The title is a quote is from Erich Fromm. It says a lot about why I do what I do.
It’s now just over two years since I established Gifted and Talented Ireland as a blog to front my advocacy efforts on the needs of gifted children. There have been many developments in those two years – not to mention a fair degree of politics and drama – but I think we are close to a tipping point in gifted advocacy in Ireland so I wanted to review how I got here and where I think things will go.
When I was asked to speak to parents about teaching gifted children, and later, help advocate on behalf of gifted children, I had no idea of the difficulties many parents had experienced in trying to have their children at least recognised by their teachers and schools. As a teacher myself it was difficult to hear because I could appreciate there was very real need to provide for gifted children in classroom yet I knew of many teachers who dismissed the notion (and sadly, continue to).
I also had no idea of the dynamics of gifted advocacy in Ireland. The biggest challenge was that once a parent’s children have left school, they no longer have any incentive to continue to advocate. So continuity was lost. Add in the politics and dissolution of the Irish Association for Gifted Children and a fair dollop of territoriality and self-promotion (often at the expense of the cause) and it was easy to see why so little progress had been made.
Certainly there was CTYI, the greatest success for gifted children in Ireland, but it’s brief was limited to its enrichment programmes and given its staffing level and funding position it was hard to expect they could do more than they were already doing.
Sometimes, though, you just have to shake the tree to get the fruit to fall.
Shaking the tree
I set up Gifted and Talented Ireland primarily in response to a chat on Twitter #gtchat from which I came away frustrated at a lot of talk but very little drive for action on promoting awareness of the needs of gifted children beyond the confines of the proverbial choir.
I thought it would be useful to have a Twitter chat that would reflect the Irish experience and use it do develop a broader social media presence for Gifted and Talented Ireland. So #gtie was born.
There are many views about what needs to be done to help gifted children in schools. For me, the most basic need is in schools accepting and recognising that giftedness is a characteristic that requires specific intervention in schools and classrooms and in ensuring teachers can recognise and begin to find ways to meet the educational needs of these children. It seemed obvious that we needed gifted awareness in Ireland. It was from this I developed the idea for Gifted Education Awareness Day 2011. It was fortuitous that mid-way through planning for this, I and Dazzled and Frazzled got word of EU Talent Day and we decided to tie it on to our Awareness Day.
In 2012, the Awareness Day was extended to make Gifted Education Awareness Week.
Both of these Awareness events involved direct mailing to every school in Ireland. The events were unique in that they had the support of both the Department of Education, schools principals’ organisations, teachers and parents groups.
The Future is Collaborative
While planning the awareness day I lamented the fact that the IAGC had broken up. There were scattered support groups in various places and these were important. However, while having “cups of tea and a having a shoulder to cry on” (as I was told) is all well and good, the real need was to see change in schools so that the despair with which these groups met could be replaced by something more positive. This is where I felt the need to establish a new network hence, Gifted and Talented Network Ireland. It began with a website and a register. Catherine Riordan has done fantastic work bringing together parents who register on the site and we are now a truly national network of support.
The aims of GTNetwork are
- to help parents network with other parents to share experience and expertise
- to be proactive in our advocacy on behalf of gifted children so that their educational needs, and by extension, their social and emotional needs are met in schools
- to advocate for specific Initial Teacher Education in the needs of gifted children
- to advocate for the inclusion of the needs of gifted children in school policies
- to seek the support of and to liaise with education partners in achieving these objectives
The idea of the network is to link autonomous Gifted Advocacy Support groups which can act locally to meet their needs yet collaborate nationally on change to see the educational needs of gifted children addressed in schools.
The Story so far…
Catherine has also done great work summarizing #gtie chats and we agreed that these would be posted on GTNetwork as one element of the support we offer parents.
In the two years since I registered Gifted and Talented Ireland and GTNetwork the profile of gifted children has been raised considerably. In the last year alone Gifted and Talented Ireland has had 13,850 unique visitors visiting 44, 750 times and accessing 183,100 pages.
GTNetwork has had in the last year 5300 unique visitors visiting 13470 times and accessing 87780 pages. Most of this has happened since October 2012 as a result of Catherine’s work .
I set up a fledgling site for teachers at TeachIreland which I hope to develop over time depending on demand. I am looking at some point in the future merging Gifted and Talented Ireland into GTNetwork and possibly TeachIreland also so that there is one comprehensive site where parents and teachers can network and collaborate proactively on behalf of gifted children. In this sense, GTNetwork has the potential to become a model of teacher and parent collaboration.
In the meantime we have had several articles published in various magazines and newspapers, including the journal of the largest teachers’ union (see page 28) all of which have increased the profile of the needs of gifted children.
I have also had the honour of presenting to Trainee Teachers and hope to reach more so that overtime all new teachers will have at least a rudimentary understanding of the issues affecting the education of gifted children. Of course it would be nice one day to have fuller, more specific training but this is a start.
This year we decided to bite the bullet and move Gifted Education Awareness Week. It’s original timing was more accidental and partly a reflection on other commitments I had. It makes much better sense to have this event earlier in the school year. Consequently, Gifted Education Awareness Week 2013 will be held in September. We have several exciting developments in the pipeline which we will reveal closer to the time.
In the meantime, #gtie continues to develop and spread as more teachers and parents are discovering it as a useful resource. Join us on Sundays at 9pm. There is a guide here. Even better, register on the network and connect with other parents and help drive pro-active advocacy on behalf of all gifted children.