Talking with Educators

Parents should talk with the teacher about any concerns. If the concerns cannot be dealt with satisfactorily, speak next with the principal. If necessary, speak with a supervisory officer or superintendent next. If you speak with a trustee, he/she usually asks whether you have spoken with teachers, principals and superintendents.

When parents meet with school board officials, parents often feels like the staff are speaking a foreign language, because of all the acronyms and phrases that they use. Hopefully our "Alphabet Soup & Gifted Glossary" will help you feel more comfortable in your discussions.

When You Talk to Teachers and Principals:

  1. Start off with the attitude that you and the teacher have important information to share about your child.
  2. Ask questions before forming opinions. Get all the facts from the school's point of view.
  3. Be specific about your child's needs and your concerns.
  4. Request the necessary action for your child. If you consider that your child has special needs that have not been identified, or if you are concerned about your child's placement (or non-placement) in a program, discuss it first with the teacher, then the principal. He/she or you, as a parent, can request that your child be referred to an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC). Ask the principal for a copy of your board's pamphlet explaining the procedures. (The Education Act requires all school boards to provide this information.)

The Ministry of Education also provides a helpful guide entitled Shared Solutions to promote effective communication among families and educators regarding students with special education needs.

In Ontario, parents have the right to request an IPRC - Identification, Placement and Review Committee meeting. View this page for more information about this critical meeting.

The following tips for parents were published with the video "You, Me and the IPRC."

  1. Maintain on-going communication with teachers and other educators.
  2. Become informed about your child's needs.
  3. Keep a file of information about your child. Include suggestions for programming and the results of any changes.
  4. Know your rights and the rights of your child(ren).
  5. Attend the IPRC and Review meetings.
  6. Contribute information at the IPRC and Review meetings.
  7. Ask to visit any available gifted program(s) before signing the IPRC form.

Guidelines regarding Psychological Assessments and Reports written for Gifted Identification

These recommendations from APA-OPA (Ontario Psychological Association) represent practice guidelines for psychologists and psychological associates regarding psychological assessments and reports written for clients who are being considered for identification as intellectually gifted. Click here for the Guidelines.

Ideal Characteristics of Teachers for Gifted Students

Several articles have been written describing the characteristics of successful teachers of gifted children. Gifted students themselves often describe working-well with teachers who have the following traits:

  • Ability to accept and respect giftedness and differences in students
  • Knowledge of the growth patterns and needs of gifted and talented children
  • Enthusiasm; desire to teach gifted and talented children
  • Skill at developing independent activities
  • Familiarity with a wide variety of teaching methods
  • Sense of humour
  • Broad base of information and resources; one area at least of special expertise
  • Ability to combine cognitive and affective areas in teaching
  • Ability to study students and own reactions as teacher objectively, and to use these observations to improve teaching
  • Self-assurance
  • Ability to accept own mistakes and limited knowledge with graciousness and humour
  • Originality, curiosity, and imagination

Looking for information about IEP's? Click here

ABC Recommended Special Education Program Standards

A special education program for pupils who are gifted must be based on abilities and needs identified at the IPRC.

The program must specify in specific terms

  • what is to be accomplished
  • the mechanisms and way in which these will be accomplished
  • evidence of pupil learning outcome

"Special education program" means, in respect of an exceptional pupil, an educational program that is based on and modified by the results of continuous assessment and evaluation and that includes a plan containing specific objectives and an outline of educational services that meets the needs of the exceptional pupil. Education Act (Ontario) (Sec. 1(1(63)).

Programming requires differentiation of curriculum in the areas of content, process, product and evaluation which is beyond those normally provided in the regular classroom in kind, breadth, depth and pace (Programming for the Gifted. 1985. Ontario Ministry of Education. Differentiation matrix: p.31-34)

The program must include affective (social-emotional) and cognitive (intellectual -academic) components.

In a part-time withdrawal delivery model there must be program modifications occurring in both settings as a pupil is not "gifted part-time".

The program should concentrate on the reduction or elimination of obstacles affecting the process of learning and should enable each individual to reach towards their potential

The on-going evaluation of the success of the program must always consider the growth of the pupil - intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally.

Parent to Parent Advice on Managing School Absences Smoothly

Over the years that I have been involved with ABC Ontario, I have had the opportunity to have many conversations with parents, educators and students. One theme that often recurs is conflicts that can emerge due to student absence from class. Several times it has been suggested that I share my reflections on this topic with other parents who might benefit from the experience of others. While this is written with voluntary absences on the part of high performing students in mind, some of the same advice would apply in the case of absence for any reason such as illness or family crisis.

Oftentimes, efforts to meet the needs of the gifted student for enriched and differentiated learning experiences result in the student being absent from regularly scheduled class time. There are many reasons for this. Some examples are:

1) The student’s programme modifications stipulate part time “withdrawal resource” sessions where the student spends time with another teacher outside of the regular classroom either individually or with a small group of students with similar learning needs.

2) The “gifted programme” instruction involves attending sessions at another location on certain days.

3) The “gifted programme” instruction involves invitations to field trips that do not involve the whole class, but only those students designated as bright or gifted.

4) The gifted student participates in extracurricular activities either at the school or outside of school which require occasional absence from class. Examples of this include private music lessons, music festivals, science fair, mentorships, theatre, clubs, competitions, sports or even leadership activities within the school such as student council.

5) The gifted student’s high-level achievements in extracurricular activities result in absences as long as a week or more for national and international competitions, tournaments, performances, workshops or travel opportunities.

6) Some students may even opt for activities such as international student exchanges that result in longer term absences of several weeks to a year.

For many gifted learners, their talents and achievements result in frequent absences from regularly scheduled classes. Oftentimes both parents and teachers recognize that these out of class opportunities are not just enriching, but essential to the development of the student’s full potential. It is often these out of class learning experiences that keep the student engaged and motivated.

Nevertheless, many families find that sooner or later, conflict may arise. Some reasons for this are:

1) Other students may misunderstand why the gifted learner is frequently excused from classroom work. Resentment and envy may ensue.

2) The teacher may find it difficult to schedule tests and assessment activities around absences, especially if they are frequent.

3) Preparing for the student’s absence or providing extra review or assessment after the return may impose on the teacher’s time.

4) A feeling may develop that the gifted student is expecting and/or receiving special privileges.

5) While many gifted students will have little difficulty keeping up with the rest of the class, there may be times, especially in senior grades when critical learning or assessment activities, such as a science lab, are missed. Even the brightest students usually find eventually that they must strike a careful balance between focusing on at-school academic requirements and their other passions.

How can we as parents help support our students to succeed at school, maintain good relationships with their teachers and peers and also take advantage of the enhanced opportunities available to them beyond the regular classroom?

1) Be selective. Make every effort to ensure that your child is only missing school when absolutely necessary. Whenever scheduling is within your control, avoid booking within the school day (for example dentist or hair dresser appointments.) When it comes to family travel, educational benefits are often enormous, but educators will not always be sympathetic as they are usually restricted to school vacation periods themselves. Be reasonable regarding when and how long the student will be absent.

2) Be considerate. From the teacher’s perspective, everything that happens in class is essential and beneficial. Even if you child often finds school boring or easy, these are not good reasons to justify being absent. Telling a teacher that your child is bored in class and needs a break from school can be interpreted as saying the teacher is boring, or even incompetent. Consider the cumulative impact of all absences from class, no matter how brief or routine. Consider the cumulative annoyance of class interruptions if your child frequently leaves or returns mid-class even if it is to perform leadership duties within the school. Keep the timetable handy and whenever possible schedule mid-day absences so that departures and returns align with recesses or class changes.

3) Be proactive. Discussion with the classroom teacher should begin in the planning stage well before the family has committed to the activity if at all possible. At this stage, the absence may just be hypothetical or dependent on accomplishments yet to come. Ask the teacher’s opinion on the educational value of the activity. Engage the teacher as a partner in the process. Request the teacher’s support and his/her suggestions for making it workable.

4) Give advance notice. Even if the absence cannot be planned in partnership with the teacher well in advance, it is always better to give the teacher(s) as much advance notice as possible. Inform them early and remind them again just before the absence. In some cases, the principal may need to give permission for the absence in advance especially if it is for a week or more. If absences will be long or frequent it is usually a good idea to communicate directly with the school office, likely the principal personally, as well as the classroom teacher(s).

5) Employ accelerative strategies. Hopefully, the teacher’s suggestions will include utilizing some of the accelerative strategies that have been well proven as beneficial for gifted learners. If not, do some research on your own and share it with the teacher as an “option to consider”. For example, classroom work could be pre-tested to determine specifically what the student needs to cover and what could be safely “skipped.” Or the classroom material could be “compacted” to ensure the student covers the essential curriculum in less time. If a long exchange trip is planned for the future, earning high school credits early using dual enrolment, PLAR, summer school or online courses may help the student to graduate on time.

6) Consider differentiation strategies. Could the extra curricular activity be designated as differentiated curriculum or a differentiated product / assessment strategy? For example, could an elementary student’s math mentorship and math contest participation be a substitution for some of the regular math curriculum? Could a secondary student competing at the national science fair level substitute their project for a science class Independent Study Unity? Is it possible to receive a secondary school credit for an Independent Study Course? Could a secondary school level mentorship be reworked into a co-op credit? Can and should these strategies be documented on an IEP?

7) Assume responsibility. Plan with the teacher what homework the student will be responsible for, when it will be due, etc. Is there a test scheduled soon after they return and will there be time to get caught up beforehand? The student may need to complete some assignments early and submit them before leaving. If the teacher agrees to an assignment substitution, for example a travel journal instead of a geography project, complete it diligently and promptly and expect it to be assessed as carefully and critically as any other schoolwork.

8) Teach self-advocacy. Treat school absences as an opportunity for the gifted student to learn self-advocacy and personal responsibility skills. As young as possible, nurture the student’s capability to participate in conversations with the teacher when planning an absence. Eventually, they should handle this communication directly. The student can also take responsibility for communicating with a responsible classmate who will “fill them in” on what they missed. For example, by grade 6, our daughter created a grid that corresponded to the classroom timetable for any days she would be absent. She left this with a trusted classmate who jotted a note for each subject in the timeslot and collected an extra copy of any hand outs. Upon returning to class, my daughter used this grid to review with the teacher what she needed to cover. This skill eventually evolved into checking with a carefully selected classmate or two electronically whenever she missed a secondary or university class.

9) Respect the teacher’s time. Strategies, such as the one above, that place the responsibility for “catching up” and “staying informed” on the student, rather than the teacher, demonstrate respect for the teacher’s time. They also serve as a safe guard. There will be times when the responsible classmate may have noted something that the teacher forgot to mention. Teachers have very busy and stressful jobs. To maintain a good relationship with your child’s teacher, do everything you can to make sure our child’s absence does not become “one more thing” he or she has to fit into an already hectic schedule.

10) Follow up afterwards. Shortly after returning to school follow-up with the teacher(s) to ensure that your child has held up his or her end of the bargain and that everything is back on track. Do not assume the teacher will contact you if he or she recorded a zero for an assessment that was missed during the absence. The sooner you can deal with that situation the better. In some cases the teacher may have just been absent-minded when recording marks, or perhaps the student did not complete some homework as agreed. Sometimes teachers will be willing to “not count” some missed assessments instead of recording a zero, but never assume that your child is entitled to this privilege. If there is extra work to be made up upon return, ensure your child has sufficient time in his/her schedule to do it and not get further behind.

11) Consider other responsibilities. Your child may have other responsibilities beyond the classroom that need to be considered if they will be away from school. Do they have a leadership role in a club or a regular volunteer responsibility or part time job? The skills they have learned to plan for absences in advance with teachers and classmates also apply in these situations.  If they know in advance that they may need to be absent frequently, on short notice or for a length of time they should carefully consider what other time commitments they make. If folks are depending on them to perform a regular duty it should not be surprising that resentment would ensue if these duties are dumped on others. On the other hand, it may be possible to plan for this in advance by having a partner involved; for example, being a co-president of a club may be more realistic than trying to do it solo, if the student cannot always be sure of being available in person.

12) Stay in touch electronically. Especially for older students, facebook, email and texting come in very handy to keep in touch with classmates, club members and even co-workers when they have to be out of town. Social aspects aside, staying in the loop in this way can help the student stay on top of school work, keep informed about changed due dates, get signed up for a fundraising event and even delegate to the school newspaper staff if necessary. At the teacher’s discretion, it may be possible for the parent and/or the student to stay in touch with the teacher directly through email, etc. However do not expect the teacher to always accommodate this request as some schools or individuals are not comfortable with this practice.

13) Seek balance.  While it is good to encourage young children to sample a wide variety of activities, sometime the point will come when you may need to rethink your child’s schedule, especially if they are performing at an elite level in a number of areas, or would like to be, and missing school has become routine. If time conflicts are piling up and the child is stressed or underperforming at school then carefully examining all commitments is critical. Impact on other family members must also be considered. This can be a tough time for any family. Some busy students have found that it can make life more manageable to reduce their load at school by taking as many spares as the school will permit and planning to graduate in five years rather than four. Sometimes spreading out “heavy” courses and substituting lighter ones can be sufficient. Doing some credits at summer school or online may distribute the workload more evenly through the calendar year, but also be sure to give the student sufficient free time.

14) Consider the whole child. High-performing students often find that it is personal time and social time that get sacrificed. For some this may be acceptable, but for most, time with friends and family and self-directed activity (aka free-time) are essential to maintaining physical and mental resilience. Sufficient sleep, exercise and healthy eating must also fit into that schedule or there will be a toll to pay sooner or later. Consider the impact and benefit of all activities and how they fit into long term life goals. It is a warning sign if school must often be missed just to recharge batteries or to catch up on homework assignments. Some children find that their social life revolves around a favourite extracurricular activity and therefore, it is a bonus rather than a trade-off. When it comes time to trim down the schedule to make more time for school work, let your child take the lead on choosing what is “most important”; beware of your own ulterior motives for influencing those choices. Doing three things well is better than doing 5 things poorly; doing one thing you are truly passionate about is better than doing three hum-drum tasks. Sometimes exploring something new is more important than repeating a skill already mastered. And who knows, freeing up time that has been committed to something mediocre might permit another untapped talent or interest to blossom.