By Andrea Brucella Finnegan, M.S. Ed.
The 2022 SENG Annual Online Conference, Gifted and Growing Over a Lifespan, took place July 21-24th, consisting of over 50 presentations. The event provided outstanding learning opportunities that aimed to guide gifted and talented individuals to reach their goals and thrive. Packed with professionals, parents, and students sharing valuable advice and personal stories, attendees were provided with a kaleidoscope of helpful and uber-supportive sessions to devour. SENG’s mission to empower gifted/2e families and communities was evident in the amount of material covered in this professional, yet down-to-earth conference that left participants longing to keep the conversations going. With gratitude, this “treasure chest” event was made possible by Qualia, The School for Deeper Learning, The Open Window School, Summit Center, Amy Estersohn, The Davidson Academy, and Everyday Psychology.
SENG’s Opening Session Panel, “Wellbeing and Resilience for the Gifted: Narratives from Multiple Perspectives”, featured the personal perspectives and advice from gifted individuals, Nicole Mattingly, M.A., Mahala Burn, Ph.D., and Jordan O’Kelley, while moderated by Lin Lim, Ph.D.. Mattingly’s major takeaways stressed the need for being honest with ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses. Embrace the outlier status. Use intention to manifest your life’s ideal direction. Find the joy and empowerment that comes with understanding yourself and your unique journey. Mahala Burn shared what worked for her as a radically accelerated gifted student. She discussed the need to let go of people who aren’t supportive. She advised to learn as much as you can about yourself to become the best self advocate you can be. There’s no one who can support you like yourself. Jordan O’Kelley shared what has worked for his journey as a twice exceptional accelerated physics college student who managed to skip the high school scene. He shared that knowing what environment works best for yourself is crucial. Knowing when to make a change is crucial as well. If something isn’t working, understanding that building up the courage to go for things even if you have doubts was a very motivating piece of advice for any student or adult to hear. Each panelist felt like a close older sister or brother giving their heartfelt tips on how to live a resilient GT/2e life, based on what has worked for them. The main message - you’ve got this…and you’re not alone.
Friday’s keynote speaker, Benjamin Koch, M.Ed. kicked off the day’s conversations with the importance of mindfulness and having purpose in all we do as people. His presentation, Change is Mandatory, Growth Is Optional: Purpose as a Compass to Navigate Life Challenges, cited that “80% of young people globally are vulnerable to depression, anxiety and disillusionment”. His message inspired listeners to design deeper purpose-aligned life goals and be vulnerable to achieve introspection of our existence. Mindfulness is more important than ever for ourselves and our children, and Benjamin's work is a reminder to take the time to make sure we are living our best life by paying attention to who we really are.
Friday’s mentorship panel titled, Mentorship is Key: Parent, Mentee, and Academic Perspectives Through Film beautifully combined Lin Lim, Ph.D’s NEST! Parenting Trifecta with the perspectives and narratives of mother-son duo Harri and Jordan O’Kelley. The components of Dr. Lim’s NEST! model listed the important components of parent support relationships, parent education, and the mentor-mentee relationship. Mom, Harri O’Kelley, shared about the mentors and opportunities that she sought out for her twice exceptional son throughout his childhood to allow him to thrive. Jordan O’Kelley talked about and expressed his gratitude for the mentors he has had in his life who have supported him over the years. Overall, this presentation was an inspiration to parents and mentors that mentorship is so incredibly powerful. Mentors allow us to see things inside of us that we may have never known were there.
SENG made sure that their conference was a balanced one, showcasing the voices of not only the experts and parents, but also the voices of the gifted and twice exceptional students that we love. Friday’s lunch featured Gifted Student Voices, in which gifted students shared their educational experiences and described what has worked best for them in the educational arena. Moderated by Qualia: The School for Deeper Learning’s co-founders Jim Hahn and Jon Cassie, it was evident that these students were being given the opportunity to guide their own learning by following their strengths and interests with a supportive faculty to mentor them the entire way. What inspiring stories!
Social-emotional learning (SEL) can be taught through games and even gaming! The Social Emotional Learning Through Games presentation illustrated how concepts such as self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, self-management, and responsible decision-making can be learned through playing games. Jon Cassie and Jim Hahn led discussion with attendees and gave examples of how the learning process evolves in this kind of learning.
On Saturday, keynote speaker, James Moore III, Ph.D. presented “Suburban, Gifted, and Black: An Overview of School, Psychological, and Social Factors in Predominantly White School Settings.” His work shared a real dilemma in which Black students experience in predominantly white school settings and in the gifted recruitment process. Black students who remain outnumbered in gifted education programs must make significant adjustments to feel that they fit in. The experience can be emotionally and psychologically draining for these bright children. Dr. Moore gave his suggestions for improvement in schools as well as specifically clustering students of color in classrooms, as opposed to spacing them out. The more diverse a gifted program is, the better likelihood that children of color will remain in it. As Dr. Moore shared, there is still much work to do to reverse the deficit thinking and stereotypes of Black student performance.
What creates learning that lasts? Learning that students care about? Deeper learning creates a genuine respect for the problems engaged in, and JC Wright and Jim Hahn’s presentation, “Philosophical Thought Experiments As Tools To Enhance Critical Thinking and Deepen Learning” shared what can be gained through thought experiments with students. A thought-provoking interactive example was shared with attendees as well as resources to try with your own gifted kids/students.
Sunday’s lineup started with keynote speaker, P. Susan Jackson’s presentation about “Anxiety in the Lives of the Gifted Adult: Origins, Manifestations, and Amelioration”. A memorable citation made by Liddel, H.S. (1949) accompanied Jackson’s message, “Anxiety accompanies intellect as its shadow…The more we know about anxiety, the more we will understand intellect”. The prevalence of anxiety is alarming enough throughout the human population today, but gifted adults’ anxiety needs to be better understood holistically. P. Susan Jackson stressed that “it is every gifted person’s birthright to live a fully actuated “switched on” life. Helpful ways to manage anxiety were included at the end of this presentation that included the importance of creating regular space and quiet time to give gifted minds’ thoughts and nervous systems a rest.
Overall, SENG really nailed it this year with amazing speakers from all over the world and amazing professionals and parents uniting to spark discussion to promote a better world for our gifted/2e population. There is much excitement as we look forward to next year’s SENG 2023 conference at Villanova University (in -person!) in Philadelphia from July 20-23rd. The theme next year: “Authentic Voices: Community and Belonging”. Save the date!
Andrea Brucella Finnegan, M.S. Ed., is a doctoral student at the Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity, studying giftedness, particularly twice-exceptionality. She is fascinated by studies of the vast diversities of the human brain that occur naturally, but that are currently viewed as deficits in health care and education today. She serves as Co-Director for the Operation House Call Program at the Yale School of Nursing, a program that uses families to support health care professionals in building confidence, interest and sensitivity in their work with individuals who have intellectual and/or developmental differences. Andrea is a mom to three amazing children who inspire her field of work each day. Check out her upcoming 2e resource site, Twice Exceptional Cafe, coming this fall 2022 at www.twiceexceptionalcafe.com