Stress – is it distress or eustress?

Have you ever thought stress could be good for you?

We generally think of stress as that extra tension on us which causes us to worry or become anxious about a situation. This is distress.

There is another form of stress, eustress, and it is a ‘good’ stress. It is the sort of raised levels of tension you feel before a winner is announced, or when you receive a job promotion, or when the birth of a baby elevates our tension levels.

The dis- and the eu- refer to the stressor, not its impact on you.

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The Gifted Education Centre Documentary

I saw a preview tonight of an excellent documentary explaining gifted learners and the various needs for their education. It was good to see some of our stalwarts in gifted education in New Zealand there enjoying the results of a determined effort to capture the essence of gifted students. The audience included Roger Moltzen, University of Waikato; Kate Niederer, Gifted Education Consultant; Kathy Williams and many of her Auckland team from The Gifted Education Centre; Marilyn Stafford and Lynne Beresford, and representatives from the NZAGC.

We look forward to seeing this on television asap as a step toward empowering the teaching community to better provide for gifted students in their regular classroom.


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Responsibility for our Actions

It is natural for us to expect students to be responsible for their actions, but have you ever found yourself criticising a student’s work on one of your ‘bad days’? Admit it – we are not all saints, and sometimes the hint of sarcasm (or more than a hint) has crossed our lips when we have reached the end of our tether with some of our more demanding students!

It is understandable, given workloads and increasingly more complex student needs. But even when we are saints, there are occasions when we say things to our students that are incredibly inappropriate or mis-directed. How many times have we misconstrued a child’s bad behaviour as being deliberate, when in fact it has been a smoke shield they have used to cover up a problem they are embarrassed about?

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Learning Quests for Gifted Students

Here is a link to the books I have written for teachers to use within their regular classrooms, to help broaden inquiry learning topics for their gifted students. See them at the Essential Resources website, or at your local teacher resource centre.

Each book (9 in total) has between six and twelve units that address specific aspects of giftedness or topics that interest gifted students. The Teacher Notes page addresses some of the issues gifted students encounter in the classroom, and give you ideas on how to deal with them.

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Questioning … the art of encouraging thinking

Often teachers feel overwhelmed at the thought of trying to meet the needs of all the different students in their classroom. They think they have to have 26 different plans – one for each child in the class. I don’t think even our super-human teachers could carry that on for too long. The ministry wants us to personalise the learning for each of the students. Please don’t take this to mean individual curriculums – but more to make the learning involve the learner in a more personal way. When we get to know our students, we can often think of really specific questions that will interest an individual. Usually it is when we can relate the topic of discussion to a particular interest of the student. E.g. talking about global warming with questions about how vehicle emissions affect it could possibly interest the ‘boys in the back row’ far more than deforestation issues. Especially if you bring up the responsibility of all of us to limit the expulsion of unhealthy exhaust fumes into our cities.

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One step at a time

There is no way you will be able to meet the needs of all new students in your classroom in the first few weeks of school. But, what you can do, to gain the confidence of the gifted child and their caregivers, is to be open to ‘listening’ to their experiences of school, and hopes and desires for their child. After all, schools see these children for sometimes the most stressful six hours of their day, but parents and siblings live with them for the remaining 18 hours.

In the classroom, be accepting of individuality, nestled within respect for others, and you will be offering a good start for any child at school. Know that choice is often a top priority for gifted children. Give them an option – allow them to make their choice between two different ways of achieving the goal or two separate products.

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Turn Negatives into Positives

We have all had it happen to us – when we think we have planned a great experience for the students to take part in, and something goes awry, leaving us wondering … where to next?

Firstly, don’t let it discourage you! Conjure up all the creativity you can, and turn the negative into a positive learning opportunity – a teachable moment! We can all learn from mistakes. In fact, with gifted students, we need to often model for them how to pull yourself back up again, shake off the problems, and start afresh.

Sometimes, the gifted student who has only ever experienced success in learning can become paralysed when they are suddenly confronted with something that challenges them, and they don’t know how to cope with it!

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Feelings and Emotional Intensity

Gifted children often need help in learning how to handle their feelings. If they have high levels of emotional intelligence they may have difficulty managing the intensity and complexity of their feelings.

Lisa Rivero wrote a really great post on her blog “Everyday Intensity” that helps us to understand the emotional intensity surrounding some gifted children. Read it now … and especially through to the end where she quotes Sidney M. Moon, professor of Gifted Education and director of the Gifted Education Resource Institute at Purdue University. Moon describes emotional intelligence as the “set of skills involved in perceiving, understanding, and regulating emotions” and explains that having both low and high levels of emotional intelligence can pose challenges.

Just a short post today … please read Lisa’s short and compelling blogpost on “Everyday Intensity”

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Life at the Edge

Many gifted students live life right at the edge – pushing the limits in all directions. This is the type of personality that pushes through to achieve great things, but sometimes also experiences great resistance.

If you are the out-going, talkative, questioning, and creatively-productive type, your effervescence will probably alienate you as a demanding individual. If you are the serious thinker, poor writer, and deeply absorbed type, you could possibly be considered disinterested or distant (or even lazy!)

It is one thing to tackle the ’school system’ as such, but it is also a challenge to cope with your own idiosyncrasies. There is no wonder we end up with underachieving gifted students who haven’t managed to fit themselves into the slot allocated for them.

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Many, varied and unique …

How well do you cope with changing circumstances? If you find it hard – if you like a comfortable routine with all things in their place, and everything defined just so – then teaching the gifted could be a challenge. Sally Reis described them as “Many, varied, and unique”, and fitting into a regular square box is not one of their fortes.

With each gifted child comes a challenge and a sense of wonder as to how they think. Take this challenge as a chance to get to know them better. Be open towards them and you may be privileged enough to build a real connection with them. Listen to the heart of the parent, behind the concern for how their child is coping at school. They have already lived a ‘lifetime’ with these children before they even start school.

There isn’t much more that one can say, except – give them a chance to show you their world, before you label them according to your own view of the world.

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Kicked while they are down!

For a parent watching a young gifted child come home each day, after their first term at school, unhappy, uninterested, lacking the vitality they had in their pre-school years, is a devastating blow. Then, it is often made worse, when they try to air their concerns with the school. How many times have we heard from parents of some of these children – the school just didn’t want to know – usually, expecting them to be content with “He’ll settle into school eventually” … “Give him time” … “You worry about him too much” … “His behaviour problems need to be dealt with first!!!!” (And I have used the ‘male’ pronouns here on purpose).

Many of our gifted boys fail to fire once they reach school – instead joining the ever-increasing list of those with troublesome behaviour. Some girls can become unproductive as well, but often in a more deceptive way.

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Just when you think you know …

Have you ever been caught off guard? You know, the times when you think you have finally nailed a good response for your child, to encourage a more harmonious atmosphere, and they catch you out – yet again!

Don’t be surprised – and don’t be too hard on yourself either. We react – it’s an inbuilt life-sustaining function to react, especially when we are threatened. We shouldn’t try for a lack of reaction, we should aim for a positive reaction, no matter what the circumstances.

Some gifted children tend to react, often unfavourably, to the actions of those that get too close to them. This could be close proximity – or closeness as in family members. When the going gets tough – it is often their loved ones they lash out at first – those they feel safe enough to be ‘themselves’ around.

Teaching how to react positively is something we can all benefit from. What is the source of our problem? What is happening to cause us to react the way we are? And what would be a more effective way to react?

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Education Reform Wordle

Click on this Wordle to see a picture of what real educational reform involves. (Excuse the specific American references).
There may be no need to explain why Teachers is the largest word – we must not be afraid to embrace change!

Wordle: Sec. Duncan's Response to #blog4reform

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Hope for the Future

Momentum certainly started to increase in the attempts to meet the educational needs of gifted students since the changes in the New Zealand National Administration Guideliness in February, 2005. There has been a slowing to some extent, in keeping with the global recession, but things are still improving.

Please don’t expect this to be a miraculous overnight panacea. Some parents of gifted children will tell you that change has been slow-moving in their schools. Others can report brilliant changes to the management and implementation of gifted education in their schools. Continue reading

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Gifted is … As Gifted does …

I’d love to hear comments on what people think this saying means. I have seen it mentioned in books and articles I have read, but so far I haven’t come across a clear definition. I have decided it must refer to the great variety there is amongst the characteristics of all gifted students.

Perish the thought that it could mean that if the gifted child is not producing or “doing”, then they are not gifted! It depends too, on the achievement levels of the gifted child.

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First, Best, or Different

My husband has always said this about sales – you need to get to market “first, best or different”. He means, first with a new product to market; making the best version of the product; or making your product identifiably different! All these can maximise sales.

The same three words could describe gifted students. Are they often first to understand? Is their work generally up to a personal high standard in some area? Do they sometimes interpret the question with a different understanding and produce something unique? These three factors can be what distinguishes them from an average student.

First and best are the lesser two categories that cause problems. The “different” space is the area I want to address. Continue reading

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Everything … or nothing?

Some days I just get overloaded with everything I seem to want to do. We can fill our lives with so many activities, that we scarcely have time to take a breath and enjoy it! And when push comes to shove – I have to resist the temptation to become paralysed by overload, and end up doing nothing at all!!

Our gifted kids can be like this, too. Some are perfectionists, and a quick brush with a topic is not rewarding for them. Life can become too full of activity – music lessons, tennis coaching, tutoring in maths, orchestra practice, ballet, homework – trying to reach their potential in all they can achieve. Then, suddenly, one day, they can simply say, “I have had enough!” At this point – no, preferably, way before this point, we should be seriously considering “what are good limits?”

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Change is in the Air

Do you sometimes just want to do something different. Ever felt like that? Take a different route to school? Cook dinner a different way? Or maybe, expect something to happen in a different way? I thrive on change, but amongst some of our gifted children, I would be the outsider, not the norm.

You don’t have to be gifted to find change difficult, but there is a tendency among some of the gifted to find change increasingly stressful. A change of teacher, timetable changes and transitions, a sudden change in the arrangements for an outing, or even a change to normal routines at home, can bring out a tenacity in some gifted people that will resist change at all costs. Often it could be a resistance to changing their opinion, or a resistance to seeing things from someone else’s viewpoint, or simply a resistance to finishing what they are working on.

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Boredom is so last year …

You hear it at home, at school, at your friends’ dinner party… I’m bored!

If you have ever stubbed your toe, you know how much it hurts. But, do you go around saying my toe hurts when you haven’t stubbed it? No!! You only say it hurts when it has actually happened to you.

Likewise, these kids probably are bored! They might have covered that subject in a book, video, tv programme or on the internet, already. What is to stop these children from saying they are bored? Things that don’t bore them, surely!

Now, I know every subject at school is not going to interest every child, every time. Continue reading

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And now to Attitude …

“Yes…some of you might say – their attitudes are the problem. They just don’t try to fit in.” I agree, some gifted students, me included, can sometimes have an attitude that does not easily engender harmony, but we are all human. We are all different, and what do you use to define a good attitude? Compliance? Questioning? Conviviality? Open-mindedness?

I have had to step back in my class many times and ask myself – “Is getting ruffled by this student’s apparent bad attitude going to help the situation, or hinder it?” Some students look at life with such a different lense to myself, that I have to remember, I am the adult here. I am supposed to be the teacher – and I need to find a way to reach this child no matter what their attitude is. My attitude has got to be professional.

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