I’ll start with a quote that resonated with me so I can begin on a positive note. Despite my best efforts at having positive intent, this conference unfortunately didn’t meet many of my needs.

“We need to stand up to the politics of learning that do nothing to benefit kids.” ~Roger Fisher

I started off my day with the stereotypical edtech presentation that Dan Meyer talked about at #nctm12. You know the presentation I mean.

It’s the one that starts out with the picture of the baby with the iPad next to the picture of students back in the dizzay looking tortured by their lives in the dark ages. Then there’s a video with sinister, throbbing music or heartbreaking overly calm music that incites panic that we’re JUST NOT DOING ENOUGH.You know, like this one:

Then the edtech presentation goes on to hit all the overworked, oversimplified tropes that education presenters like to trot out when they want a quick burst of laughter or nodding heads. You know, things like:

“Not all of us can have the technology that Bellevue has.”

WAT. Please don’t assume that schools in a wealthy area automatically have every resource necessary.

The presentation goes on to grumble about charters and questionable instruction methods.

The presentation then continues to say that Common Core doesn’t address thinking strategies, and he then went over Marzano’s strategies and said all sorts of “isn’t this a shame teachers can’t do this.” Well, MAD PROPS, FEDERAL WAY, because this is crazy-old news to me because you’ve been focusing on these strategies for the past three years. So this last bit was good information, I just happened to already have training in it.

And then, the end of the presentation.

I don’t need more negativity at conferences. I don’t need sarcasm and snark and negativity from PRESENTERS at conferences. I get enough of that during my everyday interactions with disgruntled educators. I came here to channel our collective energy into something effective. Diane Ravitch told me that public education is a negative place, and I kind of need to suck it up and just accept that, but I don’t believe that avoiding destructive negativity means I’m keeping my heads in the clouds or avoiding big issues. Anyway.

Then there were speed sessions, where we had a chance to talk with folks from other schools. I didn’t move around because I wasn’t ready yet. So I stayed at my table with my district folks. It wound up making me want to barf because of comments such as “none of my kids are actually gifted,” “I don’t even have kids who are able to do any work.” Thankfully, MY PEOPLE get me and they helped me not scratch any eyes out.

“A gifted child is JUST AS DIFFERENT from “the norm” as a severely handicapped child.” ~Roger Fisher.

Next session. “10 Things Students Should Know about Math and Science.”  Actually, I only got through two of the ten things before I had to evacuate. Our presenter was excellent at reading his slides out loud. I had an opportunity to read many Dilbert comics and plenty of cartoons of Albert Einstein. Then I saw this!

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/bricheese2012/status/259723895068844032″]

I was fortunate to see Briana was enjoying her session a few floors down, so I hustled to join her. Surprise! Presenting was Lisa Van Gemert, Gifted Youth Specialist for Mensa. She covered lots of information about how gifted kids’ minds work. It bolstered what Dani and I had been saying earlier in the day when we were freaking out about the perception that “you can just put gifted kids in a gen ed class and all they need is harder work.” WAT.

Thankfully, Cheryl Steighner came and rescued us and took me to delicious soup.

The lunch keynote was another fascinating PowerPoint-let’s-read-the-text endeavor. I don’t remember what it was about.

I entered a session about “real-world high-level independent projects,” but then saw expensive binders bursting with color photocopies of a student’s pretend application to U of M, and an educational trip to Washington, D.C. Not really my bag. Not really my students. So I left.

I’m glad I did because I saw a pretty solid presentation by Adam Brock called The Beauty of Independent Technology Projects! The presenter was nervous and admitted to as much, but he had GREAT information! Rock on! Present again! “This is authentic, this is authentic, this is authentic!” Dani says. “I needed this session really bad.”

I doubt that I’ll attend WAETAG next year, or if I consider it, I’ll definitely take a much closer look at the presenters. Bring Brock and Van Gemert back and I’ll be back.

Anyway. More reflection to come. Did I leave with some new learning? Yes, but I had to dig really hard to get there…

Living with Intensity

I’m been reading the most therapeutic professional text I’ve seen in a while. When I first checked out Living with Intensity, everyone laughed at me — my husband, my colleagues, even my students (I post in our classroom what I’m currently reading). They thought I was reading a book that would teach me how to be even MORE intense. Rest assured, that’s not the case.

Instead, Living with Intensity is a guide about how to nurture gifted children, adolescents, and adults to channel their quirks and use them for good. I say it’s therapeutic because as I’m reading, I’m also finding elements that apply to me in my adult life. The authors are always cognizant of toeing the line between helping students cope in a neurotypical society while being careful not to dampen students’ gifts. This part of the book DIRECTLY related to a conversation we had in class earlier this week:

One way that parents and teachers can best support gifted children in their development is by recognizing that emotional growth and personal growth are a necessary part of the educational process (Roeper, 2004b, 2007; Piechowski, 2006). Most educators and parents these days seem to believe that, for gifted children, emphasis must be placed first and foremost on their intellectual development. But intellectual development rests on the development of the child’s Self, on his or her insights and deeper sensitivities. In fact, we cannot separate one from the other. It is this very separation that makes gifted children experience stress as a negative force. (p. 81, emphasis mine)

I really want to copy some of these ideas and share them at conferences later this month. For example:

There is another dimension of how stress affects gifted children. They not only receive stress, they also create it. Gifted children create a kind of discomfort in their surroundings, for by their mere existence, they uncover shortcomings. They question and challenge traditions and the status quo and are not comfortable doing things just because everyone else is doing them. Their experiences are unconventional; their needs are not typical, and society — many schools and other institutions — is unable to fulfill them… The gifted do not accept neat, simple categories; they expect society to think in complex ways, as they do. They expect society to look honestly at itself and to perceive things about itself that it cannot and does not want to see.(p. 79, emphasis mine)

I’m sure there will be more as I continue reading, but I needed to share these publicly. Additionally, there’s apparently a family guide and a teen guide available from the same editors. It seems like these are the more current, in-depth version of the Gifted Survival Guide.

Yesterday, a primary teacher told me how lucky my students were to have me as their GATE teacher. Normally, when I hear comments like that, I blow them off because praise makes me feel really uneasy, especially when I feel like I’m just doing my job. But she looked at me and said, “You know exactly what they’re going through, you know how to listen to them.” She shrugged and sliced some math work on the paper cutter. “I wouldn’t have the first idea of what to say to them, much less teach them.”

I realized she was right. Ever since I received my position as the gifted/talented teacher, I had been doubting my beliefs. Did gifted students really deserve a more challenging, “better” education than their peers? Was it “fair” to have a gifted teacher working with students who are already meeting standard when there are dozens of other students struggling who could benefit from her support? I would honestly not be alive today if it were not for the gifted and talented support system I developed in high school, but now I fretted that maybe the gifted program wasn’t what was best for kids.

When I was applying for the 2/3 GATE position and right after I received the job, I’d heard plenty of people say things like, “Hey, better you than me” or “You’re the best choice to work with them,” but this moment in the staff workroom was the first time where our educational experiences, both my students and my own, felt validated. We really do have special needs, and we really do benefit from this least-restrictive learning environment. I can’t wait to see what we achieve this year.