by Mary Lovell
Recipe Makes One Serving:
As parents, we are our children’s first advocates* — their first voice. Most parents advocate for their children in some way, but for those of us with gifted children, we often come to that point quite by accident. We find our preschooler reading while his age mates are learning their letters or our third grader acting out in class because she finishes her work before her classmates. What is a parent to do when their child becomes very frustrated when the pace in school doesn’t keep up with their needed rate or rage to learn? Voila – this is often the time when a parent recognizes that their child’s differences need a voice to insure that they do not lose their joy to learn. Parents seek ways to guarantee that their child’s needs are appropriately addressed.
So how does a parent approach the teacher, principal or counselor and share concerns that affect their child within the confines of a classroom? Sometimes when we approach school personnel it feels as though they don’t quite understand our concerns or know how to address them. Sometimes we achieve successful accommodations. Oftentimes we become frustrated, angry, and exasperated. When advocacy goes well, it can be a pleasure to work with others who also care for your child. When it does not, there are sometimes ways to turn it around. The following is one basic recipe called for Homestyle Advocacy that I have found successful. Obviously, you may need to add additional ingredients for your situation. Also remember, with any recipe advocating for a child be prepared to make a substantial investment in time, perhaps money**, and don’t forget to include good humor, especially when you feel like crying.
1 worthy cause – your child
At least 2 or more positive enthusiastic parents who are kindred spirits
Giant cups full of thoughtful research and understanding concerning giftedness
At least 1 supportive insider – a campus teacher, principal, administrator or counselor
1 or more methods to share information
Dash of creativity
Gallons of polite persistence
NOTES: Of course we think of our children as not merely a worthy cause – they are our primary cause. Be aware that educators, principals and counselors must balance many other similarly worthy and often legally mandated “causes”.
In addition do not ‘assume’ teachers, counselors, principals ‘GET’ gifted education. The fact is that while many do, many still do NOT and may never ’get’ it. Therefore, learn to prepare the following basic recipe for your one child. Certainly feel free to save and share with your next child or another parent who finds themselves in a similar situation.
1. Combine cause and parent’s thoughtful research:
- Understand the characteristics of giftedness and how they apply to your child.
- Locate, read, and understand the state and school district policies with respect to meeting the needs of students identified as gifted including children with other exceptionalities if that is your child’s situation.
- Seek how the school and district implements these policies.
NOTES: The Internet offers more resources than ever before with high degrees of credibility. Enlist the resources of accredited national associations such as NAGC and its state affiliates to help guide you. Check out websites like Hoagiesgifted.org and uniquelygifted.org, email lists at TAGFAM.org, and online resources such as the 2enewsletter.com. A SENG model parent group is often an excellent resource to connect with parents who quickly become kindred spirits and friends.
At first you may feel that you are in this by yourself, but stretch out into your larger community, state, region or country. There is strength in numbers, but remember this recipe is only for one main dish for your child at this point in time. You may also want to include family members like your spouse, grandparents, aunts or uncles in sharing information and gaining understanding. Family members may lack understanding too and can become unintentional stressors.
2. Knead the research and ideas thoughtfully together. Keep stirring, sometimes briskly, sometimes slowly.
3. Connect with a willing inside resource.
4. Season to taste.
A word on seasoning. Not everyone has the same passion, interest, needs, that you might. Be prepared to be flexible on what others might seek. Understand whether they are truly kindred spirits or not. Even if they are not, they may well be useful allies. Remember not to burn any bridges though if you decide you must change an ingredient.
5. Be careful not to include the following ingredients:
- Too much complexity
- Elitist attitude.
NOTES: There is no room for such negative seasonings in your recipe for success. Any such negative spices will seriously undermine your opportunity for success within a school setting and among educators who may become your most fervent advocate for your child – your worthy cause.
6. Let the ingredients rise.
NOTES: Don’t mistake rising for resting. Let ideas sink in and follow up with your child’s teacher concerning ideas you have shared with each other. If nothing rises, seek input from the principal. If nothing rises again seek out direction from the district GT coordinator. Be viewed as a parent willing to help and not condemn. Create a fun ‘event’ to bring other kindred spirits together. It may be school based with the teacher’s blessing or a family ‘math’ or ‘game’ night in a home or library. Even a willing restaurant might yield some positive results in connecting with other who may rise to what may be needed – interest based activities regardless of age.
7. Cook on medium heat – 300 degrees and never place on broil.
NOTES: Change does not generally happen quickly in school systems, even when there is a real (or perceived) crisis. It helps to have a trusted insider to assist you in understanding who the decision makers are and what it will take for action. Certainly adjustments may include grouping with other children and teachers. This is fine, but don’t adjust for others when it will not truly support your own child’s needs. Changes may ultimately require action at the School Board level. Understand exactly what your desired outcome is for your child. Think about how much time you can bake this recipe. If necessary, be prepared to move on. Sometimes things get burnt, and it is important to move on and begin this basic recipe elsewhere where it is possible to succeed. Be flexible enough though. Don’t panic if you underestimated and need a larger pot to cook this recipe. If success is within reach make additional adjustments in the ingredients.
8. TRUST your INSTINCTS – no one knows your child as well as YOU do.
9. Optional Step: Include the child in preparing this basic recipe.
NOTES: Ultimately, one goal as a parent is to help your child understand that they must take responsibility for their education and become a self-advocate. Just as they learned to dress, eat, do chores etc. your child can find their own voice and advocate on his or her own behalf. When a child observes the above basic recipe being prepared he or she will find a voice and learn to advocate for his or her educational needs. Remember to keep a copy of this recipe in the family recipe book so your grown children can return to this recipe for their own children.
10. Optional Step: Include a private therapist or counselor for your child and family. Be preventative in nature BEFORE any crisis. Connecting early with a knowledgeable therapist in giftedness is especially helpful for upcoming teen years. It is comforting to have a trusted adult your child has known and feels secure in exploring who they are becoming and finding their own voice.
*Advocate (noun): etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin advocatus, from past participle ofadvocare to summon, from ad-+vocare to call, from voc- vox voice. (Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008)
**money – public schools state that a child should receive FAPE – a free appropriate public education; therefore, remind schools that acceleration or skipping grades with a gifted child saves the school money.
Mary Lovell – After a successful business career in the energy industry, Mary Lovell is now applying her leadership and management skills to inspiring educational causes. She is a three-term president of a parent association for the gifted in Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Texas. This public school district is an acknowledged leader in serving highly gifted and gifted students in an ethnically diverse population. She is the proud mother of a highly gifted and inspiring daughter. She is a contributor to the Texas Association for the Gifted’s publication, Tempo and has presented on effective parent groups at conferences on gifted education.She has led fundraising efforts as a board member of an international adoption agency in Dallas and as a grant writer for several successful community based organizations. She is instrumental in the local AAUW chapter’s annual career conference in math and science for 7th and 8th grade girls. She continues to provide consulting services to the energy industry. Mary earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BA in Communication from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.