By: Denise Michele Hicks, YSBH EdS PMP
On February 19, 2023, over forty SENG members came together from places as far as Singapore and the Netherlands to meet with us here in the United States virtually via Facebook Live to accomplish the goal of creating a safe space where we could be curious and begin to ask tough questions centered around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging without judgment. Two of the biggest questions that came out of our virtual conversation were: 1. How do we begin to help our older children understand that they can make a positive impact despite the social and emotional unrest happening in the world today? 2. Where can we find additional resources to help our older children further develop their drive to take action in their communities when it comes to addressing the issues they face regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging? I am excited to write that over the last six months, several of us have continued to add to our original conversion. Answers, thus far, cover a range of different perspectives. Many have shared that it is important to recognize that gifted students possess so many unique abilities and talents that set them apart from their peers. As a member of our SENG National Board of Directors, veteran GATE educator for over 30+ years, and mother raising two older children identified as gifted, I would like to add to the conversation by sharing what I have experienced in my classroom environment. For the past six months, I have had the opportunity to work with over 800 students in the areas of GATE and STEM and to really focus on trying to get our two main questions answered. I have noticed that when it comes to our gifted students, their remarkable skills often go unnoticed by both themselves and their fellow classmates. When asked if they know the crucial role they play in shaping the classroom environment and ultimately having the potential to make a profound impact on the world, many of my students-- including my own children-- reported that they were unaware of their positive influence. In fact, students reported that they did not even begin to think about their impact until they were assigned the Senior Global STEM Projects in which they had to design and share a project that showed their understanding of human impact on the world. This intrigued me on so many different levels as I began to realize that my students were unaware that their potential to create a positive impact on the world went so much further beyond their academic assignments. During my observations, I noticed that gifted students brought several valuable attributes to our learning environment. Some of the attributes included:
Gifted students challenged and stimulated their peers by asking thought-provoking questions, initiating discussions, and presenting alternative perspectives. Their intellectual curiosity inspired others to think critically and explore new ideas.
Many gifted students possessed natural leadership qualities. They often took on leadership roles within group projects, clubs, or extracurricular activities, and helped to organize and motivate their peers.
Gifted students came from various backgrounds and experiences; this contributed to the diversity of thought and perspective within our classroom. This diversity enriched class discussions and broadened the horizons of all students.
Creativity and Innovation
Mentoring and Tutoring
Gifted students served as mentors or tutors for their classmates and provided additional support and guidance to those who were struggling. I also noticed that several factors contributed to their lack of awareness:
Modesty and Humility
Gifted students downplayed their abilities and contributions out of modesty or humility. They did not want to appear arrogant or draw attention to themselves.
Gifted students often compared themselves to their classmates and did not recognize their uniqueness when surrounded by other high-achieving individuals.
Pressure and Expectations
The pressure to consistently perform at a high level seemed a bit overwhelming at times. I truly think that this pressure coupled with other daily social challenges is leading our gifted students to focus on personal achievement rather than recognizing their impact on the classroom, and it is here that we as caring adults can help!
I want to take a moment to thank all of my wonderful students and each of our committed SENG members for taking the time to discuss ways to unleash unrecognized potential and help gifted students in the classroom recognize their positive impact! I hope that this article serves as an encouragement for us all to keep on going as we come together to talk more about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
In closing, I hope you too will agree that in order to help gifted students realize their potential for positive impact on the world, it is essential to address their lack of awareness within the classroom. Here are some ideas that have led to building helpful strategies and resources:
Parents and educators should encourage gifted students to reflect on their strengths, talents, and contributions to the classroom. Self-awareness can boost their confidence.
Mentorship and Role Models
Connecting gifted students with mentors or role models who have recognized their own potential can inspire these students to recognize their abilities and envision their broader impact.
Parents and educators can provide individualized support and challenging opportunities tailored to each gifted student's needs, helping them realize their unique potential.
Encourage gifted students to collaborate with their peers, fostering a sense of teamwork and community. This can help them recognize their positive influence on others.
Recognition and Validation
Parents and educators should actively recognize and validate the contributions of gifted students, ensuring they feel valued for their efforts.
Denise Michele Hicks is originally from a Blue Star Military Family in Chicago, Illinois. She is the current President of the Arizona Association for Gifted and Talented. While in Chicago Public Schools, she participated in gifted programming and STEM enrichment services. She is an alumna from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Northwestern University working to continue her family legacy of service in public science, public education, and public health. As a member of SENG's Board of Directors, she will continue to work with the NAGC STEM Committee, NAGC Javits-Frasier Scholars' Program, and NAGC Dr. Martin Jenkins Scholars Program. She is looking forward to working further on STEM Future-Thinking and CSI Impact projects. She has completed her advanced certifications in Gifted and Talented Education at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Currently, while working on her doctoral studies in STEM Ed Leadership, she serves at Arizona State University in the Center for Bio-mediated, Bio-inspired Geotechnical Engineering Laboratory, ASU ACCESS Educational Program Initiatives and the US Military Academies' Advising Team for Arizona’s Congressional 3rd District.