During most years, right now we would be celebrating: Final projects would be turned in. Graduation parties would be happening. And, even if we didn’t have a great year, the school year would be wrapping up. Most Junes are packed full of reminders and rituals that say “things are coming to a close.” But June 2020 is not like most Junes. There are a lot of unknowns and feelings of unfulfillment.
This may be the situation in our world at large, but also in our children’s lives at home. In many cases, your student may be struggling to feel like they have been productive these past months of quarantine and unsure of what to do these next few months. Even outside of the classroom, students may be getting the message from social media or elsewhere that now is the time to actually produce more things – finish a novel, learn to bake, take up a new hobby, do original research. In a lot of ways, the current situation brings out the issue of “potential” within our gifted community.
While often said with the best of intentions, telling profoundly gifted students they “have so much potential” can be counterproductive to their journey of self-discovery. For the gifted population, the directive to live up to one’s potential can be pressure-inducing. It places high expectations on students to produce solutions, results, original work, etc. Additional pressure is added for our underachievers and perfectionists who often feel they must do even more to excel. In short, “live up to your potential” can sometimes be synonymous with “pick a scholastic subject and excel at it.” The question then becomes, how do we help them create a meaningful learning experience during the current health crisis?
Ditch the word potential. This word comes with many unsaid connotations. Many products of meaningful learning are unseen, such as personal growth, autonomy, or compassion. Help you student re-frame “potential” as a conversation around what they need to grow as people, rather than what they feel they must do to be high achievers.
Make space for reflection and contemplation. Research shows that many gifted students have a longer “sponge” period of brain development where they are soaking up all the information around them. With the current information overload, your student may need a lot more time to process everything before they can even begin to approach working on a project. Validate time spent absorbing and contemplating the world around them.
Talk about perfectionism and impostor syndrome. These issues may be all too present in the lives of gifted adults but feeling like an impostor or that you’re never good enough often starts early in life. It can be debilitating when gifted students are told they have the potential to be great. It can be difficult when students feel like they must have the answers or must take action on the biggest issues facing our world. Sometimes just being there to put a name to the feeling they have can be the start of a turning point.
Embrace novel connections and divergent thinking. Rather than creating a single-subject tunnel of achievement, help students make connections between subjects and between the classroom and the community; this can help open up additional spaces of discovery. Gifted students often feel compelled to narrowly focus on one subject or topic at a time. However, pursuing depth of study may result in students feeling overwhelmed when they are interested in multiple topics. Rather than feel pressure to become a high achiever in one field, students might be encouraged to pursue – perhaps even pioneer – novel connections between ideas and issues.
These suggestions are meant to help students learn that producing materials aren’t the only way to engage in meaningful learning. The “new normal” of living with the coronavirus is just as unstable as it was three months ago. Be sure to tell your students or children that is it okay if they can’t be productive. It is okay if they feel distracted. It is okay if they feel overwhelmed. It is also okay if you feel that way too! Even if the end of the year is not the one you had envisioned or hoped for, be sure to celebrate your student this June to let them know, whatever shortcomings they see in themselves, that they are enough just as they are.
For suggested reading on these topics and more, check out the following from some of our favorite authors!
- Understanding Your Gifted Child From the Inside Out by Jim Delisle, Ph.D.
- “Covid19 – Coping with the Pressure to be Productive During Lockdown” from National Health Service UK
- “The Curious Case of Impostor Syndrome” from Byrdseed Blog
- “Impostor Syndrome and Gifted Children” by Jeffery Shoemaker, M.ED.
- “Helpful Tips for Parents of perfectionistic Gifted Learners” from Connecticut Association for the Gifted