Duke University Talent Identification Program
This article takes a look at the interpersonal, emotional, and intellectual benefits that can result from a close connection between the home and the school.
During the elementary years a close connection between home and school can result in positive interpersonal, emotional, and intellectual development for the child. Parents and school personnel are dedicated to the educational well-being of children, but they represent different perspectives. When working together, they will find it helpful to have a sense of each other’s roles and responsibilities.
Parents are a child’s first teachers, and they are most familiar with their child’s personal characteristics, especially with the development of interests that can be linked to special talents. Although parents do not always know how or when to ask for special services or evaluation for their child, they are generally good at identifying when a child is gifted. Yet they can learn a great deal from their child’s teachers.
A teacher has an understanding of a child’s talents and motivations in the classroom and has expertise in curriculum and instruction. My husband and I were recently surprised to hear from our second-grader’s teacher that our son was “obviously gifted in math.” Even though I had spent years studying gifted children, I did not appreciate the signs of giftedness in my own child. Fortunately, his teacher had the skills and experience to advise us and support our efforts.
School psychologists can be valuable partners in serving a gifted child, because sometimes teachers misread a gifted student’s boredom in class as a sign of attitude or attention difficulties. An expert in child behavior may be able to shed light on the child’s situation. Other school personnel, such as an enrichment specialist or the principal, can also play an effective role in creating optimal learning opportunities for gifted students, particularly when it comes to implementing new instructional methods.
While navigating their child’s educational course, parents are faced with various school-related challenges. Here are just a few:
- How best to support the gifted child’s need for challenging material. Would this child benefit from radical acceleration? Do this child’s math skills far outweigh his or her verbal skills, and might he or she benefit from math enrichment? Teachers may have ideas about new teaching technologies, and the parents may have insights into whether the new content or process would be a good fit for their child’s interests and inclinations.
- When and how far to accelerate the child. There are no hard-and-fast rules; deciding on the timing and extent of acceleration requires the input of everyone involved in the child’s education. The parents are most familiar with the student’s unhappiness about his or her current placement; the teachers are most knowledgeable about teaching issues and the curricular characteristics of the next grade(s); and the school psychologist knows how well suited the child is socially and emotionally for such a move.
- Choosing activities to complement school programs. Weekend, summer, and other extracurricular school, community, computer-based, or study-abroad programs keep bright children engaged in learning during school breaks and can benefit a child’s personal growth and academic learning. Teachers or enrichment specialists can be excellent sources of information about special programs, but it is often up to the parents to obtain application materials and to ensure the child’s willingness to participate.
- Addressing the child’s peer relations. Sometimes gifted children find it difficult to relate to other children their age, particularly if they feel very different from them. The parents can report on how the child behaves and feels at home, teachers can discuss how the child interacts with peers at school, and the school counselor or psychologist can discern if these behaviors are having a negative effect. I remember the evening my son, a first-grader at the time, told me tearfully at bedtime that he was the “loneliest boy in the world.” I checked with his teacher and was reassured to learn that he spent his days happily surrounded by friends.
- Coping with underachievement. Sometimes even the brightest students do not do as well as expected. This complicated issue involves individual, family, and school factors that require significant investigation and attention from parents, teachers, and the school psychologist. There are no easy fixes for a gifted child who does not do well in school.
Learn the local policies on serving gifted children. The state, district, school, and class that he or she resides in and attends will shape your child’s experience. School districts set policies and expectations that are interpreted and implemented by a principal and a teaching staff. Learn how students are selected for special programs, who is responsible for which parts of the process, and what role you, the parent, can play. The state gifted association and the school district’s administrative offices should be able to give you the information you need.
In addition, spend significant time at your child’s school. Become familiar with its hierarchy, find out who is responsible for curricular decisions, and set up class visits with your child’s teacher. Visiting the classroom provides an excellent opportunity to build rapport and form a mutually supportive relationship with the teacher. You may be able to help institute or support enrichment activities that will benefit not only your child but other students in the class. Observing the way your child’s teacher implements learning options will make you more knowledgeable about and familiar with the educational process at the school.
Despite everyone’s best intentions, conflicts sometimes arise between parents and school personnel. The most common disagreements are about whether a child (particularly an underachieving one) is actually gifted, who should be responsible for knowing the regulations, what educational services are available and how they should be delivered, and how scant resources should be allocated.
Although parents may find these issues painful to manage, they need not feel alone in working with a school. Support groups and state and national organizations can be especially effective in supporting parents’ efforts to provide for their gifted children.
Vicki Stocking, Director of Research, Duke Talent Identification Program, teaches child and adolescent psychology at Duke University.