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.