It might seem like working with Gifted & Talents students would be strength-based by default based on the label alone. In my experience there are a lot of stereotypes that move deficit thinking to the forefront in this educational space. If you’ve worked with Gifted students, you’ve certainly heard a few like, Gifted kids are “socially awkward”, “brilliant, but lack common sense”, or “too smart for their own good.” But Gifted & Talented students are more than these and other common stereotypes. Here are some ways to stay strength-based when working with Gifted & Talented students and their families.
1. Assume everyone is Gifted & Talented. I mean it. If you are doing a cognitive assessment, always think about how this student can show their thinking best. If you are a teacher, think about assignments or opportunities for students to show their learning in the best way possible. You may be surprised how many Twice Exceptional (2e) students there are. These students often go unidentified because their social, emotional, or academic needs overshadow their incredible intellectual strengths. By starting every assessment looking for what makes the student in front of you “gifted” you may find strengths you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
2. Engage Gifted &Talented Students in their Own Social and Emotional Learning. Being strength-based doesn’t mean ignoring areas of need. Gifted & Talented students may experience asynchronous development that can be frustrating. Educators can help Gifted & Talented students develop self-efficacy, the belief that they can accomplish the goals they set for themselves and engage students in their own growth by identifying areas the student wants to improve, helping the student develop a plan to work on those areas, and creating opportunities for the students to use their strengths to achieve their goals.
3. Be Careful Not to Minimize Mistakes. It’s easy for us to share platitudes about mistakes to help Gifted & Talented students work through perfectionism, imposter syndrome, or difficulty initiating a task, but most kids can see right through us. After all, they don’t get points for getting things wrong on assignments. What we think is strength-based can actually be deficit centered. Instead, help students work through what happens if they make a mistake and how they can use their strengths to learn from the experience. Instead of, “Mistakes are essential for learning!”, try, “Making mistakes is tough and doesn’t always feel good. If you were to do this again, what would you do differently? Did making this mistake help you understand this better?” Then, point out strengths the student used to understand their mistake, and highlight the learning that occurred in the process of analyzing the mistake.
4. Celebrate the Small Things. It is common for educators to think everything comes easy for Gifted & Talented students. Many students experience social, emotional, or academic difficulties, but often don’t want anyone to know. If a student is working on a task that appears to be frustrating, intimidating, or overwhelming, reassure them that they are capable and offer small and specific praise about their effort. Help them appreciate the small wins as they turn into bigger wins.
Being Gifted & Talented comes with many assumptions and expectations. These can be difficult for students to manage while dealing with their unique needs. By providing support through a strength-based lens we can help identify students otherwise overlooked for these programs, facilitate students’ social, emotional, and academic growth, and help students build their own self-efficacy so they can trust themselves when things become difficult. Being intentional about educating from a strength-based lens can take some reflection and practice, but it can make a huge difference in the lives of Gifted & Talented students and their families.
This article was written by Lauren Parker, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and Founder of the Central Florida Gifted Center. Visit her website to learn more at www.laurenparker.info and follow her on Threads @laurenrparker