A Celebration…and a Caution

Author: Justine Hughes
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Last week saw the exciting announcement from the government around increased recognition and funding for gifted education.  Dr Tracy Riley of Massey University has blogged about the latest developments and provided a succinct background of the history of provision for our gifted learners over the past 20+ years in her blog – Gifted Learners: The Heart of the Matter.  This is recommended reading and focuses on what is needed in order for provisions to be successful – and equitable for our learners. As in the title, the learners are the focus of Dr Riley’s post.

To give another side or perspective to the recent announcements, this post will focus on what is needed in order for educators to meet the needs of this unique group of students.

PROFESSIONAL LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

What do Teachers Really Need?


What’s on Offer so Far?

Te Kete Īpurangi (TKI) – This is continuing to be updated and provides a wealth of professional learning and development resources for schools and other professionals.  It’s exciting to see the changes on the site and I would absolutely recommend this as one of your resources to add to your tool box or kete.

Awards for Gifted Learners – this new initiative will provide opportunities for gifted learners to undertake special and unique learning opportunities either on their own or as part of a group.

Increased funding for One-day Schools (MindPlus through the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, NZCGE) – these exciting learning environments provide a tried and trusted experience for learners to be challenged in their learning.  They provide a crucial environment where like-minds can connect. This is a key aspect of provision for the social and emotional development of our gifted learners.  There is also a wealth of resources available for Professional Learning and Development (PLD) from this organisation.

Other PLD is able to be accessed through the Network of Expertise – Gifted Aotearoa, a collaboration between some of the main organisations involved in gifted education in this country (REACH Education, NZCGE, NZAGC).  These organisations, along with giftEDnz are access points to invaluable PLD.  They are currently offering a range of initiatives but how do we as professionals take responsibility to sustain this learning once we’ve finished a course, qualification or programme? 

The key idea here is taking responsibility for our own learning – just as we expect our younger learners to do.  These PLD provisions will only be as effective as possible if there is sustainability built into what is offered but it is unfair to leave it solely to the organisations involved.  This is where communities of practice, particularly blended CoPs that offer asynchronous learning (any time, any where learning) and learning that is owned by its members, really come into their own.

Sustainability of Programmes and Supporting the PLD

Communities of Practice

What is a blended community of practice and how does it differ from a community of learning?  I’ve blogged about this many times over the years, see here and others listed below, for example.  My Masters’ research was in this area, so it’s a bit of a passion due to the fact that it is owned and created by the members in the community. It is not a top-down model. It is a learning environment that matches what we know to be the most effective for our students. This also applies to our teachers’ learning.  Teacher agency is at its heart; it is ongoing and constantly changing to meet the needs of the learners.  It’s an environment where everyone learns from and with each other – no hierarchy – everyone has expertise.
Additional posts on CoPs
Communities of Practice – this outlines the basic premise of a CoP and what it needs in order for it to be successful, particularly in relation to blended CoPs which have an online and face-to-face component and have proven to be the most effective in changing practice.

CoPs were developed by Etienne Wenger – this video is from one of his presentations. An ‘extra’ if you are keen to learn more.

Why the Caution in this Post?

Although it’s exciting that we have a government that acknowledges that our gifted learners have unique social, emotional and learning needs and is prepared to put its money where its mouth is, we need to also do our part in ensuring that there is much open and honest discussion around this area of education.
We can’t continue to sit back and adhere to that old chestnut that “Every child is gifted, they just unwrap their gifts at different times” or we will be failing to provide a learning environment for a group of learners with research-based unique needs.  This is a matter of equity.  Yes, all students have gifts, but not all students are gifted.  We need to stop ignoring the wealth of research that backs this up.
The recent announcement of increased funding and recognition is a powerful step in the right direction but it absolutely must be backed up by professional learning and development at all stages of teacher education – from pre-service to inservice… and it must have sustainability built into it or it will just be another PLD provision that has a start and end point before we move on to the next area.  This is not an easy ask and this is why it is so crucial to get it right this time.  
Gifted learners have unique social, emotional, academic and cultural needs and the area of gifted identification is very broad.  There is no quick fix after many years of  piecemeal approaches to gifted education and PLD in gifted education.  The government has stated that there are more announcements to come, and hopefully sustainable PLD will be a part of those announcements.  We’ve got some fantastic organisations willing to provide the PLD, it’s how we sustain and support those learning opportunities that will be key to changing practice for our learners and teachers. 

A Celebration…and a Caution
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