a new teacher. Or that your child will outgrow his or her unhappiness or boredom. Sometimes you might just wish he or she were “normal” and would just calm down and fit in like all of the other kids. You don’t want to make waves at school. You don’t want to create a scene. After all, your child is smart; hopefully the problems will work themselves out. Well, sometimes this is true. But other times, boredom, underachievement, isolation from peers, apathy and a poor attitude toward learning only increase. The sooner these problems are addressed, the more likely your child will start to thrive at school.

So, how do you start?

1. Start with the teacher. Find out as much as possible about the teacher's perspective. If your child has been tested, gather information from the school psychologist, and/or other specialists. If your child would benefit from testing, insist on it.

2. Get informed. Learn as much as possible from sites such as NAGC and SENGifted. The NAGC advocacy toolkit is a must-read with excellent advice.

3. Pursue additional channels. If you hit a roadblock with the teacher, you may need to speak with the principal, gifted supervisor, director of curriculum, or other administrators. Sometimes parents even need to meet with school board members to initiate changes.

4. Form a gifted children's advocacy group with other parents. There is strength in numbers, and each parent can provide a wealth of ideas that may propel the group to implement changes in the schools.

5. Consider broader advocacy for gifted children. In addition to advocating for your child, consider lending a hand so that all gifted children can benefit. This may be as simple as speaking up to correct misinformation about giftedness in casual conversation, or as involved as advocacy on a state or national level.

Recent articles in the Boston Globe, Hoover Institution Journal and Medical Daily are examples of writing highlighting widespread neglect of gifted children's educational needs. Yet, these articles reiterate what parents of gifted children already know and live with every day. Who is ultimately more knowledgeable about the struggles gifted children face than the parents who raise them? Who better, then, to advocate for them? Recognize why you're hesitating, what's holding you back, and determine how you can better assist your child and others.

What's holding you back?

15 comments:

  1. Thank you. Something I needed to hear today. For me, I feel hesitation that because I *am* a teacher, that they will think I am one of 'those' parents who think my daughter is a precious little snowflake (I've been in staff rooms where parents are talked about in this way).

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    1. Thanks for your openness about the culture your face as a teacher. It must be particularly difficult to risk criticism under those circumstances. Good luck.

      Gail

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    3. Oops. Somehow I deleted. Just wanted to let you know that I hesitate sometimes for the same reason. It's hard.

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    4. I'm quite sure that the schools think "Ella's Mom" is "one of those parents". I've acknowledged it in conversation and get responses that range from embarrasssed social smiles to genuine grins. And you know...so what? Let's acknowledge that yes, I am, and move on to working on the issue at hand, because it's not about me, or the teacher's opinion of me. It's about my child.

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    5. Good point, anonymous. It's about the child, not us as parents!

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  2. My child started having problems with school when he entered middle school. In elementary, he was a little bored but never really complained, so I didn't know I needed to advocate for him. It turned out he thought everyone was bored and hated school. He's very perceptive and noticed that kids and adults, both real and TV characters, would say they hated school/work, hated Mondays, and lived for Fridays and the weekends. He thought that was normal and that was how his entire life would be. Even Garfield hates Mondays, and he's a cat, and has no job! Kids need to know that you can be challenged and happy at school, and that you have a right to be. The same is true about work later in life. I do have a problem with many of the TV shows marketed to kids (like Disney, etc.). They usually show adults (parents and teachers) as buffoons, and school as someplace where everyone runs amok and plays pranks. You rarely see a kid on these shows who is smart or enjoys learning and is not treated like a joke, Our gifted kids often have no role models.

    When my son entered middle school, he happened to be in a class where he was the only smart kid, and at least half of the class needed additional help from the teachers. He was miserable and started having absences due to stomachaches which I didn't realize at first were stress-related. By the time I realized what was happening, we were in danger of truancy court. I wasn't prepared to advocate, and didn't have time to learn. When I did explain the problem to the school, they didn't offer any options other than counseling. I was under so much stress, I didn't think to ask for him to be put in another classroom. I feel the school should have at least thought of that. My son asked to go to private school, and that is what we did (in our area, it is reasonably affordable). He is happier there and even has more friends. Our public school has very little to offer the gifted kids and I don't know if he could have been happy there. It is in a bedroom community that is filled with upper-middle class sports families and offers very little academic enrichment. We are basically a small town (my son's private school is in the larger town 15 minutes away). Small towns offer their own set of problems, especially like the poster above said, once you are labeled "one of those" parents, the label stays with you. That was another concern of mine, how far to push for my son before I started harming his future in that school system.

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    1. Anonymous,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. No need for second guessing - it sounds like you did the right thing for your child, and hopefully private school will be a great opportunity for him.

      I hope that you did not interpret this post as a call for self-blame. Parents are put in a difficult position, and we all do the best we can. If anything, the goal of this post is more of a call to action. So, I wish you the best, and please don't hold onto any regrets that you didn't advocate enough.

      Gail

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  3. Advocating for my PG 2E daughter consumes an extraordinary amount of time, but providing the very best educational opportunities for her is just as important part of parenting her as is her good nutrition, sleep, and we'll being. Annually I prepare binders that contain all information regarding her education, and keep prior year binders for reference.

    Each binder contains my daughter's information including current and prior year IEP and now EP (FL has separate document for Gifted students), copies of last year and current year report cards and any other assessments, section that includes copies of formal test scores including WISC-IV, SAT (she took the SAT at age 12, for continuing participation in John Hopkins CTY and to qualify for Duke TIPS program), State standardized test scores, etc, another section reflects her participation in Nationally based GT Programs John Hopkins Cty, Duke Tips, Stanford EPGY, Section for extra curricular activities.

    Part 2: Contact Lists, school District Policy & Procedures, State Law & reg., and b/c she is 2E federal citations.

    Part 3: Add suggested drafting suggestions (IEP or EP process), new material that I located during the year, etc.

    By keeping everything together, I am able to meet with school personnel and have all relevant data at my fingertips during the meeting, as well as making prep. For a meeting much easier since pertinent info. Is already in one spot.

    Thankfully all of this prep paid off, because my daughter would have been whole grade accelerated from 6th to 8th grade for the 2012-2013 school year in NJ, but due to our Relo to a Tampa suburb, it took 12 months of advocating for the very same full grade acceleration in a far inferior educational environment. Even after preparing 85 page, tabbed report of objective data, first "Committee" decision was No, but NEVER GIVE UP!

    Excellent article, and the suggestions contained within are spot on, including reference tools. Good luck everyone, it is not always easy, but it is ALWAYS WORTH THE EFFORT.

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  4. Eileen,
    Thanks for sharing your incredibly organized and comprehensive approach to advocating for your child. You are a great example for others. Good luck.
    Gail

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  5. I would also recommend contacting state legislators about requiring gifted services in the schools and funding them. Did you know special education has federal law requiring services for special needs children, (and rightly so), but children at the other end of the spectrum do not even have the federal government protection for an appropriate education?

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    1. Great points. Thanks for your comments.
      Gail

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  6. This article validates my fight with my son's school district. I have been to the teacher, the principal, the superintendent the curriculum director and NOTHING has been done. I have been getting excuse after excuse since September.,. I won't however give up. If I become "that parent" so be it. I am the ONLY ONE that can advocate for my children. I am the ONLY ONE who will be a voice for them in this big world. I will continue to knuckle my way through this complete absurdity and continue on. They deserve a PROPER education and have every right to one!

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  7. Jennifer,
    Good luck with your advocacy. Hopefully you can enlist other parents along the way.
    Gail

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  8. I say we advocate for excused absences to take our children on learning trips the schools will not provide. My son has been ill more in 2 years of middle school than all of elementary, I allow him to stay home as a support for taking care of your mental and physical health. We get to wound up in all of the rules. Kids need down time. Kids need fun. Kids need to enjoy their life.

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