Thursday, February 27, 2014

Six tips for communicating with your gifted child's teacher

Okay, so you’re mad. You’ve had it. You want to just march into your child’s classroom and let the teacher know that you’re done with this nonsense. You cannot stand it one more instant – watching your gifted child languish unattended, bored, undereducated, unstimulated.

It’s not like you haven’t already tried. You’ve let the teacher know your child wanted more challenging work. You’ve sent carefully worded notes and e-mails. You’ve sat through parent-teacher conferences, nodding politely, tactfully offering a few suggestions. You’ve patiently waited and hoped for something to change.

But wait! If you barrel into the classroom, guns a-blazin' (metaphorically speaking), you risk alienating the very person you need most on your side. It’s just not good strategy to alienate your child’s teacher. Even if nothing has changed so far, you can still develop a plan, work collaboratively with the teacher, and chip away at the problem.

What are the steps you need to take?

1.  Gather information. Learn as much as you can about gifted children and gifted education. Sites like NAGC and Davidson are great places to start. The more you know, the more effectively you can advocate. The information you need also includes the laws and guidelines in your state and school district, your school's policies for providing gifted services, and the procedures involved. Sometimes these may be listed on your district's website, but other times you may have to ask questions and do some investigative work. You also need to understand the teacher's attitude and approach toward gifted education. (See this previous blog post for more.) The more clearly you appreciate the classroom dynamics, administrative pressures, professional limitations, and personal attitudes that influence the teacher's perspective about giftedness, the more effectively you can communicate your child's needs.

2.  Approach the teacher respectfully. You may be frustrated after months of witnessing your child's boredom. You may disagree with the teaching methods your child’s teacher uses. You may not even like the teacher. But this is his or her chosen profession, based on years of training and experience. Immediately challenging the teacher’s approach, offering too many suggestions, or criticizing will create hard feelings. Not only is this hurtful, it is not in the best interest of your child. Even if you don’t think you’re being critical, comments like, “Johnny is so bored,” or “Suzie needs so much more of a challenge than what she is getting,” can be perceived as criticism. No teacher wants to think that students are bored. No teacher wants parents to be upset and angry. And a teacher who feels unfairly criticized can become defensive and reluctant to hear your concerns.

This is the time to swallow your pride, control your anger and approach the teacher with a collaborative spirit. Consider wording your comments so that you convey respect for the teacher’s dedication, expertise, and competing demands. Think about how to express your concerns in a manner that respects the teacher's knowledge and experience. If your child's teacher feels that you appreciate the daily stress and many obligations he or she faces, you may be able to gain trust more easily. Let the teacher know that you are very aware that little Johnny is not the ONLY child in the classroom, that the teacher has many children who need support, and that potential solutions to the problem will take that reality into account. 

3. Explain your child to the teacher. Help the teacher understand more about your child, especially if your child’s abilities or learning needs are overlooked. Many gifted children who do not fit typical stereotypes (such as the highly verbal and high achieving student) may not be recognized as gifted, or their behaviors could be mistaken as indicative of a more serious problem, such as an emotional disturbance, or attentional problem. Since many teachers have little training or understanding of giftedness, it may be up to you to educate them. Portray your child in as clear and unbiased a manner as possible, flaws and all, but framed within a context of giftedness. “I’m aware that Johnny seems like a typical ‘asynchronous’ kid; sort of immature socially, so his ability to think deeply stays hidden.”  “I know that Susie talks a lot in class and gets distracted. I realize this can be a problem. I’ve found at home that when she is immersed in a project she likes, she gets much more focused, and she quiets down for a while!” 

4. Ask for feedback from the teacher. Respect the teacher’s knowledge. Appreciate that the teacher gets to view your child in a different context for seven hours a day, and may have some useful information to offer. Ask for ideas about what the teacher thinks would enhance your child’s educational experience. “What thoughts do you have about offering Johnny more intensive writing opportunities without it appearing like extra homework (which we know he would resist)?” “Given Susie’s math abilities, what course of action do you think would be the best for helping her continue to blossom in this area?” “What are your thoughts about having some of the gifted students work on projects together, so they can at least bounce ideas off of each other in a small group?” Requesting the teacher's input shows respect and your willingness to collaborate. You also will learn how well he or she truly knows your child, what solutions seem feasible, and how likely it is that actual change may occur (and whether you may need to increase your advocacy efforts or change direction). 

5. Acknowledge what is working. Let the teacher know what your child enjoys. Use this as a springboard for encouraging more of the same. “Susie was absolutely thrilled with the last science project. She loved getting to research the topic in such depth. Will there be more opportunities for this in the future?” "Johnny was so excited to go to the third grade math class. He really loved the challenge, and we're so glad that the school agreed to accelerate him." Inform the teacher about improvements you have seen in your child. Ask for the teacher’s input with respect to what he or she believes is working as well. 

6. Pick your battles. As much as you would love to demand that your child's teacher implement all of your requests, without administrative support, homogeneous classrooms, ability grouping, or a comprehensive gifted program, it is unlikely that your child will receive as much as you would like. Make a wish list and identify the most important goals for your child. If your child has not been tested yet, request a gifted evaluation. If your child already has been identified as gifted, and if there are safeguards in your state, such as Individualized Education Plans, ensure that the plan includes what you think is necessary and reasonable. Let the teacher know that you realize how constrained he or she must be in terms of competing demands, and suggest changes that would not only benefit your child, but also could make life less complicated for the teacher. For example, subject acceleration where the student leaves for another classroom in the same building requires a lot less effort than having the teacher administer an individualized program tailored to the student. 

You may not like these solutions. They may not seem fair. Gifted education should be a right, not a privilege. You should not have to walk on eggshells to advocate for what your child needs!

Valid points. But the reality is that forming a collaborative relationship with your child’s teacher may be the best option you have. It is also good role-modeling for your child. Children can benefit from witnessing their parents advocating for what is needed, but also working collaboratively and cooperatively with others. Yes, some parents homeschool their children, or seek our private schools, beneficial alternatives, but also with some drawbacks. Ultimately, advocacy for all gifted children and widespread change in how gifted education is implemented is needed. But until then, you have the day to day dilemma of working with your child’s teacher. And the sooner you form a partnership, the more likely you will achieve productive results. 

(Note: Forming a partnership with your child's teacher is just one step in the process. There is much more to advocacy. See NAGC for more tips about advocacy. A future blog post will cover more about advocacy.) 

16 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post (and the previous one). It would have helped my husband and me as we struggled with some of my son's elementary school teachers. Number 3, "explain your child to the teacher," was incredibly effective for us. When we explained to teachers that our son's behavior was much like our own as children, and that we outgrew those problems in due time, most of the teachers seemed to relax and to work with him. They viewed him as a child working through a developmental stage instead of a child who was a problem (or having mental health issues). For whatever reason, the old model of gifted student = perfect student (perfect grades, no behavior problems) is still very much alive, and if your child doesn't fit that mold, he or she may be labeled as "spoiled." Yes, you must advocate for your child, and if you can bring your own childhood experiences to the table, it helps humanize the situation for the teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators.

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  2. Judy, Thanks for your helpful comments. You raise a great point - bringing up your own childhood experiences as examples to inform the teacher about your child's behavior. The assumption that gifted children are always well-behaved, high achieving students continues to create problems in identifying, educating and empathizing with these children in the classroom. Thanks again.
    Gail

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  4. Great post! Been reading a lot about talking to my kid's teacher. Thanks for the info here!

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  5. So many points of child's future depend upon his starting education and parent's care and activeness towards child education. All these points have significance what you mentioned here.  

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  6. I have the pleasure of working with middle school children on a daily basis and see their joy and delight when their parents are involved in their schooling. The fact of the matter is, when parents and teachers are united, they’ve created one of the most powerful partnerships a child could ever ask for.

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    1. Great point. It is good for the child and all involved when there is a mutual partnership. Thanks for your feedback.

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  7. I love this! Thank you for a wonderful post.

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  8. An impact of a teacher in our life shows in all over life. we try to learn or copy his ethics and etiquette in our life. So its important for everyone.

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  9. Teachers need knowledge of the exclusive skills that each kid brings to the classroom in order to efficiently target teaching towards students' knowledge needs.

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  10. Possibly the most significant roles teachers fill engage interacting with students

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  11. Teachers carry an important responsibility in preparing young people to lead successful and productive lives.

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