School counselors collaborate, consult, and coordinate resources. They partner with community agencies, empower parents and families, advocate for students, and are probably part of the leadership team in their schools. Every day school counselors probably make lists of tasks that must be accomplished and then prioritize those according to level of urgency. When prioritizing student needs, the needs of gifted students may not rise to the top in the mind of the school counselor. Most educators equate "gifted" with high-achieving, perfectionistic, perhaps slightly eccentric students who have helicopter parents. School counselors work with gifted students regularly. These students come with a variety of different concerns ranging from typical developmental needs to mental health concerns that warrant immediate attention and service. While gifted students are no more or less likely to experience concerns tied to mental health, they do experience the world differently by nature of being gifted.
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Despite the attention paid to diversity and inclusiveness, counselor education programs often overlook the gifted population, resulting in a training gap that complicates school counselors' awareness of—and ability to appropriately respond to—the unique needs of gifted individuals. This book is a complete handbook for understanding and meeting the needs of gifted students and is most useful to counselor educators, school counselors, and parents. It is mostly to inform school counselors and counselor educators about gifted kids as a special population and to offer guidance for responding with appropriate counseling services. The book is organized into thirteen chapters. The first chapter provides an overview on counseling gifted and talented students. The second chapter talks about aligning service to gifted students with the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) national model. The next two chapters discuss the characteristics and concerns of gifted students, and intersectionality of cultures in diverse gifted students. Chapter five presents theories that support programs and services in schools. Chapter six describes the common practices and best practices in identifying gifted and talented learners in schools. Chapter seven examines working with classrooms and small groups. Chapter eight focuses on academic advising and career planning for gifted and talented students. Chapter nine addresses personal/social counseling and mental health concerns. Chapters ten and eleven talks about creating a supportive school climate for gifted students through collaboration, consultation, and systemic change, and empowering parents of gifted students. Chapter twelve presents school counselors as leaders and advocates for gifted students. The final chapter provides brief summaries of the above chapters described in the book.
Samantha has been the middle school counselor in a small rural district in the Midwest for the past 3 years. She has spent most of her time in program development and building relationships with students, parents, staff, and community partners. Currently, she is working with community and district administrators to increase access to Internet and other technology in her building for more program options; unfortunately, the district’s increasingly tight budget precludes upgrades to current systems. As the academic year comes to a close, she talks with Rachel, a veteran teacher with considerable experience in differentiation. Rachel is concerned about some of her math students. By year’s end, due to her differentiated curriculum, at least seven will have completed Algebra 1, the most advanced math class at the school. Rachel wonders what can be planned for them for next year. A few parents have expressed concerns about future classes as these students progress. She asks to meet with Samantha about this situation.
As best friends in a small Midwestern town, Jon and Stephen, both extremely bright and inquisitive, often talked with each other about their dreams of jobs they would have as adults. Throughout childhood, made alive through imaginative play, their wide-ranging ideas about careers were inspired largely by television and movie characters. They were enthralled with the idea of “special powers” to save the universe, but soon realized that “superhero” wasn’t a career. A few years later, they considered becoming crime scene investigators, lawyers, emergency room doctors, and, briefly, even astronauts. Jon and Stephen were inseparable and were regarded by the elementary school’s Gifted and Talented (G/T) coordinator as the most academically advanced students in her memory. They loved to learn, had vivid imaginations, and inspired their classmates and each other to “dream big” about the future. They were big fish in a little pond (e.g., Marsh, 1987; Salchegger, 2016).
Then Jon’s family relocated to an affluent suburban neighborhood on the West Coast after his father took a position in Silicon Valley. Jon, in middle school, had to adjust to a new set of expectations and found the adjustment quite challenging—in fact, far more so than he had imagined. Surrounded by a large group of intense and extremely driven students, who all seemed to aspire to top-tier universities, and struck by the harsh realization that he was no longer one of the very best students, Jon now felt as if he were a fish out of water. He was plagued with self-doubt about his abilities and future educational and career prospects. Compared to the other students, who had long positioned themselves to earn coveted spots in the local
STEM-oriented magnet high school, Jon felt inadequately prepared to compete and felt his excitement for learning fading quickly. Once a confident and enthusiastic student, Jon was immobilized by his fear of making mistakes, especially in the presence of his new peers, and he began to retreat from others both at school and at home. He had difficulty dealing with even minor setbacks and grew to resent the students who seemed ambitious and competitive. Adopting a defensive posture, Jon downplayed the importance of thinking about future goals; in his own words, it was “stupid” to worry too much about college and career. Although he generally maintained respectable grades (mainly to make his parents happy and to keep their anxieties at bay), he refused to take the most challenging courses at school and stopped taking academic risks. Since he was getting mostly As and Bs and an occasional C on his report card, Jon’s parents were not alarmed by the changes in his behavior and failed to notice that he had turned away from learning. His academic self-concept had taken a major hit.
In contrast to Jon, Stephen remained in the same small Midwestern school district for the remainder of his precollege years and continued to feel passionate—about everything! Stephen’s parents encouraged him to indulge his intellectual curiosity and explore every subject that captured his interest. But Stephen had difficulty narrowing his interests for the sake of establishing career direction. When he was first exposed to chemistry, for instance, he quickly memorized the periodic table and spent many nights at the dinner table teaching his younger brother everything he had learned about each element. Later, when introduced to physics, he could hardly contain his excitement about quantum field theory, cosmic inflation, fluid dynamics, and a host of other topics. Of course, he also loved math and was eager to learn computer languages. Adept not only in
STEMsubjects, Stephen also excelled in and enjoyed writing, history, and politics. However, because the school district was small and lacked resources, he often learned advanced content on his own by reading books and searching the Internet. The local public high school he attended offered few Advanced Placement ( AP) courses, and school officials believed they could not justify offering additional APcourses just for him. Without his friend Jon, he had no intellectual peer with whom he could share ideas and interact meaningfully. As his precollege years progressed, Stephen did not gain sufficient clarity about educational and career direction to focus his efforts on developing any particular interest to a high level outside of the classroom.
- Go to chapter: Collaboration, Consultation, and Systemic Change: Creating a Supportive School Climate for Gifted Students
Collaboration, Consultation, and Systemic Change: Creating a Supportive School Climate for Gifted Students
Stewart and Tray are the seventh- and eighth-grade school counselors in a new middle school in a large urban district with a diverse student population. Wintercrest Middle School has been a magnet school for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (
STEM) for only 3 years. Currently students can take Algebra I, Geometry, Honors Biology, and semester classes in Advanced Computing, Introduction to Physics, Robotics, and Trigonometry. Logistically, the magnet school functions as a school within a school, with students attending classes in one wing of the school building. Teachers and students who are not involved in the magnet school are located in two other wings on the opposite side of the school. During the past school year, Tray and Stewart have sensed tensions in the school in various relationships, including within, between, and among teams of teachers, between parents and teachers, among students, and between administrators and teachers. Mr. Wallace, their building principal, has seen the explosive outcomes of some of these tensions and has encouraged the counselors to investigate the current school climate.
- Go to chapter: Identifying Gifted and Talented Learners in Schools: Common Practices and Best Practices
Ben, the middle school counselor from Chapter 5, continues to work with the district’s task force. There, he also meets Julie the district’s coordinator of gifted and talented services. Based on the superintendent’s concerns, Julie wants to re-imagine the district’s identification and programming for gifted youth. Ben’s experiences have given Julie new insights into potential roles of school counselors when working with high-ability learners and their parents. Julie was particularly drawn to Ben’s discussions of talking with parents about why their students were not identified. Ben’s frustrations with the gifted services have also included the pervasive mythology that the program is a “cookie” program used as a reward for “good” students with “good” behavior and even better grades—a myth that disenfranchises diverse populations in the school district, including underachieving students, and doesn’t accurately identity those students who may need services. Historically, because the district has implemented identification procedures in third grade, Julie has contacted several of the elementary school counselors in her district to get their perspectives. She is surprised by the range of their knowledge about identification and the degree of the school counselors’ involvement in this process. While Ben has informed her that all practicing school counselors have training in testing and assessment, not all have connected this with identification practices for gifted learners—until they meet with their first parent.
Michael is a 12-year-old Black male in the seventh grade in a remote rural farm community. He recently relocated to this community from a large metropolitan area, where he was a sixth-grader in a culturally diverse elementary school. He is the oldest of three children with parents who have become pillars in the community despite being new there. Identified as gifted in his previous elementary school, Michael took science and math classes in higher grade levels by single-subject acceleration. He had to work much harder in his language arts classes, but he loved his school and was liked by his peers and teachers.
While Michael’s new school is culturally diverse, the school and community norms for students are different. The emphasis is on community fellowship, service, and helping one’s family. Little is said about college; instead, jobs in agriculture and manufacturing are emphasized. Michael has been invited several times to participate in the 4H club. Upon arriving at his new school, despite providing his previous years’ school records, he is placed in the traditional seventh-grade classes. He complains to his parents that his math and sciences courses are a repeat of information from his previous school. Michael is also encountering difficulties in his language arts classes, which require more traditional essay-writing than his last school did.
In a six-week progress report, Michael’s teachers noted that he seems unengaged and withdrawn in class. His parents believe he has become apathetic about school, and they are worried he might lose his love of math and science. In addition, Michael’s language arts homework frequently leads to anger and frustration at home.
Michael’s parents have requested meetings with his teachers, with the school counselor, Brenda, also attending. Prior to the meeting, she evaluates Michael’s cumulative file. Based on his grades, standardized test scores, and teacher comments, she determines that he is extremely bright and very talented in math and science, but has challenges in language arts and social sciences. His teachers’ comments include “Handwriting continues to be a challenge, but he is working very hard,” “Michael is a very hard worker, but writing paragraphs or persuasive essays requires much more effort,” “He is quick at multiple-choice questions and short-answer questions are okay,” “His reading comprehension is fantastic, but writing brings out frustrations,” and “I realized Michael was much more at ease with oral book reports than written. His love of learning really shines through when he gets to talk about what he knows, in all subjects. He even manages to get his peers interested.”
Brenda makes a phone call to the school counselor at Michael’s former middle school and the elementary school he attended. She hears wonderful things about Michael, as well as about his challenges with written work. Many of his former language-arts teachers allowed Michael to demonstrate his mastery of content and skills orally or via multiple choice or computerized testing. The middle school counselor reported that he and Michael’s parents had discussed talking to their school psychologist about more testing for Michael because they were concerned about the increased requirements for writing in middle school. But that conversation did not lead to changes before the end of the school year, when Michael’s family moved.
Angela was extremely excited to begin school as a kindergarten student and was matched with a supportive teacher for her first year in the rural community in which her family lived. She was lively and talkative around adults, and her parents worked hard to find opportunities for Angela to connect with kids her own age. However, in their small community there were limited possibilities for connection, and Angela often retreated physically behind her parents in public.
During the first parent–teacher conference for Angela, her parents were surprised at the teacher’s observations that Angela was reading well beyond the level of her peers. Not knowing many other children with whom to compare Angela’s abilities, they had assumed she was on par with most other kids her age. While there were no services available in their school system until the third grade, the kindergarten teacher remarked that the Lees might want to look into additional enrichment opportunities for Angela elsewhere. However, the teacher was eager to provide additional reading opportunities. Because reading was one of Angela’s favorite activities, this arrangement seemed to be a good fit.
It was during Angela’s third-grade year that challenges began for her at school. She often came home upset that she was reprimanded at school, and she rarely talked about positive interactions with her peers. She shared with her parents that she did not have much in common with many of the girls in her class, and that they often teased her about her friendship with a boy in the class they all thought was “weird.” This social tension was exacerbated when she was reprimanded for not showing her work in math class. She expressed her frustration with “Why do I need to write out all the steps for something when I just know the answer!” A friend of Angela’s parents worked in the school Angela attended and shared with them that contacting the school counselor might be the best next step.
This concluding chapter presents brief summaries of the chapters of the book. The chapters in the book have covered a wide range of theories, concerns, and perspectives. Chapter content has implications for policy and practice. School professionals can incorporate the information and recommendations in them into their current services to ensure that gifted students receive needed support. School counselors respond every day to students who feel different, perhaps painfully different, from those around them—at home, at school, or in the community. Those counselors are distinguished in the school context by rare skills and perspectives that can be used to help gifted students make sense of themselves, value their differentness, and embrace their complex feelings and sometimes perplexing behaviors. Change can happen in either direction because of life events or circumstances. Moving out of impasse and accomplishing developmental tasks can contribute to increased motivation for underachievers.
Tosha and Erik are the two school counselors in a large suburban elementary school. For 5 years, they have worked to create a school counseling program aligned with their state’s framework, which was developed with the
ASCANational Model in mind. This year, they are hosting a school counseling intern, Tony, from a program in the school of education at a local university. Although the school counselors are grateful to have an intern with fresh eyes and new ideas, they wonder whether the supervision will require too much time and divert their attention from the report they must write prior to a visit by the state department of education later in the year. At the initial interview, Tosha and Erik learn that because Tony had already had several education classes, his program advisor suggested that he take some electives in areas of interest. During his student-teaching experience, he had been intrigued by creative and artistic students and therefore opted to take a few courses in gifted education. He is excited to be working with Tosha and Eric and wants to know if he might work with gifted students and find out how the gifted-education program is currently serving them.