How Far is too Far?

I don’t watch tv. So anyone who knows me will find it odd that I am about to write about a tv show. But my husband is in Malaysia at a conference, my kids have discovered, and after a long day, I was just fine with their idea to cozy up in bed with them and the laptop.

Last week, we watched a Glee episode – a first for me – called “The Substitute”. Gwyneth Paltrow, guest-starring as the substitute, plays a teacher who tries desperately to connect with the students. She says to one girl, “You suck” as she hands the answers to the upcoming pop quiz to another student in an attempt to be accepted. As the story develops, it becomes clear that the students are fascinated by her. Abiding by no classroom rules, she lets them choose their own music for Glee Club– however risqué – and goes so far as to compliment them by tweet.

Is this the new classroom? I’d say “no”, but kids are definitely now growing up in a world that is technologically savvy and fast-paced. And our schools are increasingly talking about how to ensure that they focus on the skills needed to thrive in this changing environment and how to create learning environments that inspire and motivate. And Glee gets us thinking: do we focus on their interests? Do we embrace their methods of communication? Do we increase our use of technology or social media to better motivate and connect with them?

These are questions facing teachers AND parents. It was my son who helped with an answer.

Last night, a new episode of Glee was on TV (another great one on bullying) and my kids asked to watch it. I had read about the term “Gleek” – someone who is a fan of the show – so I joked that I was becoming one and was going to blog about this. I’m thinking to myself: I’m as cool as Gwyneth.

My 11 year old son Jacob set me straight: “You’re not a Gleek. You’re a 41 year old woman. And if you try to be cool, you’re not going to sound smart”.

How far do you go to connect with kids?  Never so far as to lose your authenticity.

Gifted schools

As I read last Saturday’s article on gifted education, I found myself getting increasingly anxious while I was reading.  I realized I was looking for something in the article. I read the entire piece and reflected on what was bugging me.  At first I was focused on my kids and the impact this has on their education. Is their school doing everything to treat them special, as if they were gifted?  What could I take away from the article that would make me a better parent?

But what was really getting me was what was missing: our 95 SEAL Canada schools.

I realized that I was waiting to find mention of one of our schools in the article.  Over two full pages on gifted education – surely our schools are chalk full of gifted kids and surely our schools provide excellent learning environments for them – and yet not a word about any of them. How could we miss such an opportunity to feature our schools?


But is it?  Here are some of my take-aways from this week’s ongoing discussion on gifted education:

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor and researcher at Stanford University, advises that parents and educators should think carefully before using the gifted label with children. (Note to my kids:  you are not gifted. And even if you were, I wouldn’t tell you.)

Joan Freeman, British psychologist who spent 36 years studying 210 children – 20 of whom were gifted and author of Gifted Lives, advises that parents and educators should “encourage interests and provide opportunities for learning”. She found the potential of many of the gifted children was not realized because they experienced too much pressure, mental or physical illness, lack of drive or lack of opportunity. She says, “success in school did not predict success outside of it”. It takes drive, application, perseverance and insight to turn potential into adult success.

Joanne Foster, who teaches educational psychology as well as gifted education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, co-wrote (with Dona Matthews) the award-winning Being Smart about Gifted Education: A Guidebook for Educators and Parents, wrote: All children benefit when gifted education is done well. There is a growing body of research that attests to this, and, as noted in the Globe series, there are many ways to address gifted-learning needs effectively.

Our schools do this every day.  As I visit schools across the country each week, I see it.

Much as I would like to market our schools and figure out how to get us in theGlobe and Mail, I am happy to salute our schools for working quietly every day to really understand children as individuals, to encourage interests and provide opportunities for learning.

Keep up your humble good work for all kids.

More than a minute

On Tuesday at the reception with the Visiting Committee and staff of Armbrae Academy, I caught a glimpse of some names projected on a gymnasium wall.  I thought it must be the WWI vigil, but then questioned it – why choose to project the names next to a set of weights?  But over the next half hour, I found that I was just so drawn to those names…the spot worked for me.

Gary O’Meara, Head of Armbrae, agreed that the location was curious but effective, and he encouraged me to speak with a parent.

Linda Keddy heard about the vigil from CBC and was thrilled that her children’s school was participating.  So she came to the school to see her great uncle‘s name:  Aldice Getchell went to war at 19 and died in September 1918.  She watched his name come on the screen last Thursday at 3:38pm.  She told me, “What was so neat is that the kids could see the names as they worked out. This project was amazing.”

I also saw the vigil playing at Appleby on Monday and at Halifax Grammar on Wednesday, and I know it was simultaneously playing in close to 40 of our SEAL Canada schools as well as over 100 public schools.  Neuchatel Junior College students played a special role as they close the vigil in Ypres.

Remembrance day ceremonies are something that our schools take pride in always doing well.  I was privileged to see Armbrae’s ceremony yesterday and was moved by a student’s comments afterwards:  “I liked the slideshows and the speakers.  I thought a lot about my Dad who served over seas for a few months and how lucky my family is.  I actually wish our assembly went on longer”.

RH Thomson might have had that need in mind when he had the vision to project the names of the 68,000 Canadians soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, doctors and merchant seamen who died in the First World War in schools across Canada.

He understood that Canadians want and do remember their heros for more than just today’s moment of silence.

ps – Also worth watching:   A Pittance of Time.