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On Companionship

By Tracy Riley.

When I was in junior high school, I recall being given a test in the guidance counsellor’s office over the summer holidays. When school began, I was in a special class called Project SAIL (Searching the Atmospehere for Intellectual Learning – I think!). Years later, when I studied education at University, I came to realise that I was in a gifted program – with one of my best friends, Denise. Fast forward almost 40 years and Denise and I live in different countries, but we are both mothers, teachers with advanced degrees and share a common interest (at the moment) in Monarch butterflies!

Why butterflies? Well, because as I watched my caterpillar population dying under attack from predators, I was compelled to try to save them. Being a science teacher, Denise knew exactly what was needed and over a Saturday afternoon across the internet we created a home for my caterpillars. My photos and videos, as my caterpillars morphed to beautiful catalysts, have been shared with her students and we message daily as we await the first butterly to unfold her wings.

Denise and I remain steadfast friends and like-minded peers. It is because of her and my experiences in school that I have pursued questions about gifted education passionately and fervently for most of my career. My latest questions circle around what the term like-minded means, the opportunities for like-minded interactions and if they really make a difference to gifted learners. I have been talking with gifted students, their parents and teachers, and what has been most interesting to me is that every child I talk with describes like-mindedness in relation to thinking.

As one student explained, it is about “thinking along the same lines.” Another young girl described thinking not outside the square but “outside the triangle. Yeah, we think in triangles.” The students have talked about sharing similar thinking processes and styles, or as one boy said, like-minded peers are “similar and think on the same kind of path as you.” Last year, I had the opportunity to write about this study in a SENGvine feature article and to present at the annual conference. I concluded, “Gifted and talented students have the opportunity to learn how to learn, take risks and develop resiliency when learning with like-minded peers. Knowing how to think – not what to think – is what really matters.”

I continue to ask questions of gifted children because I am intriqued to hear them talk about how they think, and I wonder what role thinking plays in their social and emotional development. To me, asking gifted students about their experiences gives them a voice and better enables the SENG vision that they have “gratifying, meaningul lives and contribute to the well-being of others”. Sharing the experiences of gifted children and young people is another step toward our mission to empower families and communities to guide the gifted toward fulfillment – intellectually, physically, culturally, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

That’s why I am so delighted to have the opportunity to be on the SENG Board of Directors, and to be the ‘champion’ for SENG’s publications. I am excited to be working with our team as we explore new ways of sharing information, inspiration and support through our publications. Re-engaging with the SENG editorial board and our many contributors, whether through re-purposing some of the ‘classic’ SENG articles, invited columns or publication, or reviewing work for publication, is going to be an excellent way for me to meet and develop my thinking with like-minds. Please feel free to share your ideas with me – and, in doing so, please feel free to think outside the triangle! Like my caterpillars, I am looking forward to being part of a metamorphosis, a change – and spreading my wings to create ways of sharing what we know and want to know about supporting the emotional needs of our gifted learners.

When she transformed in to the butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back to what she always had been. But she had wings. – Dean Jackson


Dr. Riley specializes in gifted and talented education at Massey University in New Zealand. She teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the field in addition to supervising postgraduate research. Tracy is the co-editor of APEX: The New Zealand Journal of Gifted Education and is on the editorial board of Gifted Child Today. An active advocate for gifted and talented students, Tracy has served on numerous Ministry of Education advisory groups and has co-authored the Ministry handbook, Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting Their Needs in New Zealand Schools (2000, 2012). She publishes and presents widely at both national and international levels. In 2007, Tracy was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching and was the recipient of a national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award. Tracy is a past member of the executive committee of the Ako Aoteoroa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence and is chairperson of the board for giftEDnz: The Professional Association for Gifted Education. Tracy was a keynote speaker at The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children (WCGTC) 20th Biennial World Conference, August 2013 in Louisville, KY.

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