When you have serious concerns about your gifted child’s needs not being met, talking with his or her teacher can be intimidating. You might avoid meeting with the teacher or you might respond by taking an aggressive, combative approach.
Regardless of how you feel, your child needs you to speak up for him/her in an effective manner. By planning ahead for your first parent-teacher meeting, you will be prepared to build positive relationships that will benefit your child for years to come.
Before you make an appointment to meet, you owe it to yourself, your child and your child’s school to begin learning as much as possible about the challenges of educating gifted children.
Read your school district’s policy on subject and grade acceleration. Know the procedures and the philosophy of your district. Read books, magazines and websites about gifted children and their needs. Talk with other parents who have gifted children, especially if their children are older than yours. Learn from their mistakes and successes.
Your learning will never stop, but you can begin educating yourself as soon as possible. The better informed you are, the greater respect you will receive from school personnel and the more effective you will be as you advocate for your child.
To learn how to help your child, you first need to know your child’s abilities and potential. Before meeting, have a professional, licensed psychologist assess your child. The psychologist should have experience with gifted children and be respected by his or her peers.
At a minimum, testing should include an intelligence (IQ) test and an achievement test. The psychologist also may recommend other tests related to social and emotional development. These two tests allow your child to demonstrate his or her abilities well beyond what other tests can measure, and what you or teachers might expect.
Understanding the significance of your child’s assessment helps you and your school understand existing and potential problems to better meet your child’s needs. You and the teacher can begin to understand how your child fits in or compares with what is expected from average children of the same age.
Remember that schools are obligated to meet the needs of all children, including children who score well above their age peers on IQ and achievement tests.
You might think that what your child does--and how well he or she does it--is obvious. However, you cannot assume that your child has the opportunity to demonstrate the full range and depth of his/her skills or talents in a school environment.
Gather evidence of your child’s interests and abilities to present to school personnel when you meet. Think of this as showing them who your child is, what excites him and how he responds.
Evidence can include IQ and achievement test results and the administering psychologist’s comments, previous projects (related to science, math, visual and performing arts, language arts, geography and leadership), favorite books your child reads, and games he/she likes to play, such as cards, chess, puzzles and board games.
A large part of collaboration and teamwork involves listening. First, ask for the teacher’s observations and opinions about your child. Let the teacher speak freely. Then ask about the teacher's views on gifted students in general and how teachers, programs and the overall district meets the needs of gifted students. When you understand the teacher’s perspective, you can communicate your concerns, and your child’s behavior and feelings about school more effectively.
After listening, it is your turn to share your concerns, so you need to organize your thoughts beforehand. Make a list of what you want to cover before meeting. Prioritize this list to include the most important, broad concerns first. After listening to the teacher, know that you probably won’t be able to voice and address every concern in one meeting. Instead, think of your first meeting as addressing the one or two most critical needs--and then setting the stage for future collaboration on finding solutions to your other concerns.
You can easily alienate your child’s teacher by assuming that you have to fight for your child. You do have to stand up for your child, but combatting school personnel does little to move your child’s education forward.
Remember that teachers are on your side and they are people, too. Each teacher has his or her own set of experiences and expertise. Think of this in the beginning as planting seeds and growing a relationship you will depend upon as your child’s needs change.
Teachers know a lot about kids, but they don’t know everything. Simply because gifted children represent a small percentage of the population, you can’t expect a teacher to know much about how to meet your child’s needs. If a teacher does, consider yourself fortunate that you have a head start on helping your child.
If your child’s teacher seems less prepared or empowered to address your concerns, remember they have resources that can help them. If it seems even with these resources, the teacher is still ineffective, make an appointment with the school or district gifted teacher or coordinator, or the school principal.
Be patient. As in any relationship, trust is earned and with it comes rewards of mutual respect and the fruits of collaboration. Adjust your expectations before you meet.
Decide what is realistic and what is especially optimistic.
You should be able to address realistic goals. Hang on to those optimistic goals because they are your hope. As you build trust and work on issues one at a time, you will have a better chance of achieving your most optimistic goals.
Sometimes, you might think a concern is too minor to discuss. However, often times, minor problems can grow into major problems without your attention. No one else can advocate for your child better than you can. Any concern you have that negatively affects your child’s well being academically, socially or emotionally—no matter how large or small—is worth addressing. You should try to nip your child’s minor problems in the bud to avoid greater problems in the future.
Success can come in big steps. But more often, it comes after a series of many small attempts to communicate, understand and take effective action. As you prepare for your first meeting, remain hopeful that the relationship with your child’s school will grow and deepen with repeated thoughtful communication.
Whether you continue to meet with your child’s teacher, the gifted teacher or coordinator, or the principal, getting off on a strong, positive step now will improve the chances of meeting your child’s needs at school.
When you learn about educating gifted children, discover your child’s specific abilities, and plan ahead for your first parent-teacher meeting, you will feel more confident about advocating for your gifted child’s needs. As you prepare, be sure to prioritize concerns and adjust expectations. These are key to taking positive first steps toward building collaborative relationships that will benefit your child for many years to come.
More expert advice about Raising Gifted Kids
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