Directors’ Corner

By Dr. Sylvia Bagley.

Greetings, SENG community! As SENG’s newly appointed Education Chair, I was asked to share with you how I came to join this organization and my experiences, more broadly, with gifted education.

I’ll begin by sharing that I am the parent of three gifted kids, and I am a gifted adult. I am also an education professor passionate about ensuring that all children receive the educational opportunities they need and deserve. I approach giftedness from many perspectives and resonate deeply with SENG’s vision of empowering “gifted and talented individuals to reach their goals: intellectually, physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually”. This multi-faceted view of giftedness honors the rich needs and challenges members of our community face.

I first learned about SENG when I joined an SMPG parent group back in 2018, an experience that was affirming and transformative on many levels. I’d learned a lot about parenting over the years, but talking with other parents of gifted kids was by far the most validating and helpful approach I’d experienced. I suddenly realized that traditional parenting books – as useful as they were in many ways – simply didn’t account for the unique challenges I was seeing in my own twice-exceptional kids.

I also began exploring what I went through myself as a gifted kid from a new lens of compassion and insight. When I was designated as gifted in first grade, no formal programming was available; instead, I was simply given the next grade’s math book and more advanced reading and writing assignments to work through at my own pace. I quickly developed the (false) belief that I should be able to easily understand anything and everything put in front of me, which eventually led to deep insecurities when material became more challenging. In fourth grade, I started participating in our district’s formal, once-a-week gifted pull-out program, which was a welcome reprieve – but by sixth grade, I was spending most of my schooltime simply finishing my required work as quickly as I could and then burying my head in a novel to get through the day. I had some good friends but was also bullied, cried easily, and struggled with existential angst and various mental health challenges – all of which intensified during adolescence. I was eventually disillusioned enough with formal schooling that I dropped out.

After a few years of being a self-proclaimed “autodidact,” I realized I wanted to return to formal schooling to learn more about what had gone so wrong for me. I started taking classes at a local community college, completed my bachelor’s degree, and earned a multiple subject teaching credential in California. Within a few years of my new teaching career, I was eager to return to school and keep exploring the field of education in more depth – so I earned my M.A. and Ph.D. in the philosophy and history of education. Now, as a university lecturer, I “teach teachers” while overseeing a master’s degree in instructional leadership – work which allows me to engage with schooling from a much more empowered and inclusive stance and to continue to advocate for the type of personalized learning all students deserve.

When I had kids of my own (now ages 9, 11, and 13), I was initially reluctant to think much about their giftedness, given how traumatizing that label had been for me as a child. I didn’t want my kids to experience the same kind of isolation I did, but I also couldn’t ignore their gifted profiles – and I eventually realized that placing them in our district’s HiCap program with accelerated academic experiences would probably help them adjust more easily to the constraints of formalized schooling. So far (knock on wood), things are going reasonably well; they each have unique challenges, but with so many resources now available to parents of gifted kids, I feel well-placed to support them along each step of their journeys.

Speaking of journeys, I’ve come to learn that the circuitous educational path I took myself is actually quite normal. It turns out that “school refusal” is surprisingly common among gifted kids. Indeed, many gifted kids struggle far more than we’re led to believe; as educational consultant Austina de Bonte puts it, “smart is not easy.” She writes, “Whether it’s perfectionism, sensitivity, intensity, existential angst, imposter syndrome, multipotentiality, or more, there’s a lot for gifted kids to manage that goes far beyond academics.” SENG’s very name reflects this reality, from acknowledging the primacy of emotion and affect in our lived experiences to validating that gifted individuals need support to thrive.

Meanwhile, it turns out that twice-exceptionality – that is, experiencing giftedness alongside other learning challenges such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, autism, and/or dyslexia or dysgraphia – is far more common than one might expect. My three kids are all differently twice-exceptional, and success in school doesn’t come automatically to them; they require scaffolding and support far beyond anything I knew was possible when I was a kid and simply expected to excel on my own.

I’ve also learned that gifted kids don’t outgrow “being gifted.” In recent years, I’ve done deep dives into research and support for gifted adults and discovered that I have a Rainforest Mind and am a “multi-potentialite.” Acknowledging my identity as a gifted adult has allowed me to better accept my intensities as “normal” and to seek out a community who can relate to my never-ending quest for knowledge and intellectual stimulation. I started a blog to share my experiences, wonderings, and reviews of books related to twice-exceptionality and giftedness, and I regularly attend SENG’s conferences and mini-conferences. I became trained as an SMPG group facilitator, and co-facilitated my first parent group last spring. As a gifted adult and parent, there is nothing quite so ideal as getting to learn new things while connecting with peers.

Even more important, I’ve come to understand the need to situate my own experiences as a gifted white female within the broader context of persistent racial and socio-economic inequities in gifted education. While I struggled a lot as a kid, I was nonetheless privileged to attend a school where my giftedness was at the very least seen and acknowledged; far too many students don’t experience even this basic validation, let alone the rigorous and personalized schooling opportunities that will allow them to thrive. Indeed, the underrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in gifted classrooms – and our collective failure to ensure they are authentically welcomed and supported each step of the way – remains the most pressing concern facing the gifted community. Unless or until we acknowledge the harm caused by racist and exclusionary practices in under-identifying and underserving gifted kids across racial and linguistic subgroups, we can’t with good conscience advocate on behalf of the work we know still needs to be done for gifted education in K-12 spaces and beyond.

More specifically, we cannot continue to offer gifted services