Is someone attacking your gifted program? Are you worried that your budget is on the chopping block next year?
Here’s the thing: if your program is not in jeopardy right now, it will be someday! Don’t wait until it’s under attack to start explaining why its important.
First, grab a copy of the book Made To Stick, from the Heath brothers. It’s all about how to craft memorable and convincing messages. Here are a few thoughts based on this book.
People believe in stories, not facts.
You know people who believe very strange things in spite of all the facts being against them. Yet, you’ll never get them to change their minds with charts and graphs because they’ll just argue with their own charts and graphs! They have subscribed to a story, and you can only fight back with a better story.
So, drop the stats and numbers. Leave the graphs at home. Instead, how do we tell a story about why our gifted program is important?
Well, lucky for you, you happen to have the most powerful story of all: children in need!
Your students’ success is your story! What is school like for them? How does a gifted program change this? Let their parents talk. Let graduated students return and talk. Gifted kids are very perceptive and often have great insight into what’s holding them back or keeping them going in a classroom. Your students are your purpose.
A Powerful (and Fact-less) Story
If you’ve seen that awful “Rethinking Giftedness” video from Jo Boaler, you know how powerful a story is. She doesn’t have any research. There are no numbers. No charts or graphs. Just some hand-picked kids talking into a camera and then edited to match Boaler’s exact beliefs.
It’s blatant propaganda, yet that video has convinced thousands of people that gifted programs are bad. You can’t argue against it with research and facts. You need to tell a better story.
If you’re a leader in your gifted program, it may not be in your official job description, but you need to have a darn good story about why your gifted program is essential.
And you need to tell it all the time!
Break a pattern!
In Made To Stick, The Heath brothers say, “The best way to get attention is to break a pattern.” So what about your program’s story is most surprising? What will break people’s current pattern of thought and capture their attention so that they will hear your story?
We have to re-frame the needs of gifted students. Most people think of them as “above average.” That’s way off. Gifted kids are way way way above average. They’re outliers. And some gifted kids are outliers among the outliers.
Consider this research from Johns-Hopkins in which the authors uncover the incredible number of students performing one, two, four, or even eight years above grade level. That’s surprising! Yet the authors do a terrible job of telling a good story about their findings. (This is a big problem with letting academics speak for us. They are notoriously bad at communicating in a clear way to everyday people.) I tried to communicate the story in my article about their research by using animated images and surprising comparisons rather than tables of numbers.
If I were running a gifted program, I’d tell the story of specific kids. I wouldn’t repeat stats, but I’d sell the surprise. Get people wondering, What is life like if you are a 4th grader who is already ready for 8th-grade thinking?
Frame the story with a surprise. Break a pattern and grab attention. Re-frame your gifted program.
Do not create PowerPoint slides! Do not do it! Please. This is predictable. It’s boring. PowerPoint brings out the worst in presentations.
Instead, be a storyteller! Surprise your audience through your medium. Hand out physical student work from kids who are way above grade level. Let folks read hand-written letters from kids who are bored to death. Have students speak in person or record video interviews. Let your alumni explain why the gifted program was important to them (you are keeping in touch with your alumni, right?).
Move away from mere facts and toward authentic emotion. Move away from arguing and towards story-telling. Oh, one more thing… don’t make PowerPoint slides!
Where are your parents?
Parents are powerful. Parents make things happen (especially the parents of your top-performing students). Parents are underutilized in many situations. Parents care deeply but don’t know that they can help.
My school district didn’t have a middle school gifted program for decades. This was an obvious problem that was never acted on because of a lack of concern from higher up. What finally got attention? Parents moved their kids to a neighboring school district that did have a middle school gifted program.
Boom. Sudden action. There was a middle school gifted program within two years!
Consider how you can use parents to tell your story more effectively (and perhaps hold some feet to the fire). I’ve written before about how under-utilized most parent nights are.
Consider Your Leverage
It’s easy to give up because the decision-maker is so powerful – they probably even have their own labeled parking spot for their luxury automobile!
But ask yourself: what is my strength in this situation? What is this other person’s weakness or blind spot? What leverage do I have so I can make my strength even stronger? What motivates this powerful person? What do they care the most about? How can I capitalize on that with my story? You need to figure out how to play politics to your advantage. You are more powerful than you think!
For instance, your boss’s boss’s boss may care about kids’ happiness, sure, but they probably really really care about test scores. So frame your story around those test scores. Tell the story which will be most convincing to your audience. Use your leverage.
I hope this helps you begin crafting a story to tell about your gifted program. And do grab Made To Stick which is a delightful and easy read. Good luck and let me know if you’ve had success!