Parent-Educator relationships
Carlton, S.
Understanding Our Gifted
Open Space Communications
November 1990

This article by Sandra Carlton discusses the importance of both parents and teachers in meeting the educational needs of their child. She suggests that building a positive, trusting relationship is essential. Open lines of communication, she believes, are essential to the many rapid adjustments that will need to be made to accomodate highly intelligent children.

It's that continuous chain of parent-educator relationships which becomes the backbone supporting a child's educational experience. It can become the stabilizing agent which holds a child's education together and gives it continuity across years, schools, and curricula. Therefore, it is paramount to ensure that this renewable relationship gets off to a good start at the beginning of each new academic cycle.

Building any relationship takes time and it's that critical time period at the beginning which demands such intense emotional investment. Beginnings are fragile, yet malleable. Mutual respect, consistency, predictable movement, good faith efforts, and patience build stability and trust into a good relationship--but it takes time to bring all these elements together into a viable form. It is this absolute need for consistency--this need for a united, working alliance--which gives purpose to the parent-educator relationship. Parent and educator efforts should augment rather than conflict, thereby avoiding confusion or forcing the child to take sides on issues. The relationship feeds itself strength as parents and educators share common goals and use compatible methods of working toward mutually agreed upon objectives.

I want to think of Philip's educators akin to being extended family. My gut tells me to admiringly hug Philip's teachers, offer undying alliance, and then truthfully brief them on what they're up against in educating him. The truth has many facets which can be exposed all at once or in parts, over time. Delivering the abrupt truth in one sitting could threaten the self-confidence of a good educator or shake the tenuous equilibrium of the new relationship. The whole truth says I doubt the teacher's abilities to personally satisfy all aspects of Philip's educational needs--because of Philip, not because of the teacher's expertise as an educator. Thus, in the beginning, it seems more prudent and perhaps more humane, to deliver the truth in edible portions.

The truth is that Philip creates contradiction. With profoundly gifted children, life is condensed. Rates of processing information, learning, and execution of various actions seems highly compact, almost spontaneous. Interests flare and ebb in strobe-light fashion. Rates of maturity and intellectual development consistently overrun chronological age. Standard measures don't hold. Time takes on a different meaning when dealing with profoundly gifted children. New cycles and processes are traversed at fight speed without the need for repetition; children closer to the norm move through and revisit the same paths long after the profoundly gifted child has moved on to something else.

Parents of profoundly gifted children are faced with biannual, even triennial adjustments in planning to accommodate the rapid learning pace of the child. Long term planning gets chucked because there is no way of predicting when and how much of a subject the child will consume in the course of a given academic year. Time-condensed planning and compacted curricula become necessities with the profoundly gifted.

If I wait until the fall conference each year to discuss Philip's unique needs, my advocacy efforts may come too late. By then, Philip may have developed a pattern of vegetating in a typical class setting without an individualized component which recognizes his special needs. After several weeks of stale regurgitation of what he already knows, he will most likely feel bored or frustrated with having his drive to learn bridled or he may resort to more visible means of getting his needs met. Knowing that he is not going to miss much, he may opt to retreat into an apathetic stupor or use acting out behaviors in the classroom in order to liven the place up. Again, first impressions create lasting impressions which can irreversibly damage the relationships involving a student, his educators, and parents.

If Philip is viewed as a problem rather than as a child with highly exceptional abilities and needs, behaviors compliance becomes the priority. Most likely, with appropriate challenge, the inappropriate behavior would eradicate itself because the problem, as the child sees it, is no longer them. If compliance becomes the toll gate or prerequisite to Philip's freedom to learn at his own pace--held as a carrot for good behavior rather than as a given based on his abilities--he may opt not to make the trade.

Once his behaviors become a problem, the parent-educator relationship then becomes the reactionary vehicle for problem intervention rather than being a proactive mechanism for problem prevention. The focus becomes fixed on the reduction of unacceptable behaviors rather than accommodation and planning for Philip's specialized educational needs.

Philip could become an academic casualty without the support of his teachers. Establishing cooperative relationships with his teachers is an anxiety-producing balancing act using a circus of real players and no safety net. All players involved need this relationship in place in order to get on with the business at hand: providing and receiving a productive, meaningful education which recognizes each child's unique abilities and interests while best utilizing available resources.

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