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NAGC Conference Highlights

December 16, 2008
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Tampa, Florida October 29 – November 2, 2008
“Growing Gifted in the Sunshine State”

In October, I had the honor of attending the National Association for Gifted Children Conference in Tampa Florida. What more could a teacher ask for? I  had beautiful weather and I was surrounded by hundreds of individuals who are passionate about gifted children, gifted issues, and gifted services from around the country. This was the largest meeting of gifted education, and in the four days I was there I attended sessions and keynotes that will help me better serve our gifted population.

This was my first National Conference. I attend TAGT each year, and there is a definite difference in the two conferences. While TAGT offers a variety of “take it back to your class” type sessions, the majority of NAGC sessions are data driven, and research based. This was great for me, because I hope to move into administration one day.

A Whole New MindWhen I arrived on Thursday I attended a keynote session with Daniel Pink. Pink is the author of a popular book titled “A Whole New Mind“. Pink uses the different sides of our brain (right brain, left brain) to explain how we need to start thinking differently in order to be successful. Pink references three trends pointing towards the future of business and the economy: Abundance (consumers have too many choices, nothing is scarce), Asia (everything that can be outsourced) and Automation (computerization, robots, technology, processes). With these trends he asks: Can a computer do it faster? Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance? Can someone overseas do it cheaper? Pink offers six keys for which success depends on: Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense, Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument, Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus), Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition, Play – Bringing humor and light-heartedness to business and products, and Meaning – Immaterial feelings and values of products. Pink tied all of these “business” ideas, to education and what we need to do to make sure ourchildren are successful. I highly recommend this book!

I attended various research based sessions. One that I really enjoyed explored the “critical” role of the teacher in the development of gifts and talents in our children. The presenter shared that in one study of all Nobel Prize winners, each winner expressed gratitude for a teacher in their life who encouraged them and made a difference. In this presenter’s opinion the top 5 Roles of the teacher include: loving our students, providing social and emotional lessons in class, connecting our gifted students to people in the community who have similar interests, providing challenging curriculum, and understanding that all gifted children are different. The presenter also suggested 5 roles of the administrator, which include: casting a wider net to identify gifted children, use researched based strategies for our gifted children, support teachers, follow gifted policy and be an advocate, and value the differences in our gifted population. The one thing I heard over and over again was that as an advocate for the gifted child; we must recognize that all gifted children are not the same. There is not a “one size fits all” gifted program.

When choosing sessions I found myself often choosing from the “Counseling and Guidance” category. I don’t know if that means something, but I found these sessions very interesting. I attended sessions on supporting emotional needs of the gifted, misdiagnosis of giftedness as ADHD, the difference in giftedness and Asperger’s Disorder, underachievement, and dealing with and understanding loss.

The possibility of giftedness being diagnosed as ADHD is an ongoing issue in the field of gifted education. There is a significant amount of research that suggests that many students are being diagnosed as ADHD when in fact they show many characteristics associated with gifted behavior. Teachers need to be aware of this trend to accurately assess students. In addition to gifted children being misdiagnosed as ADHD, some are also misdiagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder.

Teachers also need to be very aware of the emotional needs of their gifted students. This subject was not even really explored until the 60s, when counseling programs began to focus on gifted children. Then in the 80’s SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted) was created which helps families, teachers, and communities understand the emotional needs and issues with gifted children.

One of the specific emotional issues of gifted children is dealing with loss. I attended a presentation on “Helping Gifted Kids Cope with the Unpreventable'”. A major “a ha” moment in this session for me was the point that gifted children hide their loss and disappointment very well. Grades, not being invited to a birthday party, chosen last situations are often dismissed by adults. We teach children how to “move on”, when really they need to be taught how to deal with these losses. Adults also have the tendency to treat gifted children as a small adult, when they really need to be treated as a child. We need to let our gifted children feel their feelings, not hide them. Some strategies to help gifted children deal with loss are: provide opportunities for discussion, establish mentors and meaningful relationships, reduce external pressures BUT be clear about what is negotiable and what is not, and maximize choice and alternatives. Teachers can help gifted children cope with loss by: providing multiple opportunities for self expression, convey genuine respect and positive regard, create emotionally safe spaces when children feel overwhelmed, and give students stress reduction strategies such as journaling, deep breathing, relaxation, and exercise.

Attending NAGC was an amazing opportunity, and I am so glad that I was able to attend. In addition to listening to wonderful presenters, learning  about different gifted education resources; I was able to “just talk” to other professionals who share my passion for gifted education.

Kim Tripi is a 5th grade teacher at Austin Elementary.

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