The Power of +2 Avoiding that sinking feeling

I gave a quiz, 20 questions. A student missed 18. I put a "+2" on his paper and a big smiley face.

- Rita Pierson

The million dollar question...

Do you think this could be a student who is gifted and talented?

Add your opinion to the Poll.

That sinking feeling

Do you recall when Australia One sank when it was racing against Team New Zealand during the 1995 Louis Vuitton Cup race? Yip, this was a team of some of the top sailors in the world, racing in a boat designed and built by world class specialists in their feild - and their boat sank!

When Australia One turned “into a banana” and split in the middle, it was a mix of design, weather and ocean conditions, sailing leadership, and skills of the crew as a whole. While it might have seemed easy to find one person or group ‘at fault’ to blame; the builder, the organisers, the helmsman...really it was a perfect storm and blame was not going to be a constructive way forward.

I’m sure once the crew were safely off the boat, they were soon focused on the outcome being a “-18”; how badly it all went wrong. But, this wasn’t going to stop them from competing. They needed to keep moving forward, and do so together in unison. They needed to focus on the +2, and do better next time. Pretty tough to do with the pressure of international media coverage and multi-million dollar investments, not to mention pride!

Closer to home

More recently, and closer to home, there have been several reports of waka sinking. In 2009 students from New Plymouth Boys’ High experienced a terrifying situation when they were caught by rising seas and their waka ama was slammed against rocks, while in 2012 at Waitangi a waka unexpectedly began taking on water and was rapidly submerged. Thankfully it was reported in both instances that all survived. While we can look back and see some of the more public responses to Australia One’s incident, the longer term impacts of the waka sinkings closer to home are less clear. Historical accounts of such circumstances suggest a range of responses.

What would you choose to do?

He waka eke noa. We are all in this together, with no exception

Our classrooms are waka.

What if I said that our classrooms are like waka; a vessel in which our tamariki and rangatahi journey in to new places; to grow in knowledge, understanding, skills, confidence, self-belief...and so much more. A vessel in which everyone works together to progress. A vessel that needs to be safe and feel safe.

  • Weather conditions - system level educational climate
  • Water conditions - school/syndicate level educational climate
  • Waka strength - the classroom climate and layout
  • Waka stability - the tools and strategies available for teachers, teacher aides and students to draw upon
  • Boat builder - specialist resources and training in gifted and talented education that are accessible to strengthen your waka

We use the knowledge of our craft as educators to build strong, sturdy, well-balanced waka with the aim to withstand all extremes; storms and doldrums. We draw on community; colleagues, whanau and respected others. We draw on our professional learning and development. We draw on past experiences, ours and others. We draw on the most effective tools and strategies we can identify and access. And most of all, we work really, really hard to build a community of understanding and care, where we all grow together, through relationship.

But just as in the examples above, there can unexpectedly come times when students experience that sinking feeling. Gifted individuals and groups are no exception.

A student who is not learning at the level or pace the teacher, student or their whanau expect, or whom you have concerns about with regards to their level of engagement and the behaviours they are showing, is a sign you need to bring your waka in to shore for an opportunity to:

  • Consider the impact of the current ‘weather conditions’.
  • Work to enhance ‘water conditions’ as needed - you are this child’s champion - advocate and role model to your colleagues.
  • Check on the strength of your waka. Reflect on what you notice. Ask for student and whanau feedback. Request a colleague observes and supports you in a mentoring capacity.
  • Strengthen your waka though the use of strong evidence-based tools and approaches. What training is available?
It’s all about the response.

Gifted kids...

We wouldn’t dismiss their strengths...would we? Because s/he is not very proficient at x,y,z and needs to focus on that. No, we use strengths-based practices. Afterall, who will succeed focused on ‘-18’.

We wouldn’t put a patch on things...would we? Because after all s/he is well ahead, so s/he might as well help peers while s/he has spare time. No, ensuring our kids all have appropriate learning opportunities is critical; we know this!

We wouldn’t locate the ‘problem behaviour’ within the child or whanau, and maybe even push them away, towards a different school...would we? Because they ‘should know better’ and are ‘simply misbehaving’. No way! We know behaviour is communication. Of course we will be curious to see how things might be tweaked to improve the match between learner and their environment. This is what responsive practice is all about after all.

We wouldn’t exclude gifted learners from feeling they belong...would we? Because inclusion surely doesn’t mean individualised responses to learners unique needs. But of course it does! Use of Individual Education Plans and grouping are just two of many different approaches to support gifted learners.

We wouldn’t relegate our students to go it alone...would we? Because gifted kids will do fine, we need to focus on the kids who are struggling. Of course not. All learners need scaffolding and support, and if they don’t, then they are not being sufficiently challenged.

He au kei uta e taea te karo, he au kei te moana e kore e taea. You may dodge smoke on land, but you cannot dodge current at sea.

How are the crew in your waka fairing? Stay curious! Remember, we are all in this together. No one is left to flounder - afterall, drowning can be silent. Be the champion. Give them strength and stability - yes, even the gifted kids.

The power of +2

Author, Vanessa White, is a senior tutor with the Massey University, co-ordinating the Ministry of Education subsidised paper in gifted and talented education (which can also be a part of the Post Graduate Diploma of Specialist Teaching (gifted and talented)). She is also the blogger for the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.


Created with images by congerdesign - "paper boat paper folded" • imgix - "untitled image" • Martin Castro - "untitled image" • Christopher Campbell - "untitled image" • StartupStockPhotos - "children win success" • Scott Webb - "untitled image"