by Jane Hesslein
I’m part of a very small group of people on the planet who have been connected with SENG for nearly all of its existence; I’m a SENG lifer. Considering how quickly organizations come and go today, that’s a pretty remarkable statement. SENG has enriched my abilities as a parent and my career as a teacher.
When the review of Guiding the Gifted Child (Webb, Meckstroth, and Tolan) was published in The Wall Street Journal in 1982, my father carefully clipped it out and mailed it to me with a note that said simply: “You need this book.”
At the time, my husband and I had two young children and lived in Scarborough, Ontario. Josh was in first grade, a budding paleontologist specializing in trilobites; Annie was in preschool, discovering the world’s patterns and making friends from around the world.
I loved that book. If I had a question after reading it, I knew that if I just carried the book with me long enough, the answer would come to me. The book had answers to questions I hadn’t even asked. I hadn’t thought of my kids as gifted, but the authors certainly had them pegged. Somehow my dad had known that.
A few years later, as the president of the parent group at Josh’s school, I ordered 20 copies of the book to sell as a fund-raiser. Jim Webb’s autograph, which I thought was a bold request on my part, made the books more valuable. Parents snapped them up.
I began to attend the SENG conferences, considering them my summer camp. I attended alone, with the idea that this was my weekend to feed both the mind and the heart. Anytime I sat down, my question “What brought you here?” started great conversations and lovely friendships. Some of what I learned was for my kids; some of it was for me. And much of it was for my students, since I was now taking courses in gifted education and providing gifted programming.
In the late 1980’s, I took the SMPG training given by Jim Webb and Arlene DeVries, and I began leading parent groups in the Minneapolis area. I had such a good time that I did the training again in 1992. When I signed up the third time, Jim and Arlene asked me to present with them, as a point person for local resources. Maybe they were just being sure they had space for other attendees. (Maybe now they’ll tell me).
In 1995, I had a request to present the training, which Jim encouraged. Around then, I also started presenting at SENG conferences, which led to presentations at other state and national conferences. Each time, my topic had a strong social/emotional piece. I’m not sure it would have been so clear to me to include that facet without my SENG training.
Now I’m on SENG’s Board of Directors. I’m excited and humbled to think of continuing the organization’s mission and vision.
This organization has had a tremendous effect on me, my children, my students, and their parents. It has touched anyone who has heard me present. The skills that I learned as a parent group facilitator are in use every day that I teach. Whether I’m working with students, parents, school administrators, or local resources, the background that my training provided has given me a foundation like no other.
I encourage parents and teachers to attend a SENG conference. I wish more teachers would consider the training. Even if they don’t ever facilitate a group, the parents they deal with would benefit on a daily basis from what they’d learn.
Recently, I had the opportunity to say to my son, “You need this book.”
I’ve come full-circle. Thanks, Dad. This year’s donation is in your memory.
Jane Hesslein’s professional orientation has focused on gifted children from the beginning. Currently teaching fifth grade Humanities at Seattle Country Day School (an independent school for the gifted), her career has also taken her to public and private settings in New Jersey, Texas, Ontario, and Minnesota. Jane has presented at national meetings on a variety of pertinent topics, such as children’s literature and parent-teacher collaboration. She embraces ambiguity, and in that spirit carries dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship. Jane excels at connecting people to people and programs to programs. She has advised publishers, film companies, and toy developers, connecting them all to her students. She has been a board member for Concordia Language Villages and continues to promote language immersion as one way for her students to venture outside their own boxes. A SENG facilitator since 1989, Jane’s goal is to promote SENG awareness and sensibilities among the teachers and families of the gifted.