Identifying Hidden Talent in Jeffco

Jeffco schools recognizes the need to better identify and serve gifted learners among our Free-Reduced Lunch, English Language Learner and minority populations, which are currently underrepresented in the district, as they are across the state and nation.  Our district Gifted Education Department is partnering with the district’s ESL, Title I and Student Engagement departments to develop plans to educate the district about the nature of giftedness in all populations, especially among school communities with high ELL, Free/Reduced Lunch and minority populations.  

In partnership with the above departments, we are developing and implementing strategies to more effectively identify and serve high potential students in our underrepresented populations, starting with 7 focus schools, using a Talent Pool model. A Talent Pool is defined as a group of students who demonstrate an advanced or even exceptional ability in a particular area, but at this time do not meet the criteria for formal gifted identification as per Colorado Department of Education guidelines.

Identification in the Talent Pool model will examine indicators of potential based on “local norms” at these focus schools, using both qualitative and quantitative data.  Additional testing instruments, such as the Naglieri Non-Verbal Abilities Test (NNAT) and other alternative assessment measures, will be administered to both identify high potential and to monitor progress at various grade levels.  

However, it is not enough to merely identify high potential.  In order for the Talent Pool model to be effective, we must begin implementing appropriate programming

Image result for nagc giftedness knows no boundaries see meoptions to cultivate potential strength areas.  We want to foster meaningful student growth without waiting for a student to be formally identified as gifted.  As students are presented with additional levels of challenge and rigor, increased achievement, as well as cognitive growth, often occurs. A student may meet the criteria for gifted identification at a later date.

 

After determining best practices for both identifying and serving learners in the Talent Pool, we will widen this approach to include other district schools.  The Jeffco GT Department will then broaden our outreach to families and communities of GT and high potential students from English Language Learner and Free/Reduced Meals populations.  Finally, we will create a steering committee made up of various stakeholders (parents, teachers, community members and students) to help guide us in this work. These steps have been outlined in our District Unified Improvement Plan’s GT Addendum.

 

The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) recognizes the need to better identify and serve our underrepresented gifted populations nationwide.  See their Giftedness Knows No Boundaries campaign (www.giftednessknowsnoboundaries.org) to learn more and follow them on twitter at #GiftedMinds.

Advertisements

Defeating the Worry Monster: Coping Strategies for Anxiety

By:  Jenny Fredrickson, Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher (and self-identified multi-potentialite)

If you are an adult that cares about a gifted child, chances are you’ve met the “worry monster” (Peters, 2013, pg 9).  The worry monster lurks in many different places in the lives of gifted children…the home, the classroom, the soccer field, the lunch room, the playground, and online…the list goes on and on.  As an adult who cares deeply about a gifted child, there likely have been times you’ve wanted to slay the worry monster yourself…Stomp it into oblivion or banish it to a galaxy far, far away!  Recent research by Dan Peters, author of Make Your Worrier a Warrior, offers insight into understanding the origins of anxiety, the complications caused by the worry monster, and finding positive strategies for helping kids slay their own worry monster.

In its simplest form, anxiety is an irrational fear.  It can sound like…For-Parents

  • “Everyone is going to laugh at me!”
  • “Something terrible is going to happen today.  I just know it!”
  • “What if I’m wrong and make a mistake?
  • “What if you forget me and don’t pick me up?”
  • “What if everyone knows about my mistake and people quit liking me?”

To an adult, such fears can sound irrational and catastrophic.  To gifted children, however, these fears are extraordinarily real.  Often there is a slight kernel of truth in the fear that makes it SEEM possible.  The worry monster exploits that possibility and makes the fear seem likely.  When that happens, the body responds to the brain as if it has sensed danger.  The heart speeds up, the lungs contract, the stomach experiences discomfort, arms and legs can tingle, and victims can feel dizzy and lightheaded.  This fear response is important when real danger is present…it triggers the fight or flight response which is necessary for survival.  Unfortunately, when the fear response has been triggered by the worry monster, the thinking brain doesn’t function very effectively.  The worry monster can only be defeated by the thinking brain.  

Social-emotional aspects of giftedness such as perfectionism and intensity can exaggerate the experience of anxiety for the gifted child.  Perfectionism is an irrational fear of failure.  Perfectionist thinking is typically negative, self-critical, defeating and can lead to avoidance.  Perfectionists tend to believe they are less lovable if they are not “perfect”… it seems clear that perfectionism can trigger anxiety.  Intensity of thought and emotion can also manifest in the form of anxiety.  When feelings are extreme and emotions are triggered, the Worry Monster has fertile ground upon which to plant scary thoughts.

Peters worry monsterIn his book, Peters (2013) relates wisdom gained from his experience:  “A problem isn’t a problem unless it’s a problem”.  Chances are anxiety has become a problem for a gifted child in your life and that’s what has drawn you to this article.  What are some ways that you can support the children in your life as they work to conquer the worry monster?  Fortunately, experts in the field of anxiety and gifted education have provided some answers to this question.

Separate the Child from the Worry – We all worry…worrying doesn’t make us “bad” or “silly” or “dumb”.  Often times, kids have difficulty separating their thoughts from themselves.  The worry monster is sneaky and destructive.  The worry monster’s purpose is to place scary thoughts in the brain of the child.  Teaching your child to separate their thinking from the thinking the worry monster gives them can be a powerful tool for “taking back their own thinking”.  Teach kids that:

      • Thoughts determine emotions and behaviors…scary thoughts cause scary emotions and can make them feel powerless and ill.
        • Teach kids to identify HOW the worry monster makes them feel physically when they are scared and ask them to describe the physical manifestations for you.  
      • The worry monster “gives” them scary thoughts.  They can choose to reject the thoughts.
        • They can be a detective with their thoughts and stomp out the scary thoughts when they identify them.

 

  • They can use their “thinking brain” to ask themselves “and then what…? when they have scary thoughts.  Help them identify realistic consequences for the scary thoughts.
  • Role playing responses to frightening scenarios can help them feel empowered and prepared.

 

 

Breathe and Stay in the Moment – All worries exist in the future.  Teach kids to stay in the moment by:

  • Repeating a mantra that reminds them that they don’t have to believe their thoughts.  They can let them pass.  It might sound like “I’m fine right now and I can handle what happens next” or “Hmmmm…that’s interesting that I’m thinking about that.  I’m going to let that go right now…”
  • Practicing deep breathing which tricks their brain into thinking they are calm.  This will allow the “thinking brain” to do its job!
  • Planning specific “worry times” by setting aside a time of day that is calm to discuss and process worries that happen during the day.  Create a worry box that kids can use to store their worries until the “worry time”.  Often by the time that rolls around the worry no longer seems realistic.  If it still does, the emotion of the anxiety has likely abated a bit and the “thinking brain” can work its magic.

Practice Makes Permanent – Teach kids that changing behaviors changes thoughts and feelings and that worries and fears can be “broken up” into manageable pieces. Teach kids that:Worry-Monster-colortm-819x1024

 

 

  • Confronting a fear and conquering it is a significant blow to the worry monster and is a victory for them!
  • The steps of a ladder can be a visual they can use to break down the steps of confronting a fear into manageable chunks.  Set up a system for reinforcement each time the child climbs a rung.
  • They can confront the worry monster themselves by “talking” to the monster in an assertive way.  This might sound like “I’m not going to be bullied by you!  Go away, worry monster!”
  • Identifying and reducing external stressors can make them strong enough to battle the worry monster.  
  • This might mean mentally and physically preparing for things ahead of time (previewing the day, setting out clothes the night before, putting backpack in the car before bed)
  • Planning regularly for water and food breaks to alleviate dehydration and blood sugar lows
  • Making “emergency plans” for when kids feel overwhelmed.  This might include teaching kids tips for soothing themselves, identifying a place to go to “clear their head”, or pinpointing a safe person to talk to when they are anxious.

 

Worrying is a little like a rocking in a rocking chair.  It is a way to pass the time but doesn’t get you anywhere!  Some level of anxiety is an inescapable fact of life for all us.  The worry monster exaggerates typical levels of anxiety and causes worry to be extreme and debilitating.  Happily, there are many ways to minimize the effects of anxiety so that it is not a crippling force in the life of a gifted child.  Many resources exist for fighting the worry monster and teaching kids to do the same.  Arm yourselves and prepare for battle!

Jenny Fredrickson, Jeffco GT Resource Teacher

 

[reprinted from the Winter 2015 GT Newsletter]

Getting Informed, Getting Involved in Gifted Education

The world of gifted education can seem overwhelming at times — so many acronyms and terms to learn about both the academic and affective needs of gifted learners, and various process and programming options to navigate.  Additionally, many parents often want to know how they can get more involved in furthering the resources and options available for gifted children at the local, state and national levels  There are a variety of resources available to both learn more about gifted education as well as advocate for the cause.Jeffco GT Logo (ALP)

For information on gifted education in Jefferson County Schools — from identification, programming, advanced learning plans to newsletters, notices on Jeffco-sponsored parent seminars, presentations, resources and links to a variety of other resources, visit our Jeffco parent resource page. Also, our GT 101 page has a basic overview of GT in Jeffco, which may be especially helpful for families with a newly identified GT child.

JAGC logoThe Jeffco Association for Gifted Children (JAGC) is a great place to get more information about parenting gifted children, as well as to support and advocate for gifted education in Jeffco.  They help sponsor seminars and events, and also host a GT Ambassadors program for various schools throughout the district.

The Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented (CAGT) is our state CAGT compass logogifted advocacy group which offers support, education and information for gifted families and educators.  They host an annual conference in October, which includes sessions and events for parents, as well as a Legislative Day at the Capitol in February, with opportunities for parents and students.

The National Association for Gifted Children is the leading gifted advocacy group in the country, whose mission is to support those who enhance the growth and development of gifted and talented children through education, advocacy, community building, and research.  They host an annual conference in November, publish Parenting for High Potential among other periodicals, as well as research articles, position papers and books.  They lobby at the national level for gifted education funding and recognition.

NAGC logo

Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) empowers families and SENG logo bluecommunities to guide gifted and talented individuals to reach their goals: intellectually, physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.  They sponsor a support group structure for parents, publish a newsletter, provide resources on social-emotional needs of gifted students and also host an annual conference each summer. 

For a wealth of information on all things gifted, including resources for parents, studentsHoagies logo and educators on nearly every aspect of gifted education, check out the Hoagies Gifted Education Page.  This site can seem overwhelming with all the info available, but you can usually find something helpful related to your area of interest or need here.

See our new look Jeffco GT webpage for additional information and links.  Get informed, and get involved in gifted education!

The New Voice at the Table: Meet Jeffco’s New GT Director, Roger Dowd

by: Ben Hershelman

In the spring of 2016, longtime Jeffco GT director Blanche Kapushion retired from the school district. Colorado is known nationwide as one of the vanguards of GT Education. This means that there was no shortage of highly qualified people applying to ascend to the director’s chair. After an exhaustive vetting and interview process, the person chosen to lead one of the largest GT departments in the country was Roger Dowd.

Roger joins the Jeffco team from the Adams 12 School District where he served in various positions including director of GT for 6 years. Roger sat down recently for an introductory interview to introduce himself to our community.

Ben Hershelman: Outside of your role as a professional educator, if you walked up to someone on the street, what are three things you would want people to know about you?

Roger Dowd: One is that I have an international perspective. My wife and I have had the opportunity to live and work overseas in Syria. It is a place that when we were over there, people would often confuse with Siberia. They would say “isn’t that that really cold place where Russian prisoners go?” It is in the news a lot more now for much more unfortunate reasons. Both she and I had lived and worked or studied overseas prior to that.

dowd-syria

Roger Dowd instructing students in Syria. 

We also have experience in Europe. I studied in England for a little while. We got to travel quite a bit. I have a masters in Global Studies from DU. I was considering going into the foreign service. I took the exam and passed it. At the time, it was right when the Iraq war was starting. My wife and I had just started a family and we would have had to be dealing with maybe being posted in Iraq. We ended up not going that way, but that has always been an interest of mine, pursuing a broader, international perspective.

The other thing I would tell people is that I have kids that live in Jeffco and go to Jeffco Schools. My wife is a graduate of graduate of Jeffco Schools K-12 so we also have a lot of ties to the area. I am not originally from this area, but having lived in Jeffco and being involved in the GT community, this would segue into the third thing.

dowd-familyI am involved in gifted education on the state and national level. I am the president of the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented. I took over in October. I am also involved with the National Association for Gifted Children and various other GT organizations. I have experience and have lived in Jeffco for a long time. I have always been aware of and impressed with the GT education services that Jeffco provides. I feel like the people that we have working with the gifted kids in Jeffco are top quality. It has been a pleasure working with them so far.

BH: It is well known that you are from Boston. What is it like being from New England and living in Colorado?

RD: That seems like a loaded question in so many ways since football season is now underway. I love Colorado. I moved out here soon after college. I was just travelling around the country for a while and wound up coming through Colorado. I absolutely loved it. I wound up coming back because I fell in love with it. The geography, the climate, the mountains, the lifestyle out here, the people, the range of things to do has kept me here.

I love Boston too. There are a lot of great cultural opportunities out there, but it is hard to take advantage of them because of people and traffic and things like that. Here you have so many activities you can get involved with, especially outdoors and all four professional sports teams and cultural activities and a great music scene. It is manageable and accessible for all of those different cultural and recreational activities. You have a lot of those in the Northeast, but it is harder to actually take advantage of them.

I guess the things that I miss the most other than my family back east is the coast, the ocean, fresh seafood. Things like that. I think also, even though they are disappearing, some of the smaller neighborhoods that have their own identity. There are a few in Denver. My wife and I used to live in Northwest Denver. That neighborhood had its own feel and identity.

BH: What are some things you did professionally before you went into education?

RD: When I first moved out to Colorado, I was a ski bum for a little while up at Keystone. That was my first job in Colorado. I lasted at that for a few months before I moved down to Boulder. My very first job in Boulder was selling encyclopedias door to door. That shows you how long I have been in Colorado. That was a growth industry I really should have stuck with! I had a landscaping and snow removal business for a few years. It was doing pretty well, but it didn’t feel like what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

At that point I began doing some little league coaching and working with a friend of mine working with at risk kids at Lookout Mountain Correctional facility. I would go there fairly regularly. I really enjoyed both of those experiences. I was also interested in being a writer and a film maker at that time. I was thinking I would get involved with teaching because that will give me plenty of time in the summers and other vacations to focus on writing and filmmaking. As many of us in education know, the profession is a lot more demanding than the 185 school day schedule. I wound up really enjoying immersing myself in the work so I did some student teaching at Thornton HS and soon after got a job there. Now, I have been involved with education for about 25 years.

BH: So basically what you are telling us is that your life mirrored the plot of the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus?

RD: Yes. Very similar. Only I was an aspiring writer and filmmaker instead of an aspiring musician. I would say it is very similar to that.

BH: What kept you in education?

RD: I loved working with students. Early in my educational career I really felt like I fit in with high school students. I think the relationship to students was the primary driver. I also loved my content area. I taught English. That really fit in with my aspirations as a writer. I would share a lot of that with my students so that they could see the messiness of writing at times as well as the inspiration that you get from reading.

As time went on, I became more and more intrigued with the art and craft of education itself. I think that didn’t really hit me until I started working in schools, that there is both an art and a science to teaching. That is when I think my career as an educator started to take over my aspirations as a writer or performer. When I first started teaching I was involved in filmmaking and writing and music. I was playing in some different bands and performing in improv. Eventually those things fell away as I became more immersed in the career and craft of education.

BH: What was your most memorable teaching job before you went into the world of administration?

RD: It is hard to narrow that down to one. My experience teaching overseas was pretty transformative because of being in another culture. I was experiencing many different cultures in an international school classroom setting.

I also had several years teaching at Thornton High School where I was teaching very high level IB diploma English Lit classes for about half my schedule and  teaching at the Bollman Career and Technical Education center across the parking lot. I absolutely loved both of those experiences. At Bollman we had students involved in authentic problem based learning like starting their own businesses, and coming up with business plans. They would be creating marketing materials and things like that and actually going through the process of what they would need to do to file a business application. At Thornton, with the IB and AP students we would be analyzing literature at a really deep level and generating pretty advanced commentaries and essays. That was a pretty cool time in my teaching career.

BH: What was the number one lesson you took from your life as a teacher into your life as an administrator?

RD: It all comes back to the student. The student needs to be at the center of the work that we are doing. I think we also need to have an enlightened perspective around that because proper care and feeding of our teachers is also going to help ensure that our students are going to have a positive experience. An analogy I like to use a lot says on the one hand you could say we need a completely individualized curriculum to best serve the needs of all students, on the other hand, a teacher in the classroom trying to balance 25-30 different individualized curricula for all students is probably not going to be a very sane, viable, healthy teacher for very long. We have to seek a balance between understanding the demands on our teachers and our support staff who work with kids along with the individual needs of our students. That is a tricky balance.

BH: Thinking about GT learners contrasted with other students, how would you explain the difference between a GT student and a highly motivated, hard working student to someone who does not work in education?

RD: A gifted student to me is someone in need of some kind of qualitatively different program. There is some kind of intervention or acceleration or need for greater depth and complexity in their curriculum in order to fulfill them academically. Gifted students also often come with social emotional needs that need to be addressed in order for them to learn most effectively. In those two areas, not to minimize that all students have social and emotional needs that need to be addressed, there tend to be some specific areas that gifted learners will exhibit more need in. I think that educators of gifted students should be aware of those needs as well as have techniques to differentiate for gifted learners.

BH: Talk about your transition into Jeffco. How has your role in our state organization shaped your views of gifted education and focused the kind of work you would like to do in Jeffco.

RD: So far my transition into Jeffco has been fantastic. I am still, even though I have been a resident of Jeffco for a while, kind of boggled by the size of Jeffco. Geographically and population can feel a little bit overwhelming when thinking about how we can make an impact for all of our gifted learners.

I feel like what we are doing with programming compared to what I am seeing in the state that we are in very good shape in Jeffco. We are systemically aware of the needs of GT learners. We are wrestling, like most districts, with how to meet those needs and how to leverage resources in order to have the greatest impact on our students. I feel extremely fortunate that we have so many dedicated and talented professionals that share that vision and understand the affective and academic needs of our students and how those are intertwined and how we need to go forward with things like the advanced learning plan (ALP) as the road map for differentiated instruction for gifted learners.

Philosophically, the district as a whole seems to be in a good place, although we can always push that further. People here are on the same page, which is not the case statewide. The discussions we are having aren’t whether we should be having differentiated instruction and social emotional support for GT students, but on how. That is a good place to be.

BH: When you heard that there was a job opening in Jeffco, what are some of the things that drew you into wanting to apply?

RD: Immediately it was that I could be working in the district where my kids go to school and where I live, and that I can have that impact as both a parent and an educator. Before working in a different district from where I was living, when it came to involvement in different initiatives or issues that affected Jeffco, my time and energy was torn between the two districts. The second biggest factor, that I alluded to earlier, Jeffco has the reputation in the state of being on the cutting edge of GT professional development and services. The opportunity to work with the people who are well known in the field across the state and beyond is a great opportunity.

BH: You have known Blanche, our retired director a while before you took over this position. What were some of the important lessons you learned from her over the years?

RD: Blanche was one who really encouraged me to get involved at the state and national level. She told me I needed to get started with CAGT less than a year after I had gotten into my director position. She pushed the field of gifted education and the boundaries of GT education in Jeffco and the entire state. I think that she never settled for what we had. She was a fierce advocate for gifted children and resources and programming for gifted children and families. She has been one of the leading figures in the field since I got involved at the director level. She is a tough act to follow. She has been fantastic with providing me with support and insight. She has also been a wonderful friend and general advocate.

BH: What are some of your short term and long term goals for GT education in Jeffco?

RD: Short term, we want to begin looking at that ALP as a road map for gifted education. It is one of those key pieces that we actually have in legislation. One of my mantras is always asking “How do we make our initiatives meaningful and manageable for all involved?” We want to gather as many different perspectives and feedback and input on our ALPs. Over the next several years we want to thoughtfully plan how to make the ALP process more meaningful for all stakeholders. At the same time it needs to stay manageable so all those stakeholders are not feeling overwhelmed. There are a lot of different systems that we can evaluate and improve on.

Another short term goal would be implementing the new CDE identification guidelines. That will refine our process for better identifying GT learners. Just improving our communications with our GT community in Jeffco. We need to revamp our website and provide clearer communication with our entire community.

BH: If you were sitting and talking with a teacher who had just been hired to teach in a GT Center classroom, is there any particular advice that you would give them?

RD: The first piece of advice I would give them is to get to know their students. Understand their interests and needs in as many different areas as possible. Brainstorm with as many stakeholders as possible, collaborating with everyone on how to best meet that student’s needs. That to me is the essence of teaching. How do we adapt and differentiate our existing curriculum? This sounds very simple, but it is not easy. We are balancing all the other students in the class and all the other demands on our teachers. We can’t meet the needs of our students if we do not know what they are.

BH: If you were sitting in a room with Jeffco high school seniors who were thinking of majoring in education, how would you convince them to go into the career?

RD: I don’t know if I would want to convince them, so much as keep their minds open to it. With any senior, I don’t know if we want to convince people that they need to do something so much as inform them about the profession and help them balance that with their interests. If you love working with kids and you want a job that is not going to be routine, and extremely challenging at times. It is going to push you professionally and emotionally to grow and have a growth mindset and learn. You have to have a love for learning and sharing that passion. You have to love seeing people’s minds turned on when they are learning.

BH: Is there anything else you would want our community to know about you?

RD: I am really excited about the opportunities that Jeffco provides for our students. We have a tremendous wealth of choices and various educational opportunities that can meet the needs of so many different learners. From our GT Center Schools, career and technical education, STEM, other specific programs that are tailored to meet students needs, to our fantastic neighborhood schools. Jeffco has so much to offer. Being a part of that is a fantastic opportunity.

The Next Fire: a look back and a look forward at Dr. Blanche Kapushion, retiring GT Director of Jeffco Public Schools

By Ben Hershelman

Jeffco Public Schools is one of the largest and most influential school districts in the country. To be successful here takes a special kind of leader that can handle the idea that their net is going to be cast wide and the significance of their decisions will be large. Despite its large size, our district often feels a bit like a small town, so when someone who has been around for a long time and has cast a wide net, the impact has been felt. It is difficult to find a corner of our school district that has not been touched by Dr. Blanche Kapushion, the current, but soon to be retired director of Gifted and Talented education. Dr. Kapushion has taught all over the district and held just about every type of teaching position there is. Additionally, Dr. K has also spent a good deal of her life advocating for the needs of GT leblanche headshotarners. We sat down with Dr. K to gather some of her thoughts as she moves on to the next phase of her life.

Ben Hershelman: For those of us who are still staring down the road at a lot of years of work left, what is it like to wake up every morning and see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Blanche Kapushion: I think the real feeling is, is that I am headed toward the next opportunity. I am not done in education. I tell people I am not retiring from life; I am just retiring from Jeffco.  It is only because other opportunities are aligning and my passions are broadening that I choose to retire at this time.

I will continue to be an advocate. I will continue to provide consulting and conversation with anyone who wants to listen to my thoughts or ideas. I will continue to do professional learning in gifted education as well as educational leadership.  Some of this will come at the school implementation level. Some of it will come at the university level. I have been an adjunct professor at Regis University for over 10 years in the field of gifted education as well as educational leadership and educational research. That is where I will be feeding my passion for teaching and learning and I will continue to do that, no matter what.

I am looking at the next 10 years at a minimum, of influencing and being a part of education in Colorado, just in a different modality. Going back to your question, the part that I really think about is the freedom to influence education in a different way. I am not tied to one school district. I can look at education throughout the state of Colorado, nationally and internationally.  I will be working with Dr. Betts and Dr. Carey in updating the Autonomous Learner Model. We will be conducting professional learning and development nationally and internationally.  This is all just the next step. It is the freedom to do more at a different level.

BH: Before you gain your freedom, would you like to give us a rundown of all of the different Jeffco buildings you have worked in?

BK: My first couple of years in Jeffco,  I was a substitute teacher because I did not know if I wanted to go into the education world, medical field, or food service and open up a restaurant. I love cooking, and I love people. If I was not an educator, I would be cooking and talking and loving on people in that way. In those first two years I learned that I really gained energy from working with kids. I started in a long term sub position at Russell Elementary. I finished out that year in Fremont Elementary, both in sixth grade.

I was then hired at Pleasant View Elementary in Golden where I taught fourth, fifth and sixth for four years. I went to Secrest Elementary and I taught sixth grade for a few years. After a few years with sixth graders, I taught third grade, which was a joyous year. I built the confidence to work with primary age kids.

Following my years at third grade, I tried first grade for a year – and that was the hardest job ever. Ever. I could not wait to get back to sixth grade! I was good at teaching first grade, I did it, I learned a lot, but teaching first grade taught me that where I belonged was with sixth graders.  It was a full inclusion classroom, too. Teaching first grade was satisfying, gratifying, but I have never done anything harder. My next stop was at Swanson where I taught sixth grade for a while followed by a stop at Semper for more of the same.

After many years as a classroom teacher, I became the program coordinator for Windy Peak Outdoor Lab. One of the reasons I loved teaching sixth grade was I enjoyed going to outdoor lab. At that point I was working on my principal licensure and my PhD. When I dove into that program, it was not feasible for me to live in Bailey and driving to Denver to work on my program. So, at that point I accepted a position at Betty Adams as the Success for All Roots and Wings reading reform model facilitator. That role was somewhat like being an instructional coach. I used the data from four Jeffco schools for my dissertation. After Betty Adams I was the assistant principal at Mitchell in Golden, then on to Kyffin Elementary, which housed a GT Center, for 6.25 years. Finally,  I wrapped up my Jeffco career as the director of Gifted and Talented for the last eight years.

BH: So who were some of the people who mentored you through your career?

BK: My very first years of teaching there was an educator named Robin Dodich. She taught sixth grade at Russell. I used to sub for her a lot. It was because of her that I got my long term sub position at Russell. She continued to be a confidant and a friend and a colleague until her passing. I learned a lot from her, especially in the area of classroom management. Likewise, at Russell there was a teacher named Gracie Ramirez who taught fifth grade, and she became my mentor on the spot.

At Pleasant View, John Johnson who taught third grade, helped me get my feet on the ground in a new building. Then, Dave Radovich, who was a master teacher, taught me the art of how to engage kids through questioning. He modeled and coached me in the “teacher as a  facilitator mindset.” Finding out what kids, know, want to know and need through questioning was his way of thinking and teaching.

Another mentor, going back to student teaching was Paul Grull, a teacher at Foster Elementary.  When I was in high school I would go into Mr. Grull’s classroom and complete student assistant hours. At that time I was certain I was going to go into the medical field. I just went to help out, but as time went on, watching the magic that he created and the connection he had with his students was inspiring. He was a very creative teacher. He did a lot of music and drama and integrated science. I thought that would be a really cool way to teach, but again, at this time, I was not going to be a teacher. To this day, I think about him when I visualize a master teacher.

Radovich and Grull also led a lot of adventure trips and I always went with them. They are the people I model our current Hawaii adventure trip after. They are always in the back of my mind when planning student adventure and travel. I know what it is like when kids are away from home and they have to hike for long distances, be self-reliant, be a member of a team and be dependent on each other. When you watch the personal growth that happens on an adventure trip, you know those young people will become successful adults. Whenever we can do adventure learning or student travel, I know that we are providing learners  an opportunity to grow into confident adults, which is really important to me.

There was also an administrator who was my guiding light; her name was Pat Termin. She believed in me and hired me as the principal at Kyffin. She was my sounding board, my mentor, my sense maker. Pat is one of the reasons that I was a successful principal and educational leader.  

BH: Drawing on all of your time in Jeffco, what is uniquely Jeffco? What do we only have in our school district?

BK: I think that there are a couple of things. I think the overarching umbrella of Jeffco’s magic is choice programming.  Parents have the opportunity to find the learning environment that matches their child’s needs. When you think about the opportunity provided at outdoor lab, we have a common life changing experience extended to our sixth graders.  When you think about the depth and complexity of our outdoor education program, it is one of the best in the country. The other one is what we do every day.  It is our GT Center programs. Every day, we are providing kids with high cognitive potential the opportunity to be with like-minded peers. We are giving them the opportunity to thrive. That is unique to Colorado as well as our country as a whole. I think individualized instruction and seeing kids as individual learners is a piece of magic from Jeffco’s past that we will continue to see into the future. Jeffco is a pretty special school district.

BH: Is the magic what kept you here your whole career?

BK: I have been all over this country. Knowing what we have in Colorado and in Jeffco is pretty special and foundational. I love Colorado. I would never leave Colorado. If I did, it would have to be an exotic place like Tahiti in a grass hut, teaching kids on the beach.

BH: How has public education changed for the better throughout your career?

BK: That is not a fair question because I think that Federal legislation like NCLB was a travesty for public education.  It raised the bar for some kids, and that is good, but it left the top quartile behind.  I think having content standards is a good thing so that there is a foundational standard of what is being taught and expected to be learned. The problem though is that people see the standard as the norm, and not the floor. So now people are teaching to the floor and we have not raised enough kids above the standard. Teachers over the last twenty years have struggled with how to continue to infuse creativity and push kids beyond the standard. They have also struggled to see kids as individuals and individualize their learning. The pendulum is starting to shift back to starting to look at assessment and standards and laws differently.

I think the future of public education will be interesting and continue to evolve.

BH: Besides NCLB, is there anything else that you would like to be able to take back that you have witnessed in your career?

BK: I think that the emphasis on grades and grading should be reconsidered. I think there needs to be more feedback loops and letting kids learn as a cycle and not a one and done. I think that is the joy and art of lifelong learning. Our system is set up with time blocks and schedules and a lot of structures that I would like to see change. Kids do a ton of learning outside of school and I would like to see that learning be honored through competency and mastery evaluations.

BH: If you could write yourself a letter that your 25 year old self would read, what would you tell yourself?

BK: I think that the letter would tell me to be expecting the unexpected and to be ready to step through the doors that open. I had a career mindset. I thought I was going to be an elementary teacher for 35 years. I thought I was going to teach every grade level including kindergarten for five years and then retire. I learned when I taught first grade that I was not going lower. I was going back to the intermediate grades. I never planned to be a program coordinator, or in leadership or a director of gifted, but the doors opened. The opportunities were there.  I had mentors who believed in me and what they saw in me, even when I didn’t see it in myself. I would tell myself to take the risk and listen to those encouraging voices.

BH: So if you were sitting here with a high school senior who was about to start down a path that would lead them to public education, what advice would you give to them?

BK: Find your passion. I would say find what grade level or content or topic you are passionate about and start there. Build on that passion. If you are a history buff and you love timelines, then use all means to teach that content with creativity and integration and passion. Integrate everything you need to know about that time in history and let kids dive into it. Let them feel your passion and create your own meaning

BH: What were some of the forces that pushed you from classroom to administration?

BK: People go into administration for one of two reasons. They want to right the wrongs they see or they have innate leadership ability. I found out that this was true. People I have worked with are motivated for those reasons. I think I had both. I did not know that I had leadership potential, but I had this strong sense of justice.  I had this drive to correct some wrongs or injustices that I perceived. When I kept my focus on doing what is right for kids, being a servant leader and building a learning community, I knew I was an effective leader.

BH: In that vein, one of the things that you have excelled at is your ability to put together a team of people that will work well together to achieve a common goal. What are some of your theories around building a great team?

BK: The very first thing that I do is make sure that I have people who have passion and drive and that their passion and drive parallels or compliments my passion and drive. When I know that our department mission and vision is focused on providing the best educational opportunities for gifted and talented learners and I know that we have hurdles and barriers in meeting that mission and vision, I need to know that I have people who are committed to being problem solvers and solving big picture issues. I stoke my engine by surrounding myself with people who can match my energy and others that can slow me down when they need to. I think when we have a common mission, vision and goals there is some internal synergy and magic that happens when we are all looking in the same direction.

Blanche and Lindsey and Matt

Blanche with two members of the GT team, Matt Wilkinson and Lindsey Reinert. 

 

I believe in people. I think that is one of the things that I do. I am an optimistic person. I choose to see the positive in people. I give people the benefit of the doubt, almost to a fault.  There have been times that I have been burned, but I have no regrets because I learn from every situation.

BH: What initially got you interested in working with gifted children?

BK: When I was the principal at Kyffin we had a GT Center program, this was my first exposure to a large population of significantly cognitively gifted kids. Those kids and their social emotional needs intrigued me. They were also very creative in their naughty behaviors, and that intrigued me more. So I began to not look just at their academic growth, but also at how and why they did things.  What intrigued me the most was how they thought and acted and why they thought and acted the way they did. It became apparent to me that their social emotional intensities and needs had to be dealt with in a different way.  I knew they would be successful with their academics, but if their affective needs were not addressed, some difficult challenges and life altering events would create some hurdles for all of us to address.  There is a dark side to giftedness if the whole child is not addressed.

BH: What was it like to be a gifted kid before gifted education was really a thing?

BK: I never felt challenged in school. I always just floated along. I blended into the background. One of my most traumatic memories of elementary school was when I was finally energized about a piece of writing about Abraham Lincoln. I remember including poetry, different types of creative writing and stanzas. I remember my teacher looking at me in the eye and tearing it up right in front of me in front of my face because she thought there was no way that I wrote it. I just remember the devastation that I felt. I had finally found a passion. I had finally found a creative outlet. I was finally motivated to produce a piece of writing that connected and then to have an adult dismiss it and tear it up and give me an F was pretty devastating. This made me go back underground as a gifted girl. In middle school I just trotted along. I did not have passion for learning again until I went in to college. That is where I began to study literature and write again. When I became a classroom teacher, I swore I would never do humiliate someone or doubt creativity.

BH: In the world of GT Education, who are your heroes?

BK: My number one hero is Dr. George Betts, the co-creator of the Autonomous Learner Model. The reason I love the ALM over all over models of GT education is the whole child focus. We know that there is a cognitive domain, but the affective domains are addressed from the beginning of time to the end of time. He talks about lifelong learners, and feeding your passions your whole life; learning outside the classroom.

I  also admire Dr. Joseph Renzulli. He would be my number two. He has an integrated approach through his enrichment models. He pushes a lot of critical thinking and discussion and creating meaning. It is wonderful.

To round off my top three,  I admire in the world of GT Education is Dr. Jim Delisle. He is provocative and asks the tough questions. He challenges systems. He makes educators think.

Blanche and George

Blanche and one of her heroes, Dr. George Betts.

BH: Looking at GT from the bird’s eye view of the director’s chair and the CAGT President’s chair, what has excited you most?

BK: When I think back to eight years ago and the progress we have made at the elementary and middle school level I am thrilled. We still have a ton to do to erase misconceptions at the secondary level, but we are getting there. We have come a long long way. Part of that is through legislation. We knew 9 years ago that if we wanted to make long lasting change we had to start not at the district level, but in the statehouse. So, through my advocacy work with CAGT, JAGC and The Academy we have influenced a lot of change in GT education legislation. I think that is the foundation, the bricks to the wall. School districts can build on that foundation. Some are doing so, reluctantly.  Mostly because the majority of educational legislation are unfunded mandates.  When schools embrace the needs of GT learners and understand the flexibility in the academic and social needs and the asynchronous development, the payoff is tenfold.  I’m going to connect to a question from earlier- if we can de emphasize grades and look for competency and if we can understand the standards as the minimum of what is to be mastered and allow learning to exceed the “grade level” standard, and open the doors for all learning, we will all be better off.

BH: So would you agree that Colorado is a progressive state in terms of GT legislation?

BK: Yes, absolutely. We are in some ways leading the country. We are a very progressive state in this area. There are folks across the country that look at laws and structures in Colorado. In Jeffco we have a successful GT Center model that others look at and consider.Some schools and districts use the GT cluster model like ours which is also well known and successful. In some districts we have magnet schools; those are successful when done correctly. No matter where you are in Colorado, giftedness is accepted and addressed to some degree because of the legislation in place. There is an expectation that we, as a state,  will meet the needs of GT learners. Not just in the academic realm, but in the social and emotional realm as well. To me that is 10 times more important than the academic needs. We need to take care of the asynchrony. If kids don’t feel safe, valued and heard, we can’t teach them to their greatest potential.

BH: Why do you think that some states have still not passed any mandated GT programming legislation?

BK: I think that it goes back to the myths around GT. There is this whole thing around elitism. If you have a cognitive gift and you are elevated, all those stereotypes come out. Smarty pants, brainiac, know it all. There are all of these negative images that are conjured up. If you have an athletic gift or a musical gift or an artistic gift, you are elevated and nurtured in an unbiased, non demeaning manner. It is all about myths and misconceptions.

BH: What are 3 things you would like to see change in the next five years in GT education?

BK: I would like there to be a common understanding around the academic and affective needs of advanced and gifted kids. They are so emotionally intense, they are misunderstood. That’s the first thing, the idea of seeing kids as individuals before we begin to teach them

The second thing I would like to see is to rethink the boxes that we put around our education system, those grade level or age lines should be erased or lightened so that kids can flex into the classes they need to continue to grow. They should be able to flex into a grade level, a content, or a school without being put in a box defined by age or grade.

The third thing I would like to see is some funding or money put into GT education. Until lawmakers, superintendents and principals understand the needs of GT learners and what they need to be successful in their educational experiences; we are not going to elevate them properly. When people do finally understand our best and brightest, outside of the school system, there is a benefit. When we allow kids to be innovative and experiment and engage, we benefit as a society. Our economy thrives. Our health systems grow. Our businesses have a better pool of workers to draw from. It is kind of this multi layered conundrum.

BH: If you were standing in front of a school board that was looking at some tough budgeting decisions, what would say about cutting funding to GT support?

BK: I would elevate that gifted learners are a special population, a recognized categorical population in our state accountability systems.  Just like we look at populations of non-English speaking students that need support, just like we look at kids with deficits, GT kids need support. Kids who have cognitive and creative assets need special supports. All special populations have unique needs. Just because we have a system of meeting standards, and GT kids meet those standards more easily, they still need access to other means of gaining knowledge and learning. They need advanced curriculum. They need to grow at the rate and pace their brain desires and they need intellectual like-minded peers. Every population has a need. I would not wish to be the wielder of that sword and say that because you have gifts I am going to cut your lifeline off and spend it on someone else. There has to be a sense of understanding and equity of understanding in the needs of all special populations.

BH: If someone were sitting in front of you wrestling with whether or not to become a GT Center teacher, but was on the fence about it, what would you tell them is the best thing about being a GT Center teacher?

BK: The first thing that I do tell teachers that are considering entering a GT center classroom, is that if they think they are stepping into an easy classroom, they are mistaken. Their teaching skills will be challenged every day because gifted kids learn at a more rapid rate. The kids will question everything. They expect more. They need more. They have melt downs. Their perfectionism or underachievement behaviors will pop up at any moment and you have to be able to tap dance and be ready for whatever lands on your stage. Your differentiation skills must be strong. Your critical and creative thinking skills will be tested. You will need to be a master facilitator because the questions they are going to ask are going to be way above any curriculum guidelines you are going to be able to get your hands on. That is just the academic stuff.

If a GT kid with a high sense of social justice comes into your classroom and has read something that has kept them up all night, you better know how to stop everything you are doing and address it, or their day is done, and so is yours. If you think gifted kids are going to be compliant learners and sit in rows and answer your questions, this is probably not the job for you. You are going to be dancing like water on a hot cake griddle. I have seen some of the best teachers go into a GT classroom and end up in my office with their own  meltdown because kids have pushed them so far.  It is a humbling experience, not for the weak hearted.

BH: Since you will no doubt be speaking at state and national conferences, what to you makes a great conference?

BK: Conferences are exciting to me when he information is new and relevant. The ideas presented are new and cutting edge, kind of risky. I love out of the box thinking and structures. Traditional education platforms are in the past. Our kids are different. Our access to info is different. We have to be as innovative and willing to take risks as the kids are. When I go to a conference I am looking for something that is going to spark my interest and push my boundaries, thoughts and ideas on education.

BH: What else is on the horizon for you professionally?

BK: One thing that I have said over and over is that I am disappearing from the face of the earth; I am just retiring from Jeffco public schools. I will still be available to advocate for learners and their families. I will still be leading professional learning. I will continue to be a professor at Regis. Books will be submitted to publishers and I will be co-presenting at state and national conferences. All of that will be funneled through the business we have established, Global Education Enterprises LLC. I am ready for the next chapter. I am gonna go ignite some passion for the next generation of educators. For me, it’s on to the next adventure.

 

5 Cool Things About Mrs. Speechley 4th Grade GT Teacher at Hackberry Elementary

  1. What is the best thing about being in Mrs. Speechley’s class?

“Having Mrs. Speechley was awesome, she greets everyone in the morning.”

“How she goes beyond the normal to improve our learning.”

“Mrs. Speechley actually has some character in lessons, not ‘blah, blah, blah, blah…’”

 

  1. What is something strange about Mrs. Speechley?

“She had a lot of cool hats and different hats meant different things.”

“The music she plays in mixed pair share.”

“She can stay fun and awesome even after a car accident.”

 

  1. What makes Mrs. Speechley a great teacher?

“She understands how people feel or if they want attention, which keeps us ready to learn.”

“She is always making learning fun, easy, and sometimes it does not feel like we are learning (in a good way).”

“She put so much love and effort into everything she gave us; she is so creative.”

 

  1. What is something really cool you’ve done or learned this year in Mrs. Speechley’s class?

“The Hogwarts House Cup was fun because we were sorted into Hogwarts Houses; I was in the Daring Doritos.”

“We did the Apple Valley School House, like a one room school house.”

“We have done the Africa Race and the Colorado Race.”

 

  1. In what ways does Mrs. Speechley support you in class to learn and grow?

“She teaches in my way of learning.”

“She is very nice to us and she creates fun but challenging assignments.”

“She answers questions and always listens.”

5 Cool Things about Ms. Trianna Horner – GT Science Teacher North Arvada Middle School

  1. What is the best thing about being in Ms. Horner’s class?
  • She is always so energetic and makes everyone else laugh and smile
  • She knows how to talk to kids
  • Her unique and fabulous way of communicating information
  1. What is something strange about Ms. Horner?
  • She’s REALLY into dinosaurs and she has a T-rex puppet made of rubber
  • She always has a story to tell
  • Her zany personality
  1. What makes Ms. Horner a great teacher?
  • She is always there for you & she will help you through anything
  • She teaches us how to learn from our mistakes and accept our differences
  • She can relate to students really well
  1. What is something really cool you’ve done or learned this year in Ms. Horner’s class?
  • We did a fantastic yoga activity to teach us about balance & unbalanced forces.
  • We got to dissect a chicken wing
  • We designed a planet based on what we learned about tides and Earth-moon-sun relations
  1. In what ways does Ms. Horner support you in class to learn and grow?
  • She keeps the atmosphere positive and always gives us second chances
  • By engaging everyone and having humor in class
  • She asks how I’m doing and is always challenging us to explore science on our own
  • horner2