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It Takes a Team – Building Positive Relationships with Your Child’s Educators

Highlights from Expert Series

While we know that complex learners do best when caregivers and educators work as a team to support them, parent-school relationships can be…complicated. Because federal law does not offer provisions or mandates for gifted education, programs and supports for gifted and twice exceptional learners vary greatly from state to state and even school district to school district. You may find that there is limited understanding of the needs of gifted learners, and to an even greater degree, the needs of twice exceptional learners at your child’s school and these unique students may be noticeably struggling in the classroom.

A positive, respectful and proactive approach to communication is an important part of opening and maintaining a productive dialogue with your child’s educators. Information gathering, perspective taking and flexibility are necessary when advocating for the support of complex learner’s unique strengths, challenges and learning needs in the classroom. Additionally, parents of gifted and twice-exceptional learners will find it beneficial to avoid common communication pitfalls such as using potentially triggering language that may negatively impact the home to school relationship or misplacing frustrations onto frontline educators rather than collectively addressing the larger systems that impact educational practices, teacher training opportunities and resource allocation in schools.

It is vital to understand and share the experience and perspective of gifted/ 2e learners,including their challenges and vulnerabilities, with educators who may be operating under the misconception that gifted learners do not need additional support simply because they may be meeting grade level academic benchmarks. Additionally, in the interest of productive collaboration, parents and caregivers must acknowledge the challenges teachers face when trying to meet the needs of complex individual learners within a large classroom or conventional school structure and consider these factors when proposing workable strategies for supporting the learner.

Consider the tips below when reaching out to your young gifted or twice exceptional child’s teacher or school.

Tips for Building Positive Relationships

  • Take a Strength Focused Approach – Though it can sometimes be easiest to identify what is going wrong or what is not being done in any given situation, take some time to consider what is working for the learner in their school environment. Is there a particular subject they are really enjoying  in class, an after school club they look forward to or a teacher or staff member that they have connected with? Identifying the positives can be a good place to start when developing strategies for supporting students at school.
  • Acknowledge Challenges – Openly acknowledging the challenges your child is having at school as well as considering the limitations of the current classroom environment or school structure or available resources is an important part of appropriate expectation setting and solution finding.
  • Look for Alignment Strive to avoid developing an  “us vs. them” mentality when advocating for your learner. Instead, look for common values and beliefs about education that you share with teachers and administrators and center these in your communications. Some examples of this might be “School should be a place of psychological safety for all learners” or “All students should be able to learn something new each day.”  These values can serve as a foundation for collaboration and as a reminder that everyone is on the same side…the child’s side.
  • Language Matters – The words and tone we use matter. This holds true for written communication and verbal communication as well as language used on IEPs, 504s and other documentation. Use positive, clear and concise language while avoiding triggering words, over generalizations or what may be perceived as criticism. In some environments you may reconsider beginning the conversation with “my child is gifted” (as the concept of  “giftedness” is often misunderstood.) More importantly, always avoid the phrase “He/ she/ they are bored.” Instead, focus on the specific learning characteristics  and needs of the learner. Try more specific statements such as  “We know from recent assessments that they are reading several years above grade level and they have been expressing a desire for more challenging material.” or “She often struggles to remain engaged with math curriculum or lessons when she has already mastered the concepts.”
  • Practice Self Reflection – It is important to honestly reflect on one’s own communication styles & practices. How might your words and actions be perceived? What are you bringing to the table in terms of workable solutions (vs. primarily identifying problems or making demands?)  Ask a (very honest) friend or partner for feedback!
  • Develop Learner Self-Advocacy Skills Early Supporting learners in developing self-advocacy skills is among the most critical aspects of parenting an outside the box learner. When appropriate, include your learner in conversations about their learning needs, perspectives and preferences and always model positive, respectful advocacy and communication.

Additional Resources

On a Strength Based Approach

A Strength Based Approach Helps Children  by Dr. Dan Peters

About Strength Based IEPs

Davidson Article – a Strength Based Approach for Twice Exceptional Learners

 

For Twice Exceptional Learners

2E and IDEA: The Right to Assessment and Services

Davidson Article – Clarification of Federal Law as it Applies to Twice-Exceptional Students

Helpful Fact Sheet about 2e/ twice exceptionality to share with educators  (REEL2E.org)

Creating a Student Intro One Sheet for (or with) your struggling 2e learner  (watch the video here)

 

On Supporting Student Self-Advocacy

The question my parents asked that helped me become a better self-advocate

The Neurodiversity Podcast Episode 8: A Guide to Self-Advocacy

 

Other Helpful Links

Davidson Article – Principled Negotiation

NAGC – State of the States – Gifted Education Report 2019

Serving the Whole Gifted Child

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Please note, the Davidson Institute is a non-profit serving families with highly gifted children. We will not post comments that are considered soliciting, mention illicit topics, or share highly personal information.

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