Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Education, Part II

So today I went over to my daughter's school for a Parent/Teacher Conference. I had previously spoken with the principal and the teacher on separate occasions, and got very different vibes from each regarding my daughter. This turned out to be very telling, at least to me.

The meeting this afternoon was between me, the principal, the school counselor, and the teacher. We very quickly agreed that the goal for all of us was for Carolyn to be successful. Academically, there is no problem, at least in terms of grades. She excels - surprise - at all her work. Homework is often done in class, and if not is usually done very quickly at home. No, the academics are not an issue. At issue here is behavior.

We got into a detailed discussion about the behaviors that were being seen, and not just what those behaviors were, but why. The counselor and principal seemed very in tune to the fact that Carolyn is very advanced intellectually for her age, but that the realities of asynchronous development in gifted kids often results in a wide disconnect between the intellectual level and emotional/judgment level of the same child. Carolyn is probably operating intellectually as a 9- to 11-year-old in many areas, but may not be quite to the level of her age peers in terms of judgment and emotional control.

And then came the surprise.

I had been prepped - by family, friends, and other - to not expect much. That there really wasn't much they could do, given the structure of the school system. That most educators and administrators really don't know much about dealing with gifted kids. That I would have to fight hard to get the kind of instruction that my child needs. Apparently, it was our lucky day.

The discussion between the principal, the counselor and myself turned to how we can challenge my daughter more. How insufficient challenge leads to boredom, frustration and potential behavior issues. We discussed methods with which we could further engage Carolyn, while still fitting into the basic day to day curriculum. What kinds of rewards would entice her? How could we give her more choice in what she does and what how she is rewarded, while still guiding her onto the right path and helping her learn the social skills necessary to survive in a school setting? What tools, what methods could we implement to let her grow at her accelerated pace, while staying within the structure of the classroom?

We discussed better techniques to communicate with her. Her teacher was taken aback when the principal, counselor and I all told her to talk to Carolyn in adult terms. She had been talking to her in a tone slightly more than a 1st grader. To Carolyn, this was coming across as talking down. We don't talk like that with her at home. The teacher admitted that she had never had a child like this and was unsure how to proceed. So we came up with a variety of game plans and goals to set, and ways to hit those goals that would minimize the conflict and maximize the potential for learning.

I had expected the teacher's lack of experience with a gifted child. But I had also expected a lot more resistance from the staff. Instead, I had a great, constructive experience with staff members working to find solutions, and educating a teacher in dealing with a gifted kid. We came up with some mentoring solutions, allowing Carolyn to express herself and investigate science and art - as long as she can maintain behavior in the classroom. We came up with a plan to give her more advanced reading, and then have her produce projects on what she read - create a board game, produce a skit of puppet show, get rewards by completing specific books with comprehension.

The ideas were numerous, inventive, and productive. Will they all work? Probably not. But some will. But most importantly, I got acknowledgment from the staff that with a gifted kid, an approach will only work so long before it needs to adapt. The child will outgrow the usefulness of the particular approach, and will change their behavior. And that's when we need to adapt to that change and figure out the next plan of attack. As we zig and zag with these adaptations, we will get closer and closer to achieving the goal of being able to self-regulate her emotions and behavior, while still feeding that Ferrari of an engine that is her mind.

I left the meeting, after 90 minutes, feeling optimistic and empowered. As a team, we will find what will work. If we don't, if they can't follow through on what was discussed, then other avenues exist. But if they are willing to work with us, and commit as they have to finding the right solutions, I'm going to give them the shot to do it.

1 comment:

Missy | Literal Mom said...

So awesome! It sounds like it couldn't have gone any better. Good for you. And them.

I loved hearing that whatever "works" will eventually not work any longer b/c of the nature of the gifted child. It will have to be adapted. I think that's what Oldest's last teacher had trouble with - the constant adaptation necessary to meet her needs and more importantly, help her behavior.

Great job!