Unleashing Potential: Personal Interest Project

Awake the Sleeping Dragon

Sleeping_Dragon_by_Airdin

Linda Silverman (2013) in her book Giftedness 101  refers to giftedness as a “sleeping dragon”. She explains that:

There is more to some people than meets the eye. When one knows what to look for,

giftedness appears in unanticipated places, expressed in unexpected ways…If one

notices that there is something special about a child and conveys a glint of recognition,

the sleeping dragon within may awaken and begin to breathe fire into this little person’s soul.

(Silverman, 2013, p. 2)

It seems to me that many parents yearn for this recognition for their child at school. For just ONE teacher, to recognise the spark – the sleeping dragon, in their child. It is when the dragon is awakened that the passion for learning is ignited and reignited. A passion that fuels the child’s very existence at school. Rousing the dragon from slumber, through recognition of a child’s strengths is a transformative experience for the child in particular, but also for parents and teachers.

I believe that school can be transformed into a place of purpose and connection, where a child feels acknowledged, listened to, and valued, and it is these aspects that facilitate engagement. Transformation may not apply to all aspects of school life, and some of our gifted children have gifts and talents in domains that are not within the realm of school development, however, encouraging a child to grow his or her area(s) of strength wherever possible, is often the magic that awakens the dragon. Acknowledgment, appreciation and use of strengths, may unleash endless possibilities.

I’d like to share with you the story of one such dragon awakening. Just before Christmas in 2013, a young man, at 16 years of age achieved a dream – the launch of his first novel.  His road at school, like many gifted young people, had not been smooth. A complex young man who displayed multiple overexcitabilities, always preoccupied in class, his nose in a book, or his mind elsewhere. Never entirely present within the classroom he’d miss instructions and ask questions or demand explanations within seconds of a concept being discussed at length. Everyone else knew what to do and where to go, he was the exception. A young man clearly out of step. He just never seemed to listen, was distracted and preoccupied.

His questioning showed a line of intensity the teacher said he could not fathom. However, one aspect the teacher recognised was the young boy’s passion for reading and writing. In a quiet moment one day teacher asked the young boy, then in Grade 3, what he would like to be and do when he was older. Without hesitating the student declared that all he wanted to do was to be an author. He was, he said, ‘born to write.’ With writing talents that way surpassed his peers, the teacher seized on this opportunity. He  provided the student with an opportunity to complete a personal interest project. No surprises that his self-selected topic was “How to be an Author.”

Within days the student returned with a piece of cardboard on which information was randomly pasted. The heading “How to be an Author” in large black letters. He was, he declared ‘finished’. The teacher read the ‘poster’, a clear cut and paste from the land of Google. Taking the student aside the teacher discussed the project and told him that the piece of work was not ‘finished’ it was a draft. The teacher added that it could not be considered an authentic learning experience because the student had not communicated with any authors nor had he  provided any of his own creative writing. He recalled that the student seemed somewhat abashed and looked crestfallen but was willing to listen to further possibilities in the learning experience. The teacher then explained that his role as a teacher was a support role. He was there to help the student take the next step towards achieving his dream of becoming an author. Clearly the student’s job was not done! The teacher suggested that if the student had a genuine desire to write he would need to contact an author who wrote for the age group that most appealed to him, indeed the age group he wanted to write for when his dream became a reality. There was to be no Googling answers to his questions, they needed to be posed directly to a published author.

With much sighing the student selected a well known children’s author. Mum became enrolled in monitoring for safety as the student approached the author via email.What followed was months of emails between student and author. The project developed into a process journal and narrative study into the intricacies of the writing process. The culmination of the project was a presentation to a group of interested peers and a handful of adults who formed an interview panel to question the student on his findings. Having an authentic audience to present work to was considered an all important facet for the teacher and so the young student was encouraged to invite the author to the presentation. The student’s joy at her acceptance was palpable.

On the 8th of December 2013, this young man launched his first novel, endorsed by the children’s author, who has now become his mentor and guide. A labour of love that consumed him for three years.  The sleeping dragon had not merely been aroused he is soaring. The young man, once distracted and often isolated, now edges towards the end of his formal schooling with his head held high, and a published author! No less intense, he has achieved the first of many dreams. I can hardly wait to hear what his next will be.

My wish for you as we start the new year, a year of hope and promise, of possibility and anticipation, is that wherever your child may be, that he or she will have a transformative school experience this year. That he or she will meet that one magnificent alchemist skilled in recognising dragons, who has just the right potion to rouse the dragon from slumber to soar higher, and fly further than you or your child can imagine.         

Reference

Silverman, L. K. (2013) Giftedness 101. New York: Springer Publishing.           

Pondering Perfectionism and Authenticity: On being real.

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A common thread appears to have emerged in my reading material over the past few months. All of it has to do with perfectionism. I am currently reading Brené Brown’s book “Daring Greatly”(2012), which deals with our ability to be vulnerable. One of the factors that she links to vulnerability is perfectionism. Brown describes that, “Perfectionism is not the path that leads us to our gifts and to our sense of purpose; it’s the hazardous detour” (p.128). While she has not stipulated that the type of perfectionism she is describing is ‘unhealthy perfectionism’ it is apparent that it is this level of perfectionism to which she refers. Some level of perfectionism is necessary for us to achieve to our highest potential and has to do with our intrapersonal drivers. How then do we recognise when it has become that ‘hazardous detour?’

The perfectionism outlined by Brown is in relation to vulnerability and she refers to it as a “shield to protect against vulnerability”.  In some instances, however, it is more than a shield; it is a full blown suit of armour – one that prevents authentic living.

Brown (2012, p.129) clearly outlines four ways of looking at perfectionism and outlines what it isn’t:

  • Perfectionism is not to be confused with striving for excellence, healthy achievement and growth. It is a ‘defensive move’, the belief that if ‘we always look perfect and do things perfectly, we can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.’
  • Perfectionism is not self-improvement, at its core is earning approval. Most perfectionists have grown up being praised for achievement and performance and somewhere in this mix have developed the core belief that “I am what I accomplish. I will be judged by how well I accomplish it, perform, perfect, or please.” Perfectionism is ‘other’ focused – “What will other’s think if I…?” It is disempowering as ‘other’ has the control.
  • Perfectionism is not the key to success – unhealthy perfectionism has a negative impact on achievement.
  • Perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame-it is a form of shame. Brown concludes that ‘where we struggle with perfectionism we struggle with shame.’

Brown’s summation led me to think about what happens at the interface between perfectionism and authenticity and how this plays out for our gifted youth. Many appear to have no issues in this area, some do, and some appear to have grappled with overcoming perfectionist tendencies and made courageous decisions to be ‘real’ and present their authentic self to others. This is not easy and is often been a painful process but one which frequently results in increased resiliency and self-efficacy. A critical period when young people are faced with this choice is often at the onset of adolescence when sense of belonging and identity are key issues and youth feel particularly sensitive and vulnerable.

In closing I am reminded of one of my all time favourite children’s picture books, “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams, and how the messages contained in its elegant prose relates to many of our young gifted people who struggle daily to live authentically on a daily basis in a society, which to all intents and purposes, claims to be accepting of diversity and yet at times appears to be increasingly intolerant of anyone who is different.

The conversation between Rabbit and the Skin Horse provides insight into a process in which the essence of what it is to be ‘real’, to remove the armour of perfectionism, and live as authentically as possible is explored.

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. 

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ 
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ 

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”Image

References:

Brown, B. (2012) Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love , Parent and Lead. Penguin.

Quindlen, A. (2005). Being Perfect. Random House.

Williams, M. (1987). The Velveteen Rabbit.Avon.