What's in a Name? Working around the DREADED 'G' Word

One of the hardest challenges that teachers, gifted students and parents of gifted kids have to work with leadership that “does not believe in giftedness”. Whether it is the Board of Trustees, Principal, a DP or a lead teacher, their belief suddenly imparts a massive barrier to a child turning their potential into performance.

We could spend years debating with this leader as to why their belief is wrong… we can show them the research… we can tell them the anecdotes… we can show them undeniable evidence… and that belief still may not shift.

A depressing thought, right? And even more depressing is that while we are putting so much energy into advocating, explaining, proving, it is unlikely that anything has changed for the child in their classroom. So our energy gets depleted with minimum impact.

"Parents and teachers are often surprised when I shrug my shoulders and say “so don’t use the word gifted. If it is barrier, walk around it by using a different word”.

Parents and teachers are often surprised when I shrug my shoulders and say “so don’t use the word gifted. If it is barrier, walk around it by using a different word”. Surely I should fight for the word they ask… Surely a child is only gifted if we say the word gifted…

My response is no. Giftedness is part of the uniqueness of that child (and will be part of their adulthood). Their distinct learning, social and emotional needs will be there whether they have the label or not. If the label means that these needs are recognised, fantastic, USE IT. If the label means that it makes the advocacy harder, avoid it. Think about what the key result is that you want to achieve for the use of your energy – it is to help the child and make a difference in their lives for the better. So surely we should be using the methods that work?

The fight for “gifted” to be recognised in New Zealand has been long and hard – and, in my opinion, successful. No, it is not perfect and there is still movement to be had. But the advocates who have fought this battle have changed the lives of many New Zealand children for the better, and have improved the quality of teaching.

"...the advocates who have fought this battle have changed the lives of many New Zealand children for the better, and have improved the quality of teaching"

I am in no way saying that this fight needs to end – the advocacy and push will continue from our leading figures and organisations in the field. But for you, on the homefront, I am asking what you can do to change lives rather than add labels. Too many times I have been in a school where yes, they recognise giftedness and have a register but nothing is changed for these students within their regular classroom. No connection is made with the parents and whanau to provide catalysts for change. But there name is on a list that can be presented to ERO.

The battle is not to have a list of identified students in our schools. The battle is to have these students catered for in way that supports their learning, social and emotional needs. This holistic approach is not new – and it is a topic that is discussed frequently in both our primary and secondary schools, with both ends of the spectrum. And I have never met a teacher who deliberately walks into a class to deprive a child of learning or to ensure that they hate being there.

But what I see frequently is a mismatch between intent and impact. A place where teachers are doing something with the right mentally – Takai is performing at Stanine 9 in his maths PAT therefore he will be in my top maths group. The intent to provide for Takai is there. He is ‘Above Standard’ therefore he is in the top group. It is only when someone asks how Takai is making progress that it becomes apparent that the impact is not meeting the intent. How can Takai make progress when there is a ceiling on the test? How can he make progress when we don’t actually know how high he is? If Takai is performing at stanine 9 in a PAT three years’ above – have we taught him anything by having in the top group?

While the label gifted may be the initial impetuous for change, it is more likely that identifying the needs of the child will bring greater results, for less effort. Saying Takai is gifted does not give our teachers any support in identifying what they need to do. Saying Takai is working two years above his year level in maths (so well above standard) gives the teacher advice to act upon. Advice that can lead the teachers in the right direction for catering to their needs. Parents that are told that their child is “well above standard” are given advice on what to advocate for. Yes, I know it is not a Ministry requirement to report on this but did you know that a large number of New Zealand schools do report to parents if their child is in the well-above category.

If that label is a barrier, if the g-word is putting people off… what can you do? Whether you are a parent or a teacher, learn the up to date lingo. At present this is ‘personalised learning pathways’ and ‘digging into the data’. Yes, we can go in with NAG 1 c and jump up and down about the word gifted or we jump on the diverse learner pathway and the teacher could say “Digging into the data, I am concerned about the progress that Takai is making in maths. If we are to truly put the learner at the centre, I think he will need a personalised learning pathway in order for me to meet the ERO indicators of setting ‘high, challenging and appropriate expectations for learning’ (Domain 4)”. Does this mean an IEP? Unfortunately no, but it does mean that Takai gets focused on individually rather than the “he’ll be right” Kiwi mentality.

Parents could approach it a different way. So many parents say to me: “I don’t want to be THAT parent”, this is said frequently by parents who are also teachers. One of my go tos with coaching parents on how not to be THAT parent is to use a Non Violent Communication technique. The NVC method is OBSERVATIONS 4 FEELINGS 4 NEEDS 4 REQUESTS.

For example:


When I hear that my child is doing more of the same work sheets.


I feel worried that my child is not extending their learning.


I need my child to value their time at school because that makes them happier and they want to be there


Would you be willing to offer my child a chance to have choice over what they do rather than the additional worksheets?

No need to mention the g-word – focus on the needs of the child to have the greatest impact.

Want to know more?

New Zealand Association for Gifted Children (NZAGC)

ERO Indicators

Centre for Non Violent Communication

Brooke Trenwith Summary of Practice

Written by Brooke Trenwith and posted as part of the 2017 New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour. The #NZGAW Blog Tour is run by the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

Brooke is the President of NZAGC; a NZ representative on the World Council of Gifted and Talented; on the giftEDnz Speakers’ Bureau; and an MOE Accredited Education Consultant at Cognition Education.


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