Search form

About The Blogger

Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
Back to Blog

Tales of a Gifted Ed Resource Teacher -Part 2

In this installment, I write about the themes I discovered in my story of working as a gifted education resource teacher. Essentially, I experienced much frustration until I learned to first collaborate with classroom teachers, until I gained their trust and respect, only then could I begin to share my expertise. Interspersed in the writing are journal reflections and e-mails, which convey my thoughts and emotions at the time of the experience.

Part 2:

From Frustration to Collaboration to Influence: Learning Co-Teaching Aikido

From my analysis, the following themes emerged: 1. Frustration 2. Isolation 3. Advocacy 4. Collaboration and 5. Influence. I intentionally presented the themes in the manner they appear. Hence, the order of the themes is significant since I realized they demonstrated the challenges and eventual breakthroughs I experienced as an educator; each theme seemed to fuel the others. For instance, my frustration with colleagues intensified feeling of isolation. These experiences strengthened my advocacy efforts. My motivation to create change caused me to realize the value of collaboration. Finally, collaborative efforts and learning to harmonize my efforts with the teachers extended my influence.

Frustration

Though I “grew” into my new position and became more effective, it wasn’t always a smooth process. I experienced an almost steady state of frustration due to strained relations with co-teachers, particularly during the first few months of the school year. Having to enter their classrooms to teach, I constantly felt at the mercy of the general education teachers. Having different ideas about gifted education and how to best serve high-ability students served as a constant primer for frustration.

Journal Entry, 7-12-15:
Learned about my new schedule. Going to be co-teaching with some new folks, who I never worked with before. A few are long-time teachers, who might be “set” in their ways. Little apprehensive about how this might go.

 

E-mail to Co-teachers, 9-22-2015:
I feel the need to clarify some issues regarding the gifted program. Teachers have expressed concern over some gifted students not performing in the classroom at expected levels, completing assignments, scoring proficient on tests, etc. With an influx of new students coming to the gifted program this school year, I anticipate that these challenges on an IQ score and a list of characteristics suggesting they are gifted. This means they have the potential to show above-average ability in at one least one area or subject. The key word is potential. It does not mean they are an excellent student, an academic scholar, or will excel in every subject… Finally, I need to stress that when students are enrolled in the gifted program, parents sign a contract (education plan). This plan promises that the student will receive gifted services and also that they will receive enrichment (service learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning). My job is to provide that enrichment--within the English-language arts framework. So when you're suggesting to me what lessons the students need to be working on, please remember that I must package this learning into these enrichment models to honor the contract. I must also work on having students make progress on their two education plan goals (which are written to a student's strengths. i.e. creativity, advanced research). I have to document this progress, which is hard to do if students are not working on some type of project (AND all of this within 45-50 minutes-provided there is not FAIR testing, LDC, other some other requirement going on). I have worked hard to be flexible and adaptable and consider your needs in the classroom (I had my own room for years), and I simply ask the same of you.

The above e-mail conveyed my frustration with the perception that the classroom teachers failed to consider my duties and responsibilities as a teacher of gifted. For example, did they understand that I also had obligations to the parents and expectations to meet regarding the quality and integrity of the school’s gifted program? Also, the correspondence expressed my frustration with the teachers unrealistically expecting all identified gifted students as automatically achieving academic excellence, despite ample research suggesting otherwise (Ritchotte, Matthews, & Flowers, 2014).

Journal Entry, 10-20-15:
Teacher gives me an attitude, says they had so much to do. When are they going to make up their work? He asks. I haven’t pulled the kids from class all week due to the (district required lesson). So controlling! Why not pre-test the kids on spelling/vocabulary, that would save time, (expletive).

Journal Entry 11/13/15 Frustrated.:
One teacher resisting my taking students out of room. The teacher says he differentiates but whenever I go in the room, they are all doing the same lesson, at the same time. I told him that he is making it hard for me to differentiate to see me as the differentiation helper. Some teachers are just really controlling, head strong, they don’t collaborate well. I’m trying.

Again, my frustration seemed to stem from my colleagues’ apparent lack of understanding of gifted children’s needs. As Gallagher, Harradine, and Coleman (1997) emphasized, “unless prepared to teach gifted students, most teachers have little or no background on strategies to cope with these creative and fertile minds. They need information about how to provide intellectual stimulation through problem-based learning or higher-order thinking or a variety of differentiated programming. The more knowledge teachers have about differentiated methods and strategies, the more they will be able to adequately address all of their students’ needs.” (p.136). For instance, in the case of the teacher resisting the idea of the students being pulled out of the classroom, strategies such as curriculum compacting –where students are allowed to take pre-assessments to show mastery of instructional material –might have enabled him to manage the students leaving the classroom without losing academic ground. Nevertheless, since most classroom teachers are not required to complete gifted education coursework, it’s understandable that I would grow frustrated when working with other educators that have different teaching philosophies, which I no doubt believed where not best practices for gifted kids.

Isolation

It is not uncommon for teachers, particularly when starting their career, to feel isolated (McCluskey, Sim, & Johnson, 2011). Being the only teacher on campus who specialized in teaching gifted and talented students predisposed me to feel alone in my mission. While I purposely congregated with several other teachers, whose company I enjoyed, I could not escape feelings of isolation.

Journal Entry, 9-4-2015:
Sometimes feel like only one who fights for gifted, uses enrichment, project-based learning.

Journal Entry, 9-17-2015:
Completing paperwork/education plans for new gifted students. Handful of new students this year. No extra help. I don’t like paperwork (who does?). I am responsible for staffing, paperwork, screening potential gifted, teaching—all myself. A one-man army!

These journals reflected the challenge of serving as the sole teacher of gifted education on a school campus. Certainly, I had colleagues who also taught gifted children—but they worked on different campuses, limiting our interactions to e-mails, text messages, and infrequent, face-to-face conversations at trainings and conferences. I had no one at the school who closely shared the same pedagogical stance; I obviously cared the most (at least in my mind) about enrichment activities, research projects, and other gifted education strategies. I lacked the same feelings of camaraderie experienced when I attended gifted education conferences, where others shared the same goals, passions, and ideals. So often, I retreated to my office and read an article about gifted education. I tried to reaffirm why my role and actions were important at the school. Alone, I read and pondered, and reinforced my feelings of isolation.

Advocacy

Teachers, including teachers of the gifted, care deeply about educational issues, and therefore, should advocate for their students (Roberts & Siegle, 2012). Increasingly, I found myself advocating for my gifted students. I began to advocate in direct ways, through conversations with co-teachers through e-mails but also in more indirect ways. During meetings, I suggested parents advocate harder for their children.

Journal Entry, 10-2-2015:
Afterschool, had conversation with parent. Asked if she thought her (gifted) child was being challenged. She wondered because he gets As easily. I said parents have to advocate, talk to teachers to make sure these kids are more of a priority. This seems to be the theme of my conversations with parents. Am I pushing too hard? Am I not being a good colleague to my co-teachers? Doing what is right for the kids may mean not making friends, making waves.

Journal Entry, 10-16-2015:
Parent spoke with me about accelerating her son from fourth to fifth grade. Told her she needs to advocate for her son’s learning needs, that acceleration is not a priority in schools. I told her to politely persist with it.

I employed the help of parents to advocate for the gifted students; I realized that the dissatisfaction of the parents mirrored my own and served as an opportunity to gain allies in my advocacy efforts. Rather than fight the complaints, like the Aikido master side- stepping an attack and redirecting it, I redirected the parents’ concerns towards the goal of meeting the gifted students’ needs. While that might appear wise, I also struggled with whether I was betraying the teachers since it could cause them more work and strife; I respected my colleagues, and as a former classroom teacher, I knew how demanding their jobs were.

Collaboration

Gradually, organically, I began to experience positive experiences of collaboration with co-teachers. Initially, I collaborated well with a particular teacher or two, then with other teachers on my teaching team. I began planning lessons with some, communicating more about instruction.

Journal Entry, 10/19/15:
I’ve been co-teaching with two, (omitted) grade teachers. We work well together. When it works, it works well. I really enjoy working with them and complimenting their styles.

Journal Entry, 11/12/15:
Great experience teaching with (omitted) grade teacher. She let me take the lead on sharing the lesson. When it works, it really works—like marriage. We collaborate well together, share ideas, improve lessons. Other teachers seem very controlling of their classroom and lessons-do not invite me into this space.

Journal Entry, 12/9/15:
I feel like I gelled much more with the co-teachers. I feel more in sync with what they are doing. I’ve had to give a little regarding what and how I want to teach, though. However, I feel it’s best for the kids for me to be on the same page as their classroom teachers. It’s taken several months this school year, but I felt like I finally “harmonized.”

I experienced a synergy with one co-teacher in particular; hence, my perception of co-teaching in general, I believe began to slowly change for the better. I realized that working together, we could accomplish much more. This relationship produced strong results (i.e., higher performing, deeper thinking, higher teacher evaluations) with the students in the classroom— the gifted students and the general classroom students. I began to see the value in harmonizing, in blending my energies rather that allowing them to dissipate through conflict and disagreement. Still, I felt that other co-teachers did not allow me to enter their space. For instance, they didn’t share lesson plans as freely or welcome my ideas for enrichment. However, the positive relationship I enjoyed with that one particular teacher began to spill over—she provided testimony to the other co-teachers, telling them about the promising results she noticed in her classroom after implementing my suggestions. Soon, another co-teacher accepted my offer teach a lesson together, using a gifted education strategy as the backbone of the lesson.

At this point, I definitely felt better about my co-teaching situation. Steve Haberlin 2083 Influence When they work together with others, leaders contribute to a better community, improving the community and everyone within it (Ackerina, 2015). By blending my energies, my experience, my goal, and my talents with colleagues, I realized a greater impact. I realized that by moving in circles, meaning taking a more subtle approach with co-workers, I would eventually accomplish more in the long run. This sometimes meant going along with teachers, even if I didn’t agree philosophically, until I could interject my influence at a later time. This e-mail to a co-teacher, who I originally struggled to connect with, reflected my new, “softer yet more powerful” approach.

E-mail, 3/24/16:
Me: I really like the different roles (i.e., paparazzi) in the book clubs; I was thinking we might use the DeBono's Six Thinking Hats in a future lesson to look at an article or story. It pushes them to consider different perspectives, works well with gifted but also helps other students since you can limit the number and type of hats they use. Co-teacher: I would love to have you do that!

The above exchange demonstrated that by harmonizing with my opponent (I no longer viewed them as the opponent at this point) I accomplished more with less energy. I respected my colleague’s teaching efforts (as evidence by the authentic compliment I gave) then subtly shifted directions by suggesting my own strategy—and it worked. I had come full circle myself—I no longer experienced the frustration, the disconnect, I had battled with earlier in the school year.

Read the other installments in this series:
>>Part 1
>>Part 3