All children (and adults) are gifted and talented

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Attributed to Einstein

I’m not sure whether that quotation was actually said by Einstein or not but it does not really matter. I think we all know what it means and I doubt very much that anyone would disagree.

However walk into pretty much any school and you will see children labelled according to their ‘abilities’ almost from day one. I have two examples just from today.

1. Why are some children labelled as gifted and talented? Well I think we know the answer to that, they are usually well-behaved and are good at academic work. Nothing wrong with that if that is where their genius lies. I would take a punt that in any average school less than 5% of their pupils are thought to be ‘G&T’. So where does that leave the other 95%? Probably under-achieving unless they are lucky to have a parent or teacher or some other person who has recognised their true talent. Take a girl I taught today who I was told is ‘autistic.’ I didn’t think we were allowed to use that term any more but hey ho. Granted she was not engaged in the lesson but I had a lovely conversation with her and she is a really sweet girl. However all she wants to do is draw and she is pretty damn good at it too. She is not in the top set so she is not counted as ‘G&T.’ But I think we all know that her artistic talent is far more likely to earn her a living than being able to do algebra or recite all the key dates from the 2nd World War.

2. I overheard a telephone conversation where a teacher was telling a parent that her son would in all probability not be able to do his choices for GCSEs because even the ‘bright kids’ would struggle with the ones he wanted to do. I could not hear the mother’s response but if that was me I would not have been happy about what the teacher was implying.  I know the teacher only had the pupil’s best interests at heart but why are they so afraid to let the kids fail? Let him go for it, make it clear that he is responsible for his outcomes and above all do not limit him by your beliefs. I know extensive research has been done that shows how the teachers’ perceptions of their pupils’ ability affects their results – positively or negatively – and we know which one is which.

It’s not easy to see that disruptive child as a genius, it takes practice, engaging the imagination and a lot of mindfulness. I often forget but when I remember – which thankfully is a lot more often these days – the results are magical. It is not easy in our education system – but thank goodness they have done away with levels – when we are presented with other people’s judgements. I am trying to look beyond that. Every child is a genius and it is up to us as teachers and coaches to help them find their special talent.

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Doing nothing at half term

So half term is nearly over. It’s been a strange time for me. I’ve really started to notice the ’empty nest’ syndrome. My eldest son left home 8 years ago, my middle one went off to university last year so I only have the youngest left at home. He is 18 now so he is out a lot of the time which leaves me on my own for quite a lot of the time. This is the first holiday where it has really hit home as I was on a retreat for the October half term and my two eldest sons were visiting in the Christmas holidays.

I will be honest I have felt a little depressed at time and very disorientated. How do I fill my days? Where do I find meaning now my caring role is changing? I suppose I could have filled my days with activities even had a drink or two. I will be honest I have not done very much, I did not read half the books I had intended to. Yet this morning I woke up feeling energised and inspired. These days so many things are diagnosed as illnesses and often the solution offered is to medicate. This could be a trip to the doctors for anti-depressants or maybe hitting the wine in the evenings. I used to drink most evenings but now I rarely touch the stuff. I have had a lot of challenges over the last year and one of the most important things I have learned is not to try and change things or wish they were otherwise. The more I accept the way things are the happier I become. I have also learned to recognise the things I can change, the most important one of these is my attitude. I always have a choice. I can be a victim or I can acknowledge that things may not be going exactly the way I want and see how I can change that. Sometimes you can’t. A death of a loved one, an illness, an accident – things happen to us all that are beyond our control. However we can choose how we respond.

If life does not appear to be going my way I have learned to stop blaming other people, the government or whatever. I look to see what I can do. Sometimes that is nothing and I have to accept that. However by doing nothing, giving myself space and being in the moment I find that if I give myself enough time inspiration and ideas will come eventually. Sometimes this happens very quickly, other times it may take days, weeks or even months depending on the situation. It can be very scary and difficult not to react but I have learned to trust that everything passes and I can become stronger from my experiences. This does not mean I have to be overly positive and pretend that everything is ok because sometimes it isn’t. That would be to deny the truth.

I am aware that it is not always possible to do nothing if you have demands on your time whether it be work commitments, family etc. However it is always possible to be in the moment, to stop multi-tasking and be fully immersed in whatever you are doing and giving people your full attention. You will be all the more productive for it.

Once is not enough

I was fortunate to hear the author Marcus Alexander speak at a school where I was working a couple of weeks ago. Full credit to the head teacher for allowing the children to miss lessons to listen to him. He has written 3 fantasy novels about a girl called Charlie Keeper who goes through a door in her house into a magical realm. I have not read the books myself (yet) but it seems that they follow the traditional hero’s journey.

He talked about his travels and experiences as well as the books. He urged the children to use their imaginations, to read, create, travel and try new things. Great stuff but the thing that concerns me is that 99% of those kids will go home and play on their x-boxes, hang about the streets just as they did before. Why? Because once is not enough they need to hear this every day!

The kids are not stupid, they know that most of what they learn in school is pointless. It’s not the teachers’ fault – they have not been trained to help the kids access their imaginations.  To quote Robert Fritz from ‘The Path of Least Resistance’:

Although ‘creativity’ is praised with lip service, some educators tend not to know about or practice using imagination in their own lives, which makes it difficult for them to teach imagination to their students.’

I believe education is slowly moving in the right direction though, it can be no coincidence that Sir Ken Robinson’s talk ‘How Schools Kill Creativity’ is one of the most watched Ted talks. There is still a long way to go though.

On Friday I was taking a music lesson with some year 7s. There was some work for them to do on the computer but they soon tired of that so they started playing the drums, dancing and singing. At the end many of them said it was the best lesson they had ever had. I don’t suppose it met Ofsted’s criteria, we did not have a ‘learning objective’ but they probably learned more in that one lesson than they did in the rest of the week.