Folks often ask how to make the case for their gifted program. Usually they are pitted against a higher-up administrator (we’ll call them Admin X) who doesn’t see the value in a gifted program. Admin X believes that ✨ all teachers can effectively differentiate for all students in one classroom ✨.
This sounds great, but it’s pretty disconnected from reality. So how do we convince Admin X of that?
How do we make the case for a gifted program?
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 probably 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. Instead, how do we tell a story about our need for a gifted program?
Well, lucky for you, you happen to have the most powerful story of all: children in need!
Let students tell their stories! What is school like for them? How does a gifted program change this? Let their parents talk. Let students who moved to your district from a gifted program share their story. Let graduated students return and talk. Gifted kids are very perceptive and often have great insight into what’s holding them back in a classroom. Let your students share their stories.
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. And yet, it convinced probably thousands of people that gifted programs are bad. Stories beat facts. We need to be telling a better story.
If you’re running a gifted program, it may not be in your official job description, but Job #1 is to have a darn good story to tell about why your gifted program is essential.
The Heath brothers say, “The best way to get attention is to break a pattern.” So what about your story is most surprising? What will break Admin X’s pattern of thinking and capture their attention?
We have to reframe 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!
Tell those kids’ stories — do not just repeat the stats! 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 who gifted kids are. They’re not just “above average.”
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 story-teller! Surprise your audience through your medium. Have students speak in person or record video interviews. Hand out tangible student work from kids who are way above grade level. Let folks read hand-written letters from kids who are bored to death.
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!
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 Admin X’s feet to the fire).
I’ll also do a little #realtalk here. I’ve spoken at many, many, many districts’ parent nights and have seen a clear pattern. It’s often obvious that the gifted coordinator hasn’t really met any of the parents before, and, even by the end of the parent night, they still haven’t really met any of them.
So, if you’re hosting parent nights, don’t hire a speaker like me! Spend the hour getting to know your parents and letting them get to know you. Sit with them. Listen to their problems. Build a rapport.
If you find, after years of parent nights, that folks have questions that require an expert, then bring in that expert. But no hiring speakers until you hit that point!
And, if you don’t run parent nights, you better get on it! Parents are a vital ally in any fight to keep a gifted program going. Even if you’re not facing this battle now, I bet you will in the next five years. Be prepared!
Consider Your Leverage
It’s easy to give up because Admin X 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 Admin X’s weakness or blind spot? What leverage do I have so I can make my strength even stronger? What motivates Admin X? How can I capitalize on that with my story?
As an educator who’s in the trenches, you know students, you know alumni, and you know parents. You know the stories out there waiting to be told.
You are more powerful than you think!
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!
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