Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #2 – Finding Meaningful Collaboration

Todd Stanley

Welcome to the second in a series of blogs that will seek to take an educational theory and show you how to turn it into practice. A lot of times in educational discussion we can get bogged down in the theory, and it simply is not user-friendly for teachers practicing in the field. This blog will seek to translate some of the theory surrounding gifted education and show how to use it practically in your classroom.

A lot of times in the educational discussion we can get bogged down in the theory, and it simply is not user-friendly for teachers practicing in the field. This blog will seek to translate some of the theory surrounding gifted education and how to use it practically in your classroom.

In the May edition of Teaching for High Potential, Christine Dietz has an interesting article titled “All For One: The Essential Art of Collaboration”. In the article, a teacher of gifted finds colleagues in her district also in gifted and is purposeful about collaborating with them. They find ways to connect with one another whether it be over the internet or through mobile text, sometimes organizing meetings and providing resources.

This is a valuable idea, but how does it translate into practice? How does one find people to collaborate with, especially teachers of gifted who sometimes live a very lonely existence? There have been several folks who work with gifted students who tell me they are not just the only one doing this in their school or district, but sometimes the entire county. I actually had someone call me from Illinois, two states over, because she needed someone to talk to about gifted. Just a conversation with me made her feel more relaxed in her role in gifted education because as she said, “it’s nice to know I’m not alone”.

Even within a district it can be lonely to be the gifted intervention specialist. They often either are isolated in a resource room where kids come to them like children to a divorced parent without any communication between the two adults, or they are shuffling between so many buildings that it is nearly impossible to get to even know other staff members’ names. When it comes to collaboration, you definitely have to make a concerted effort to do so.

One possibility is that if you have other gifted folks who teach in your district, make efforts to meet with one another even if not in the same building. This could be a gathering at a Panera before school, during school at shared professional development time, or after school at happy hour. Having someone to talk to can be very cathartic as well and you’ll pick up any tips they may be able to provide. This is sort of what Lisa from the article did.

If you do not have other gifted staff in the district, you want to make sure to collaborate with teachers and staff that are not necessarily in your particular field. This can be a valuable thing for you even if you do have other gifted teachers to work with. It is easy to preach to the choir, but what happens when you are doing so is that all of your voices enter into the same melody. In other words, all the voices sound the same. An aspect of good collaboration is that there are different voices to be heard, and these different voices are offering different perspectives.

Something you might consider is finding collaborators within your building. I have found in my practice that there are always those who want to find ways to challenge their gifted students but just don’t have much experience, training, or strategies for doing this. Some are not even aware they have gifted students in their classroom. Form a collaboration with those teachers and support one another. If you have a few teachers who are willing to collaborate, consider forming a professional learning community (PLC) that meets regularly and talks about strategies and good practices.

As the gifted expert in the building or district, here are some keys to good collaboration:

  • Be a subtle advocate for gifted. No one likes being preached to, so find subtle ways to inject gifted or best practices into the conversation
  • Don’t always make it about gifted. If every time you open your mouth it is gifted this and gifted that, your message will begin to sound like white noise.
  • Don’t wait for others to come to you. I have known gifted intervention specialists who sit in their room and complain that no one ever comes to them for advice, and yet they are not making any effort to go and meet with others. Be more proactive in seeking people out and volunteering to be on building level teams
  • Make yourself visible. Sometimes this can be very difficult, especially if you are shuttling between several buildings, but attend staff meetings, go to after school events, eat lunch in the teachers’ lounge. Make sure people know who you are. It will make them more comfortable coming to you if they have a face to go with the position.
  • Be willing to get your hands dirty and co-teach. Telling someone is one thing, but showing them can be so much more effective. If you are trying to get teachers to ask higher level questions, go into a classroom and lead a discussion where you model this. Or run a lesson where you show them what differentiation for gifted students looks like. If you don’t have the ability to come into their classroom, invite them to come into yours. Let them see for themselves what instruction for gifted looks like.

The major takeaway is that collaboration is a valuable tool for any teacher, regardless of their specialty. The challenge for the gifted teacher is finding other people with whom the collaboration can produce results in the classroom. You might have to look a little harder than most, but finding colleagues you can confide in will help you become a more rounded teacher while at the same time allowing you to act as an advocate for gifted education. On top of that, it prevents you from being lonely and keeps you a little more sane.

Todd Stanley is the author of many teacher-education books. He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years and is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools (OH). You can follow Todd on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at thegiftedguy.com where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given concerning gifted education.

The views expressed herein represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the National Association for Gifted Children.