Folks often ask how to make the case for a 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 classroom teachers can effectively differentiate for all students in one classroom.
This is pretty disconnected from reality, but 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 of people who believe very strange things in spite of all the facts being against them. You’ll never get them to change their minds with charts and graphs — because they’ll just argue against the charts and graphs with their own! They have subscribed to a story and you can only fight back with a better story.
So, drop the stats and numbers for now. Instead, how do we tell a story about our need for a gifted program?
You have the most powerful story of all: children in need!
Let students tell their stories. What is school like for them? How could 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.
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?
For me, I was surprised by how much of an outlier gifted kids really are. We think of them as “smart” or “above average” but their needs are far beyond that. How do we tell that surprising story? How do we reframe the needs of gifted students?
I’ve always been struck by the comparison of a gifted student (two standard deviations above the mean), the “average student” (at the mean), and a student with an intellectual disability (two standard deviations below the mean). Gifted kids aren’t just “smart” — they’re as far from the average as students who have an IEP for an intellectual disability.
Or 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 (not just the stat)! 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.
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Do not create PowerPoint slides! Do not do it! This is predictable. 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 and DO NOT MAKE POWERPOINT SLIDES!
Parents are powerful. Parents make things happen (especially the parents of your top-performing students). Parents are underutilized in many situations. They care deeply, but don’t know that they can help.
One 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!
Consider how you can use parents to tell your story more effectively (and perhaps hold Admin X’s feet to the fire).
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.
Ok! Hope this helps you begin to craft a convincing message! Do grab Made To Stick which is a delightful and easy read. Good luck and let me know if you’ve had success with this problem!
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