How do you advocate effectively for your students without making enemies?
I knew going into this school year that I was in for a challenge. My school has never had a full time K-12 Gifted and Talented Coordinator. As a result, the needs of gifted students have never really been the top priority. Now that I’m here, there is someone who listens to every word in every meeting with the thought, “How will that affect a student who is gifted?” The answers aren’t always easy to hear, especially with a state audit coming down on a whole bunch of metro-area districts in the fall… including ours!
My first challenge will come in scheduling, both in elementary and middle school. In elementary school, I will be advocating that pulling students by area of giftedness, instead of grade level, is essential, which will mean pulling the students from language arts and math. Not all teachers agree with me, so it will require some negotiations. Same goes for the middle school, with maybe a few more teachers in agreement about pulling by area of giftedness, but no immediate solutions.
Next up will be testing and asking for teacher input. I need to blanket test the entire 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades with minimal frustration to my colleagues. I’ve got individual students in the 6th-12th grades that will need to be tested as well. Afterwards will be multitudes of teacher surveys and endless meetings. Once I get all my students identified, I will write Advanced Learning Plans (ALPs). I have promised myself to do what is best for my students, but I also have to be mindful of my colleagues’ workloads. Getting everyone on board with accommodations is a fine line to walk.
I am also curious how negotiating with administration will go. I have a big list of purchases, implementations and changes I want to make. I think I’m going in tomorrow with the longest list of books ever requested by GT personnel! The list contains everything from professional development material, curriculum materials, differentiation aids, student guides, college search help, and underachievement suggestions. I have considered the list for days, and pared it down from the list I thought was necessary, to the list I thought was really Necessary, to the list I thought was Absolutely Necessary, to the list that I’m going to give them (that makes things on the list Really Absolutely Necessary?). My challenge is to help them see just how important each piece really is.
My biggest challenge is how my morale sinks when I hear my colleagues say something like, “Why do we need to accommodate them?” or “Can’t they just figure it out themselves?” or “We should spend less time teaching the ‘smart ones’ and focus on the lower achievers.” It is this attitude that has lead to gifted students dropping out of school at an alarming rate and students scoring at advanced levels in lower percentages on achievement tests as they get older. I know that I have research on my side; I just can’t believe that people still think this way.
I called my dad a few days ago and told him what was going on. Always the calm one, he told me, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Remember, you won’t make friends if you are always fighting with them.” My first instinct was to snap back, “I’m not here to make friends.” Vinegar and a sarcastic remark, after all, feel more satisfying when you are frustrated. I know my dad’s right. While I have to stand firm for my students, being combative and strident won’t get them what they need, either.
Have any of you been in a similar situation, when you needed to stick up for your kids but faced pushback? How did you use honey when you were feeling like vinegar?