We invite you to enjoy this special montage of this past school year’s highlights. We had a blast, learned a lot, and made memorable relationships that are bound to last.
Dr. Dan Peters and Dr. Lisa Reid
Creating a school program was something I considered for quite some time, but had recognized I could not effectively accomplish on my own. When I met Dr. Dan Peters of Summit Center, I realized that his approach and expertise would be the perfect fit and huge asset to any program that I hoped to create.
What made him different from any other person in the field?
In addition to being knowledgeable, experienced and invested in supporting the needs of gifted and twice-exceptional children and their families, he is startlingly humble and approachable. In addition, he has been on the other side of the table as a parent of gifted children whose pathways in education needed to be adjusted.
He has shared that this experience changed his perspective toward the way in which he approaches his career, and that is apparent in his work. He gets it.
When Dr. Peters visits our school, he takes the time to review the plans and progress of all of our students, and he works with them directly. During his last visit, Dr. Peters met with our students to discuss their experiences with anxiety and to ask where the Worry Monster (a term he coined and wrote a book about) was present in their lives. Anxiety is the most common theme that exists amongst 2e students, so to learn coping mechanisms in dealing with these stressors is an important part of their curriculum. As we watched Dr. Peters interact with the students, we witnessed his great ability to relate to them. By sharing his personal experience, and integrating heart and humor into what are traditionally difficult topics for children to communicate about, he was able to successfully reach them at their level. The students connected with the different scenarios that Dr. Peters presented and were able to see that they are not alone in their fears and that their fears are not insurmountable.
Although dealing with anxiety can be a lifelong battle, mindfulness regarding the realities that surround it makes a tremendous difference. It was exciting to see our young students begin to recognize these realities. It was wonderful to facilitate the easing of their often unspoken concerns that sometimes leave them unavailable for learning, or, more importantly, to fully experience their lives.
Additionally, our staff and teaching team were able to listen and benefit from the discourse that occurred between Dr. Peters and the students because, young and old, we all have a Worry Monster somewhere in our lives.
As an educator of gifted children, I am continually inspired and awestruck by boundless displays of excellence from both a personal and cognitive perspective. The completely unexpected and challenging nature of the children I have the honor to work with is what makes me love my job and want be the best I can be within it.
The old adage of surrounding yourself with excellence if you want to be excellent yourself certainly rings true within our walls. To some, it may seem surprising that the excellence we reference is the excellence that exists not only within the professionals at our site, but also within our young blossoming students.
As an educational therapist and seasoned teacher, I have come to know that one of the most important factors in my ability to effectively guide a student’s learning is context. I need to be able to consider all of the factors that shape my students’ points of view, and put myself in their shoes. I need to meet them where they are.
In addition, within our program we take a team approach toward learning. We realize that the most important member of that team and the person who has the most influence over their progress, is the student themselves. That said, any child who is a part of our program has made the decision to enroll and to be part of a group of people who are working to create the best future possible for them.
My decision to become an educator was largely driven by the fact that I had teachers and educational environments that made tremendous influences in the trajectory of my life and in the way I perceived myself. As an adult, I can reflect and realize that many factors that I did not understand, or even like, during the course of my childhood made the huge difference in who I am, what I can do and what I can offer others today.
Standing with that reflective wisdom and considering my students in their context and in their shoes, I am forced to wonder if I would have had the courage to make the decision to start anew as our inaugural RDS trailblazers have this year. Our team of adults, teachers and professionals can agree with a resounding “Yes!” that this is an exciting and positive move, but our students, without a doubt, have had to make some big decisions this past year, and they have done so with wisdom beyond their years.
Each of our students knows that they were accepted to RDS because they have something very special to offer the world and they deserve to have that nurtured so that they can allow it to grow, and ultimately shine. We know that these youngsters are our change makers. That they are taking the brave course of action toward that future, when they had the option to settle for the familiar, to become all that they can be is commendable.
It is with sincere respect and joy that I congratulate our inaugural class of RDS trailblazers for their courage, wisdom, and excellence during this start to the new school year! Together, with us, they are creating new pathways toward learning and the future not only for themselves, but also for the students and families who are following in their footsteps.
We are so proud of our RDS students and look forward to seeing an excellent year as they explore their vast potential!
Self-regulation (the way which students’ independent thoughts, feelings and behaviors are utilized toward realizing goals) not only impacts students social/emotional well being, but their academic achievement as well. It is essential that this aspect of child development be fostered because it is only after students become able to self-regulate and control the outcome of their performance that successful academic independence will occur.
Fostering the development of self-regulation within students involves helping them to take responsibility and become actively involved in their learning process. Doing so allows for them to develop an understanding of the relationship between their progress and their process. The cognitive ability of children to self-regulate, and their tendency to do so, changes over time within the adolescent years. This is to be expected given that self-regulation largely relies upon interrelated cognitive and affective elements that are in a crucial stage of development from both a biological and social/emotional perspective. It is during this stage that students’ long-term attitudes toward learning and toward themselves are shaped.
It is expected and accepted that young children will have automatic affective (emotional) responses toward things that they like as well as things that are non-preferred, or uncomfortable. With youngsters, there is minimal self-awareness, or sense of personal control toward circumstances. That is acceptable during the early stages of life, but as children develop into young adults and are expected to begin to manage multiple facets of their life independently, it becomes essential for them to increase self-awareness and actively regulate their affective responses. This is not to say that children should not express their emotions. Rather, by developing awareness and understanding of their emotions as well as healthy responses to them, students become able to take the risks necessary to progress socially, emotionally and academically. If development is asynchronous, or if for some reason student development in these areas is thrown off track then challenging issues can arise. Young adulthood is a fragile time, especially if there are special needs present, but with a caring and thoughtful approach, all students can be guided to a path of confident and gratifying learning.
Essential components of self-regulation include locus of control and motivation. Locus of control describes a person’s belief that there are factors that control the events and outcomes that occur in their life. Depending on circumstances, this individual belief can range from an internal locus of control (I determine the outcome of situations) to an external locus of control (My situation is determined by factors that are beyond my control). Student’s perception of control is directly related to their academic achievement and their motivation is impacted by whether or not they recognize a causal relationship between their behavior and the result of that behavior. Research has been conducted to investigate student’s perception of the cause of their success or failure at different grade levels. Within this research, a significant positive relationship between student perceived control and achievement was found. Interestingly, this was found to be the case more so with fifth grade students than with sixth grade students. This is perhaps because by the time students are in sixth grade; they have become more aware that intrinsic factors impact their learning. Sadly, at this stage, many students most often express a desire to change a behavior not to improve their progress or learning but instead in response to a fear of failure or appearing incapable.
It seems logical that as students mature, they become more aware of their ability to self-regulate. However, although students may become aware of self-regulation strategies during their developmental years, they often do not recognize the correlation between the impact of their use on their progress. In addition, although they may be aware of these strategies, student’s belief in themselves, and the way in which their attitudes toward learning have been shaped over time may leave them increasingly less inclined to utilize them. Additional research has demonstrated that in seventh grade, students were less apt to use regulatory strategies in spite of their awareness of them, and that there were more frequent displays of behavioral challenges when compared to their younger peers. Decreased interest in content and the perception that it was not valuable to their future were also increasingly apparent. These results are highly consistent with reports by developmental researchers, which show that students often will exhibit declines in their self-directedness and intrinsic desire to engage in learning during the early middle school years. This decline may be due to the fact that students are not equipped with the skills necessary to reflect upon their progress and adjust their learning strategies, and thus, may not feel as though they are in control of their learning process.
As students progress through their upper elementary and middle school years and become more aware of the impact of their own actions, the importance of self-efficacy enters the equation. Students may know what is expected of them and they may, in fact, have the knowledge and skills necessary to meet those expectations. However, if they do not believe that they are able, or they have an obstacle in the way, they will not be motivated to try. This is a critical juncture at which we often start to see students described with comments such as “not working to potential” or even, “lazy”. Other displays include avoidant behavior that can appear as fooling around, or even straight defiance. What is unfortunate is that these frequently misconstrued actions change the focus from the students as learners to the students as underachievers or disruptions. In response, teachers and parents often unknowingly bypass the root of the behavior and transition into a “Power” role that directly impacts student’s perception of their potential as a self-directed learner. In turn, the student’s motivation to utilize self-regulatory behaviors in order attempt to make progress can decline or cease all together.
In situations where this turns into a pattern of events, the trajectory for the child’s positive self-perception and successful academic progress can be drastically impacted. For that reason, it is essential that educators take the time to investigate underachievement and challenging behavior as their looks may be deceiving. The appearance of underachievement and challenging behavior is a sign that there is a discrepancy between what the child is being asked to do and what they are able to do. When we see that sign, it is the responsibility of the adult to consider what needs are not being met. Sometimes issues are as simple as a child not understanding directions, or feeling bored, while other issues can be more complex such as lacking self-efficacy or inaccurate self-perception, a problem at home or with friends, an avoidance of writing due to dysgraphia, or what we often see with our students, a masked learning disability, or stealth dyslexia.
Creating a safe place and line of communication where these issues can be uncovered is highly important. Further, explicit expectations, clear feedback, meaningful and relevant work and scaffolding of skills are essential so that students can take small risks and establish their confidence without feeling the need to escape through incompletion or acting out. In order for students to establish motivation toward self-regulation, they must have a belief that they are able and that there is a causal relationship between their behavior and their performance. If control, efficacy, interest and purpose are not present, students will not be motivated to engage themselves. This is particularly true for populations of students who are not interested in external praise or reward.
“Human beings cannot live below their level of capacity without disturbance. You may call it a matter of conscience; for conscience is the instinct of self-preservation applied to the mind.”
– Toward a Psychology of Art: Collected Essays – By Rudolf Arnheim
During an interview with one of my prospective students last month, I asked him to tell me about his favorite subject in school. “History!” he exclaimed. I followed up, and asked him to tell me why history was his favorite. The response from this insightful 8-year-old was, “Because I think it is interesting to see when we have learned from the past, and all of the times that we have not.” This wisdom is certainly something to consider as we realize that much of what works for our gifted learners is something that can be uncovered, rather than discovered.
In his book, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson referred to Albert Einstein as “The patron saint of distracted school kids everywhere.” A few years ago, in a Los Angeles Times article, he went on to explain how many traits of the young Einstein in academia, like his being a slow reader, have caused much speculation over the years about how one of our world’s most famous brainiacs may have struggled with a developmental disorder. Of course, those of us in the land of twice-exceptional children find this conclusion perfectly natural.
Einstein struggled in school like many gifted kids. From an early age, he was quite frustrated by the rigid discipline imposed upon him and throughout the course of his speckled educational career, his rejection of what he came to expect from “school” as an institution grew. Later in life he stated, “The worst thing seems for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the healthy feelings, the integrity and self-confidence of the pupils. All that it produces is a servile helot.” Perhaps the only positive result from the majority of Einstein’s formal educational career was the development of a sense of skepticism and the willingness to challenge existing notions.
While most people are aware that Einstein had a troubled early educational career, many people do not know that he did, in fact, have a school experience toward which he felt fondly. This took place at Aurau where the school instructional philosophy was based on the teachings of educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi who felt it was important to appreciate the “inner dignity” of each child.
Pestalozzi began his quest to improve education out of a concern for the social conditions that existed during the late 1700’s and he strived to establish equal opportunity through education. He believed that the resources necessary when obtaining an education were within the reach of every individual, as they exist in the natural world, which surrounds all of us. His philosophy supported achievement of balance in life and a belief that individuals should focus on their minds, bodies and souls equally and with regards to instruction.
In the classroom, Pestalozzi promoted hands-on activities and experimentation, along with keen observation and reflection. He opposed methodical lessons and a focus on “correctness,” which had been traditional in curriculum. Overall, he firmly believed that children should be free to learn through experience, both socially and through their activities. He believed that the acceptance of children and their individual natures encourages self-confidence, allowing them to feel secure enough to explore and develop their own education and ideas about the world. Similar to Montessori in some ways, his goal was to develop a learning process in which students make observations, reason independently and arrive at their own conclusions based on personal experiences, both cognitive and physical. His understanding was that through these experiences students develop personal responsibility as opposed to responsibility toward the expectations of others. This was in place of the traditional process of education which existed at the time which he felt planted the thoughts and habits of others in the minds of children, thus stifling their individuality altogether.
It was at Aurau, while under the umbrella of Pestalozzi’s philosophies, that Einstein is thought to have developed his first genius visualization of the speed of light and it has been said that Einstein truly enjoyed his learning experience there. That is powerful, given that he was a young man who had grown to detest school and who many assumed would amount to nothing.
So, what can we learn from young Einstein, and the past?
- Our most challenging children are often the most brilliant.
- Skepticism and the willingness to challenge existing notions may be signs of genius.
- The most important tool for effective instruction is making sure that students know that they are respected and cared for as individuals.
- The potential of our young learners is an extension of their individuality, not their ability to conform to the thought framework of others. An authoritarian, fear based environment is damaging/does not support success.
- As individual confidence increases through successful independent experiences, so does intrinsic motivation toward learning as well as the desire to develop personal responsibility.
RDS is pleased to announce our fall SENG Model Parent Group will hold its first session on September 17th, 2015 at 6:30pm. The group will run for 8-10 weeks. Out of respect for the nature of the group, please only register if you are available to attend every week. Cost for the series is $120 and space is limited to 16 participants. You can register here.
Our Founder Lisa Reid answers some questions for parents about these groups below:
Why are these groups important for parents of gifted kids?
I receive calls from parents every day who are frustrated, heartbroken and confused. Giftedness is so misunderstood by not only the general population, but also by many professionals. People assume that to be gifted is a blessing, when in fact it often brings a host of challenges ranging from intensities and emotional challenges to underachievement. Given the lack of awareness of the nature of many gifted, and especially 2e children, parents are often left feeling very alone. This is in addition to managing the challenges associated with raising a child with special needs. I can provide all of the resources and advice in the world but it is not the same as hearing someone else tell your story and relating to it. Parents share their experiences and they learn from one another. It is a huge relief for them to be able to feel as though they have a community that “gets it”, is supportive and nonjudgmental, and can provide hope and guidance through common experiences. The bonding and growth that occurs in the group is a beautiful and inspiring thing to see.
What are some activities that take place in a typical group?
Each week, parents read a chapter from A Parents Guide to Gifted Children. In addition, they receive “homework” that consists of one new parenting approach that they will try during the week. At the beginning of each session, parents have an opportunity to share and reflect upon the impact of the approach. In addition, they reflect upon the reading, which includes some key points for discussion. Some topics include but are not limited to, Characteristics of Gifted Children, Motivation, Friendships, Communication and Teaching Self-Management. As facilitators, we guide the conversation, but we are not present to lecture or give advice. These are group-initiated discussions.
How can peer camaraderie and community benefit parents of gifted kids?
The most important and repeated testimony we see is “I don’t feel as alone now.” People make friends, learn about themselves and their children and gain a new and positive perspective toward the way in which their child is experiencing life.
What do parents learn in these groups? Give me some concrete examples.
-Myths about Gifted Children
-Understanding neuropsychological profiles and learning styles
-Communication strategies (active listening, separating behaviors from feelings, understanding how our beliefs impact our behavior, encouragement)
-Learning how to start where the child is and recognize their needs. Develop an understanding of the root of behavior and lacking motivation.
-Positive communication – dealing with perfectionism
-Managing negative self-talk and modeling positive behavior
-Managing idealism and depression
-The difference between discipline and punishment
-How to set limits (setting limits because you care)
-Creating clear expectations
-Understanding asynchronous development
-How to be a strong advocate for your child as opposed to being a pushy parent
-Caring for yourself as a parent
Anything else to add?
The transformation that occurs within groups as they come to know, trust and learn from one another is truly incredible.
It has been a whirlwind month since celebrating our Grand Opening in May! We received our official 501c3 status as a non-profit and have opened our enrollment for 4th through 6th grade for the 2015-2016 school year.
During this process we have had so much great help and support from our community and we would like to share our gratitude with you.
We couldn’t have done all of this on our own and are extremely grateful for the following people:
Dr. Dan Peters and RDS Founder Lisa Reid
Dr. Dan Peters, of course, has been exceptionally kind – talking to our Director Lisa Reid from the moment her vision for RDS first began and then walking through the entire process with her as it came to fruition. His reassurance throughout the course of this year has been more instrumental than we can express.
Tracy Meier is the exceptionally gracious mother of one of our students. She has been on board with our school since its inception and has volunteered countless hours of her time, helping with planning, our open house, and reaching out to families in the area to let them know that we are here. She has also donated numerous learning games and books to the school site and even helped us draw up a rendering for our school’s new addition of a science and project lab!
Her belief in what we are doing here at RDS has made an essential difference over the last several months. She is a tremendously kind and generous person as is the rest of her family.
Other parents—Phil Labonty and his wife Danielle have been very supportive of the efforts of our program. They have volunteered to help out with our grassroots public relations efforts and have been working to get donations for the school, which so far have included a refrigerator and assistance with site improvements. We are grateful for their donations of a television and also two Rosetta Stone programs.
Kimberly Nichols has helped with marketing, outreach strategy, public relations and social media from the ground up. Having her as a sounding board to bounce ideas off of has helped us experience a great beginning for the school.
Charlene Zack is a CPA who worked tirelessly and for a ridiculously low rate to expedite and successfully obtain our 501c3 non-profit status.
Stephanie Davis is an Educational Therapist who has stepped in and has been available and willing to help during our busiest times within the office and also during open house.
Christine Spitzer is a family friend who has been a rock and has provided extensive time, guidance and encouragement from day one.
We also thank all friends and family of RDS and its staff for understanding our sole focus over the past few months and encouraging us to continue believing in this dream.
We are so fortunate to have an established strong, kind and generous foundation of families, professionals and friends here at RDS. They have certainly set the stage for all of the great things that are happening within our program and we are sincerely grateful for their contributions.
The Worry Monster, created by Dr. Dan Peters of Summit Center
By this time of year, most students are easing into summer with plans that vary from family vacations to lazy days by the pool to special camps or other seasonal activities. Most kids enjoy the long, carefree days and break from the academic calendar. But the twice-exceptional child may see it very differently.
Part of my daily routine as a teacher is to check in with my students. This gives them a chance to reflect upon their lives and it provides me the opportunity to get a sense for their readiness to learn that day. Oftentimes I gain keen insight into what is going well for them or what is not. In the last few weeks of this past school year, I was surprised to hear very self-aware answers from my students after I asked if they were looking forward to summer. “I feel like I should be excited, but I am not really,” and “I’m feeling bittersweet” were just a couple of the likeminded responses. My introspective group of tweens reminded me that being twice-exceptional often comes with high levels of anxiety when routine is broken up from the norm—and summertime is seen that way for many of them.
We all know that adolescence is a tremendously difficult time for any child. This applies even more so to our twice-exceptional children who are searching to find their place in a world that already seems to be such an awkward fit. To them, it can appear at times like the world wrote a handbook for living but forgot to give them a copy.
While 2e children require room for freedom of thought and action, they also have a great need to know what to expect ahead of time. For that reason, the emerging transition to summer, with its exciting promise of unscheduled days and more unpredictability can be very anxiety producing. Not having routine can often create discomfort for children who are, by nature, often already intensely concerned that they aren’t doing things “right.” Paradoxically, the structure and known expectations that they often seek to escape are what actually provide them a sense of security.
Knowing this, co-create a plan for the summer with your 2e child. Just bringing them into the conversation can take a load off their mind. Talk about a routine that might work well during these months off and create a calendar together as loose or as firm as they need it to be. Set goals about what they would like to accomplish before the next school year and list the steps to accomplish them. Spend a few moments with them each morning or night to create a daily “to do” list. By providing them these small pieces of structure, you will be inevitably freeing them from undue stress and facilitating the enjoyment that summertime SHOULD bring.
P.S. My colleague Dr. Dan Peters published a book this past year called Make Your Worrier a Warrior about how parents can help their children battle the Worry Monster. Make sure to check out this article:
“Ten Tips for Parents and Kids to Tame the Worry Monster”
which was originally published in Huffington Post.
In this month’s 2E Newsletter, our Founder Lisa Reid, along with Phoenix program teachers Michael Dennis and Michael Beer, are included in a feature article that discusses project based-learning. They are noted for their study on the behavior and performance of fifth- and sixth-grade 2e students entitled “The Effect of Problem-Based Learning on Student Behavior and Production.”
The full article is reproduced below.
“Yes we see that he has trouble reading fluently and has trouble with writing and has been diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, but he is meeting minimum grade expected levels…”
“We agree that your daughter has challenges with focus and attention and was diagnosed with ADHD but she is doing fine compared to other kids in her class. We have so many who struggle so much more…”
“I understand that your child has Asperger’s Disorder and has trouble with social skills and transitioning but he is doing fine academically…”
Sound familiar? Dr. Dan Peters of Summit Center has written an extremely meaningful article for Huffington Post on Smart Shaming and its effects on the twice-exceptional community.