Change Minds. Change Policies. Change Practice.

Children with extraordinary gifts and talents are different and have different needs when it comes to helping them achieve their full potential. We parents, teachers, and advocates often get nervous to call attention to bright children, and many times we fall into the trap of working under the radar or even making ourselves invisible.

When we do this, we pull our bright children into the shadows with us. Hiding hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work in the future. We need a new approach to increasing support for the needs of gifted children.

We need to use the strategies and tactics that other movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement, Suffrage, and Environmentalism, have successfully utilized to inspire social change. We must have the courage to emerge from the shadows and work to change minds, change policies, and change practices affecting our gifted children.

As advocates, we must try new strategies and tactics to help society fully understand the nature and needs of gifted children, to create supportive environments for their learning, and to implement research-based practices that help children maximize the achievement of their potential.

We must: Change Minds; Change Policies; and Change Practice. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) will drive initiatives to support the field to accomplish these important goals through our actions and collaboration.
Change Minds
The first goal is to expand the public’s understanding of the nature and needs of gifted and talented children, to dispel common myths, and to increase the public’s urgency to serve them.

The perception of gifted and talented education is mired in mythology. People often associate gifted education with elitism. Or they go to the opposite extreme of inclusivity and say that all children are gifted.

In other cases they say things like, "There are no gifted children in my school." Also the classic barrier for any idea peaks its head, “We can’t afford gifted education.” As you can see from these examples, the public is confused!

Each one of these myths, as well as others, needs an effective antidote. NAGC will work with its leaders and the community, to develop and test proactive messages and implement a sustained campaign to increase public understanding of the nature and needs of gifted children. We are actively recruiting high level spokespersons who will voice our messages and powerful organizations acting as dissemination channels that support our cause.

From leaders like Norm Augustine, former Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin to organizations like the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Parent Teachers Association, and the Council for Exceptional Children, NAGC is building an influential coalition and taking active steps to develop messaging and, more importantly, disseminate the information through their wide networks.

We must saturate the public consciousness with the notion that all children deserve to be happy, fulfilled, and successful. This will be tough, and we must be open to trying new things. NAGC has been working for over 60 years to advance our movement for gifted children. We have had great traction. We have racked up some important victories. But we must go further!

Most recently, together we were successful in impacting the federal education law to allow public schools and districts to leverage Title I funds to support gifted and talented children. The law went further to require explanations from states as to how education systems will support teacher professional development so that they can support gifted students to achieve their full potential.

Our successes will only make it more challenging to break through to make further progress. The more success we have, the more questions, the more subtle attacks, the more diversions we will encounter. We must not lose resolve. This is exactly the point where we will need to increase our courage.

We cannot retreat. We cannot hide in the shadows. We need to continue to be bold. We need to push our new messages and tactics to help bright children get the support they need to shine and flourish.

The Civil Rights Movement is a model. Dr. Martin Luther King and his fellow advocates pushed hard, especially in the face of adversity. They continued to send the message of positivity; of the value of every living person. Rather than backing down, they stood up and marched in Selma. It may be a little bold to associate our cause for gifted children with the Civil Rights Movement, but in many ways it is just a continuation.

Del Siegle and his fellow research colleagues at the National Research Center on Gifted Education found recently that it is virtually impossible for a student who is in poverty, is an English learner, and is from a minority group to be identified and served in a gifted and talented program. All of us believe that education is a great equalizer. We know that giftedness exists in all populations and that families, teachers, and the community have a moral obligation to help children that start from disadvantaged backgrounds to grow, develop, and flourish.
Change Policies
Changing Minds is a long term effort. We will always need to increase understanding about the nature and needs of gifted children. Our efforts will help us achieve tangible changes in society.

At NAGC we believe in the power of policy to create supportive environments for learning. There is much to be proud of, especially with the attention and funding opportunities created by the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Leaders at the state and local levels are also racking up successes. As these advocates know, policy changes do not just happen. It takes persistence, dedication, and smart strategy. To build on these successes, we need to learn lessons from the Suffrage and Women’s Rights Movement.

Much of the progress that they have made is a result of direct education, advocacy, and lobbying efforts. The strong women of the 19th Century demanded their right to participate in democracy. They visited members of the U.S. Congress with clear detailed proposals. They pressed the President of the United States. They marched on the streets of Washington. We will need to replicate their methodical efforts to help our children get the support that they need and deserve.

The NAGC national office has its eyes on federal policy. We helped develop the Equity in Excellence Act, the Talent Act, and improvements to policies in the U.S. Department of Education. These were the seeds to the changes in federal education law. As we look at the policy and practice landscape, we see a need to leverage the recent opportunities created in federal law. We will support local practitioners to utilize the law, and we will continue to shape a supportive policy environment for gifted education.

There is also potential on the horizon with the Higher Education Act. It may provide an opportunity to enhance programs for disadvantaged students and help them get the support they need to succeed in higher education. We will continue to look into these opposites as they emerge.

A more immediate opportunity exists—Affecting state and local policy. This is where the real action and opportunity exists that will make the greatest change for gifted students. NAGC is working to develop the infrastructure to support a targeted set of states to make specific changes to state policy.

We are in the early development stages of this initiative. While every state and locality is different, we believe there is an opportunity to find states with common gaps and provide materials and supports to fill those policy gaps that will make a difference for gifted children.

We are blessed to collaborate with the Council of State Directors of Programs for the Gifted in our States of the States Report which will be instructive in creating a targeted state agenda. With the help of experts like Jonathan Plucker and other leaders, we see some potential policies that might make a difference.

These are just starting points in our discussion that will be refined over time. We believe policies like this will increase equity, improve consistency and quality of programing, and allow parents and educators to be creative and get the services they need for their children. Stay tuned for more details to come.

Change Practice
We now have reached the third goal of NAGC’s advocacy—Changing Practice. With this goal, we can learn from the environmental movement. Environmentalist used the power of messaging to change minds, and they leveraged policy to create supportive environments. But they also knew that they could inspire change immediately.

Environmentalists understand that behavior cements culture. They tapped into natural human tendency to make habits. They know, if we can help people routinely implement certain actions or practices, these practices would become sticky habits. You know how hard it is to break a habit.

Take a look at the new hot car—The Tesla and the slick charging stations that are flourishing in major cities. Without a mandate, citizens are buying these novel cars, driving them across town, and installing car charging outlets. Electric and hybrid cars are now an accepted part of our culture. Not because of a mandate. And now, there is no turning back.

In a similar manner, we can tap into the power of human nature and create positive habits for supporting the needs of gifted children. Like the policy ideas, these are only a preliminary list of practice for consideration. These were listed because of the research supporting their positive impact on students, but there are more examples and we will discover others.

We must work in a coordinated way to identify high leverage practices and build a support infrastructure to foster adoption and implementation.

We can make a difference now for many gifted children and set the stage for the fruits of our movement to flourish.

Call To Action
Change Minds; Change Policies; Change Practice is a simple formula for success that requires combined efforts. This comprehensive three pronged formula will help us achieve our collective goal of supporting children with extraordinary gifts and talents to achieve their full potential. When we do this, we will help children achieve happiness, fulfillment, and success.

Editor's note: This is part of a series of blog posts that is collaboratively published every week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and National Association for Gifted Children. Each post in the series exists both here on the NAGC Blog and Fordham's Flypaper.