Imagine a school, where each classroom was based upon the belief that “every child is gifted”. This does make a difference. For what we believe is often what we see!
There have been numerous studies related to teacher’s expectations and student performance; many of which replicate the research from the 1960’s conducted by Rosenthal; when a group of teachers was told specific students were “gifted”. Based upon Merton’s earlier work, associated with “self-fulfilling prophecy”, Rosenthal’s studies highlighted the following: teachers were informed that their students “had high IQ scores”; creating a new set of higher expectations. As a result, there were a number of behavioral changes demonstrated by the teachers due to their belief that the identified students were “gifted”. According to a recent NPR article, the following insights were highlighted within Rosenthal’s research: “Teachers give the students that they expect to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: They consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more”. However, in real time, these so-called identified students were randomly selected; and were not truly higher functioning or gifted. For more information on this, here’s a recent article about Rosenthal’s work: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/09/18/161159263/teachers-expectations-can-influence-how-students-perform
So what do we learn from these studies? Simply, what we believe is what we see. And our expectations adjust based upon our preconceived beliefs of our students.
Getting back to the question: “Imagine a school where each classroom was based upon the belief that “every child was gifted”; I propose the following: What if we truly believed that every child presented a gift, a talent, an extraordinary contribution, and it was our responsibility as educators to seek out, nurture, inspire, and promote the development of these emerging gifts? Now, we do this on some levels: For example, when a student presents a propensity toward music at an unusually young age, we often use the phrase, “Like Mozart” as if there is an innate talent emerging. Same for students who present an unusual knack for math or science, we often use the phrase, “Baby Einstein”. And once again, comments are often shared related to the natural giftedness of these students. Instead of these characteristics being learned, they are often thought of as “god-given” or “born with”.
So I ask the question, what if we thought of every child as gifted; born with an extraordinary emergence of potential? And instead of thinking of school as a place where we fill up empty minds with knowledge, highlighting the Common Core or standards-based learning, what if as every child walks in to the K-12 system, we invest our perceptions and beliefs in the idea that “every child is a gift to the world” and all of our efforts go into supporting the emergence of these unique and special talents within every child? I believe this would present something all together different. Instead of a whole system limited by developmentally inappropriate academic expectations, and frustrated by the students who fail to meet these standards, we would likely create a whole new understanding of each child as well as reinvent education as we know it. By focusing on the emergence of the natural gifts within, rather than believing the “empty vessel” theory, true educational reform will unfold. And it would cost absolutely nothing to do so. Just a matter of rethinking what we believe. It’s as simple as having faith that every child, K-12, has a gift, a talent, and promise within in contrast to being “good or bad”, above-standard, or failing, or special needs or gifted.
And by doing so, I believe the educational system will change. What was once bureaucratic, formulaic, and inflexible, will evolve into a child-centered, fluid, and inspirational system. As a former coordinator of Gifted Education programs in school districts, I know what happens first-hand when teachers see their students as gifted; creativity increases, deeper-meaning associated with learning takes place, and less emphasis on testing unfolds. In fact, fun happens in many of these programs, especially at the elementary level. Then, a waiting-list is established for more students want to access interesting classes, with many more bells and whistles. This is what happens when you see your students as gifted. Within the traditional model, not all students are gifted. But what if? What if we DID see every child as gifted and worked from this perspective?
So from my stand-point, it’s in everyone’s best interest to see every child as a gift; an emergence of brilliance, the extraordinary, and something special to behold. For what we believe is what we see! It’s the foundation for unconditional love and understanding. And that’s a true best practice.
For more information, contact Larry at specialeducationadvocacy.org or read his latest book, “Love, Understanding, and Other Best Practices” available on Amazon.