Monday, November 29, 2010

Gifted Girls

Some gifted children are easy to spot. They show their boredom with classroom work that is not sufficiently challenging by becoming verbal pests or by acting out. They are clearly bright, but are underachieving because the work they are asked to do is not meaningful to them. Or they just demand to know, “Why?” about everything, all the time.

But there are gifted children that are overlooked. Those who are bright, but who are compliant: willing to do what is asked of them because they don’t want to make waves. Or those who hide their gifts in order to fit in socially. Too often, these overlooked gifted children are girls.
My son needs to be in your school. He is bored in his current classroom and is becoming a behavior problem. We are pretty sure he is gifted and just isn't being challenged enough. His sister? No, she isn’t gifted. She gets A’s in school, has friends and likes her teacher. She is fine. She doesn’t need anything different.
I have heard those words so many times from so many parents. The daughter, who is more socially aware at an earlier age than her brother, has looked around her classroom and has realized that the way to make the teacher happy is to be polite and do what she is told. And the way to make friends is to do what everyone else does and not raise her hand too often. It’s not a conscious choice she has made. It is more of a subtle process of recognizing what it takes to fit in and following the social rules. And yet when she and her brother are both given IQ tests, more often than not, her scores are as high or higher than her brother’s. Her talent is not recognized and is, therefore, often not being nurtured or developed.

Advocating for gifted girls is a passion for me. Perhaps because I was one of those girls. If you had asked my parents if I needed something different in elementary school, they would have said no. I was fine. I liked school. I liked my teachers. I had friends. But then I got to junior high school and was placed in a gifted program humanities class. I had no idea school could be like that. That discussions could be so stimulating – leaving me thinking even after I left class. That I could connect with other kids my age on such a deep level. That we could share ideas and insights and be excited about making interesting connections or tossing around intriguing ideas. It was in that classroom that my passion for gifted education was born. Both for those kids who obviously need something different, and for those kids who are doing “OK,” but who could be doing so much more if they were given the chance to be in a stimulating environment in which being bright was an asset – not something to hide.

In an article on the NYU Child Study Center’s website titled Gifted Girls - Many Gifted Girls, Few Eminent Women: Why?,  Dr. Anita Gurian, writes about some of the challenges gifted girls face in school. As I read her article, I found myself thinking about my own experience as well as the experiences of the gifted girls I have been privileged to work with both in public school and at Seabury. I look around our Seabury classrooms and see girls who are not afraid to raise their hands. Girls who see being smart as an asset rather than a liability. Girls who relish being part of interesting discussions and who are willing to step up and show their leadership ability. Girls who get to spend the day laughing and learning and exploring with their intellectual peers. Girls who have had the chance to attend a school where it is safe to be smart.

Do all gifted girls hide their talent? No. Does this phenomenon apply only to girls and never to boys? Of course not. But as we look around at the girls in our families, our neighborhoods and our communities, it is good to be aware that the girls (and boys) we see may have potential that has not yet been discovered or developed. And as we look at our Seabury girls, we can be grateful that they are in a place where their talents are nurtured and developed. Where they can become the creators and leaders and thinkers they are capable of becoming.  Where they can discover the full measure of their gifts in a safe, supportive environment.  What a gift...

Friday, November 19, 2010


It is the time of year for reflecting on those things that we are grateful for in our lives. I find myself thinking about how grateful I am for my family and friends, for the opportunity to live in such a wonderful community, for my health… and for the opportunity to work with the amazing kids we serve at Seabury.

People often remark that when I start talking about Seabury, I can hardly contain my excitement. They are right. I am passionate about our school and our mission because I see the difference we make in the lives of kids every day. And I am thankful to be at Seabury, because I have the privilege of spending time with and learning from our kids every day. I get to hear the complex stories they tell. I get stumped by the fascinating questions they ask. I witness their creativity, their enthusiasm for learning, and their astounding sensitivity. I laugh at their jokes and am amazed by their insights. I go home each and every day with a sense of profound gratitude for the opportunity to be part of their lives, and for the ways in which they enrich mine.

Our kids are amazing, but are often misunderstood or underappreciated, especially in educational settings that aren’t designed for the way they learn. Kids who are highly creative can be seen as unwilling to follow directions when they come up with their own ways of doing things. Kids who are intensely sensitive and idealistic, especially when they are young, can have their worries trivialized or dismissed. Kids who always need to know why, or to correct others when they make a mistake (especially if the other is an adult) can be seen as disruptive or defiant. And kids who are able to do or think about things that others their age aren’t ready for can decide to hide their talents to fit in, and their ability can become invisible to parents and teachers.

I am so fortunate to have the chance to work at Seabury with a faculty and staff who are as passionate and committed to our mission as I am, with parents who team with us to support their children’s learning and growth, and with children who are unique and challenging and incredible. As we gather with family next Thursday and give thanks for the blessings in our lives, Seabury’s children will be high on my list!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sometimes Growing Hurts!

As the parent of a teenager who is growing faster than we ever imagined possible, we sometimes deal with growing pains at home. Bones sometimes grow faster than muscles, and feet grow faster than we can get new shoes. Sometimes growing hurts – and not just physically.

As a parent, one of the biggest challenges we face is letting our kids experience the pain of growing. It is so tempting to swoop in and rescue them when things get hard or when their feelings get hurt. It is painful to see our children hurting – whether from a skinned knee or the aftermath of an argument with a friend. But it is a necessary part of growing. It is in the times of challenge and frustration that children (and adults if we are honest with ourselves) are most open to letting go of old patterns and embracing new ways of thinking and doing.

The Polish psychologist and psychiatrist Dr. Kazimierz Dabrowski calls it a process of “Positive Disintegration.” His theory is extremely complex, but in essence he says that when we face a situation that causes us to come undone in some way (to dis-integrate our understanding of ourselves and of how things are supposed to work), we have the opportunity to put ourselves back together in a way that is more mature or advanced or at a higher level of being. To grow. And Dabrowski believed that gifted people are more likely to experience this process to greater degrees because they often experience over-intensities or over-excitabilities that make them more tuned in to potential conflicts and challenges. Our job as parents and educators is not to prevent this process, but to support our children as they walk through these challenges – to allow them these opportunities for growth.

It is a delicate dance, as a parent, to know when to step in and protect the safety of our child and when to let go and let him work his way through the challenges he faces. Certainly there are times to step in and say, “This is too much for you right now, and for your safety, I am going to take you out of this situation.” But most times, we need to find the courage to come alongside and say, “Yes, I know it is hard. And it will get better. I have confidence in you and know that you will figure it out.” Different situations and different stages of development call for different levels of intervention and interaction with our children and, as a mom, I often feel like just when I get things figured out a little, my son changes again and I am back to the drawing board.

At Seabury, we can support each other as parents. We are all raising children who think and learn differently than typical children their age. Children who often have a disparity between their intellectual maturity and their social/emotional maturity. Being at Seabury gives us the opportunity to support each other on this journey. Share your stories – your successes and your mistakes. Get to know each other and lean on each other when it is hard. Laugh and cry together (I often find myself doing both at the same time!). Educate yourselves about the unique challenges and opportunities that come with raising gifted children. Take advantage of PBC events and Seabury learning opportunities to come together as we support and nurture our children (there are several opportunities coming up next week!).

Growing sometimes hurts. For our kids. And for us as parents. But avoiding the hard times is not the answer. Walking through it is the key to learning and growing and evolving. Let’s support each other through this adventure of learning and growing!

Read more about Dabrowski’s Theory and its implications for gifted children on Hoagies Gifted Website.