Sunday, March 22, 2015

Gifted Education in Ireland and the United States

Sometimes it pays to have a coffee and keep on going!

When I got up this Saturday morning, I felt daunted by the day ahead. After my first week back at work full-time in 20 years, I was running out of steam. By the time I had finished my morning clinic, I really wanted to go home to bed. However, I dragged myself off to DCU instead. What a great decision that turned out to be!

First up was a talk for parents given by Prof Deborah Eyre. While some speakers on giftedness can be very dry and academic, Deborah was engaging, warm and relatable. She gave lots of very practical advice which was gratefully received by a large and appreciative crowd of parents. Many thanks to Dr Colm O’Reilly who always brings great speakers to CTYI.

Then I spent a very exciting hour in The Hub bar with Dazzled. A pint of Guinness and a bag of Tayto cheese and onion crisps in front of the Ireland-Scotland rugby match on a Saturday afternoon...who could ask for more?! Whilst I was well behaved, I reckon Dazzled could be heard shouting from all over the campus :-(

Prof Deborah Eyre, Dr Colm O'Reilly, Dr Jennifer Cross
Re-energised by Prof Eyre’s talk and the rugby win, we headed off to the launch of a new book “Gifted Education in Ireland and the United States”. This book was the brainchild of Colm O’Reilly of CTYI and brings together the expertise of the staff of CTYI and the Centre for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Over the past few years, CTYI and the College of William and Mary have formed very close ties, with Prof Tracy Cross due to arrive in Ireland in September to spend six months here as a Fulbright Professor at DCU. The two institutions have collaborated on several pieces of research, most notably, Dr Jennifer Cross’s recently published study on the attitudes of Irish teachers to gifted students. This book is yet another huge step forward towards putting gifted education on the map in Ireland. It will be a very useful source of information, ideas and advice for both parents and teachers alike and can be bought through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.

We had the pleasure of chatting to Deborah Eyre, who launched the book. I think we often take CTYI for granted. Not alone do Colm O’Reilly and his staff run the wonderful classes and courses that our children attend, they are constantly working on research and collaborations with other experts in the field of giftedness. Most people rarely hear about this side of their work so it was wonderful to hear Deborah talk about how they are held in such high esteem worldwide. She described CTYI as “a beacon of excellence” and we would certainly agree.

To round off a great day, we sat down to a lovely meal with the staff of CTYI and the authors of the book. At our end of the table, Dazzled and Eleanor Healion brought the tone down a little by watching the England-France match on an iPad. Some more (slightly restrained) shouting was heard, I’m afraid. Despite updates being relayed along the table, eventually Colm O’Reilly couldn’t resist and joined us for a bit of a look himself. So, two great accomplishments for Ireland...the Six Nations Cup and the launch of a groundbreaking book on Gifted Education in Ireland.

It was lovely to catch up with our friend Jennifer Cross again. She and Tracy have been so supportive and encouraging of our efforts as parent advocates and we are looking forward to having them here later in the year. It was also great to meet Dr Jenny Robbins who edited the book and Dr Mihyeon Kim, one of the authors from the US. We hope Jenny managed to surface at 3.45am today and has a fabulous first visit to Paris!

By the time we left the 1838 club at DCU, Dazzled and I were buzzing with energy. I finally collapsed into bed but couldn’t resist the temptation to get stuck into the book.

PS. There is a GAS support group meeting this Wednesday, 25th March, at 7.45pm at the Glenview Hotel. All welcome!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

If My Child Isn't Gifted Then Yours Can't Be Either?

How many times and how many ways can we say it? Not all children are gifted. All our children are gifts in our lives, all our children are special in our lives, but not all are gifted. The debate has been reignited online again recently in the US and our friends in that part of the world have penned brilliant, passionate and articulate responses to the blogpost which started it all again. The wonderful resource that is Gifted Homeschoolers Forum has compiled a list of all the responses here, and it really is worth a look.

Intellectual giftedness, which is what this debate is about, means a person with advanced cognitive abilities coupled with how that colours the experience of the world around them.  A gifted child will likely be apparent to almost everyone who interacts with them in the same way that a child who is talented at tennis or piano stands out from their peers. All children are not the same, they all look different on the outside and they are all different on the inside too. If we can deal with the fact that our children can’t all be athletic or artistically talented, why do we find it so difficult to accept that not all our children can be intellectually gifted too? Why is the idea that some children are brighter than others so threatening? Maybe it’s because parents are fearful that not being among  the brightest somehow devalues their child’s potential. Perhaps it’s because we know that in our western world sporting or musical talent may be meteoric but short-lived, but that “brain power” can be sustained and harnessed for a lifetime. Whatever the reason, the fact that not every child is gifted bears the brunt of our fears as parents about where our children land on the great ladder of potential.

But here’s the thing...just because my child appears to stand higher up the rungs of that ladder now, that is no guarantee that he will reach the top before yours. He may climb on up almost out of sight for a few years and then stop to take a look at the view. He may decide he likes the view from there and stay put, happy to watch others climb on up and up. He may be lonely up there and decide to wait for others because that is better than journeying alone. He may end up falling off the ladder entirely and hurting himself in the process. There might be nobody to teach him the skills he needs to succeed up there.

In the meantime, your child may climb up steadily, secure in each step she takes. She will probably have company on the climb, friends and teachers for support and guidance. So many other things could happen to determine our children’s futures that the idea that either of us could believe that being gifted or not gifted is a guarantee of anything at all is ridiculous. Being gifted confers no advantage or favour. It colours the journey, for sure, but it doesn’t determine its destination. It goes without saying that our children are special, precious gifts.  But insisting that both of our children are gifted does each of them a disservice.

Let’s be proud of our children for all that they are and all they may become.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How Teachers See Parents - Another Angle?

I was recently asked by a teacher if I found this post offensive after I replied to his link saying “At least we know where we stand now”. The article in question seemed like a bit of a rant to me. I don’t mind rants, they have their place, but I don’t like when a rant is disguised as a ‘helpful guide’ for the people the author is ranting about! I wasn’t offended, it wasn’t personal, but I am a parent and so the article was supposedly directed at me. Like many (in fairness, most) teachers I am an (Honours!) graduate. I have a postgraduate business qualification, a Masters degree, am about to complete my second Masters degree and embark upon a PhD. I don’t get paid extra for having these qualifications, or the Honours degree. I paid my fees from my own earnings, and I worked on them all in my own time, during holidays, weekends and evenings.

Like many, many parents, in all manner of careers and none, I am widely read and generally well informed about life. I know my children particularly well. I, like many (in fairness, most) parents like to be aware of what my children and others learn in school, how they learn, who they learn from and with. Okay, so maybe I make slightly more of a point to be informed about education in general and my children in particular when it comes to teaching issues. I read ESRI papers on education. I keep up with developments from the DES, the NCCA and the SEC. I have given talks to teachers about Exceptionally Able learners.

So here’s what I would say in reply:

We are your equal. By that I mean, that whether we have honours degrees or no qualifications, whether we are rocket scientists or contract cleaners, when it comes to this relationship, between you, us and our child,  We Are Your Equal. The whole thing hinges on this. It’s a triangular relationship. Three points, three people; child, parent, teacher. Call the points A, B and C for the three people. Let’s call A the point at the top, and B and C the two points on the bottom. The parent and the teacher are at the same level, supporting the child at the top of the relationship. Still equal.

We don’t need you or want you to be a ‘nanny’ to our children, we are the ones who nurture and raise them. We lend them to you for a few hours a day, just as they are lent to us for the few precious years of childhood and adolescence. Yes, you see them in a different light than we do, they are multi-faceted just like you and I. You only see them for short periods, you may not know all there is to know about them. Just because we each see different sides of them, doesn't mean either of us has the ‘best view’. Rather it means that we should acknowledge and learn from each other’s perspectives. You know, like, equals?

Likewise, if you could only take our warnings to heart, it might save that child a lot of heartache in the future. We may have some early warning information for you. Our children might be several years ahead of their peers academically. They might be rejected by their peers for being different. This might make them unhappy. Being unhappy might have an impact on their behaviour. We may have something valuable to offer to you too in that regard. If you tell me my child has “a behaviour problem” why should it be a surprise that I might question that diagnosis? Unless you are also a qualified child psychiatrist it is normal for me to want more information about how you concluded that my child has a behaviour issue. If, on the other hand, you opened a dialogue about how we might support my child when they were upset about an issue and showed it in their behaviour, I might be more amenable to your suggestions. As I said, we’re equally invested in this.

As for making excuses? Who are any of us to dismiss each other when we reveal that we have been having a hard time in our personal lives? If I were to disclose a personal problem or family matter to my child’s teacher, the last thing I would expect from a fellow professional is a dismissive attitude as described in the article. To be fair, I truly do not believe that Irish teachers behave like this. Who is to know what is going on in the teachers’ lives either? When we share a family difficulty which affects our child’s learning, we should be treated with dignity. Likewise, a teacher’s difficulty should be handled sensitively by parents. Equal dignity.

In relation to grades, I don’t believe for one moment that my child’s A’s are not A’s and my child’s B’s or C’s are A’s because the better teacher marks harder! I do trust that teachers mark work fairly and objectively as professionals, so I see no issue here, an A is an A. I know my child’s potential, I have a really good idea what mark they should be aiming for. I can help the teacher by telling them this information, but only if they are willing to listen. Some years ago our eldest just scraped a pass in the Junior Cert mock exam for Maths. We were shocked as we knew he was more than capable in the subject. We called his teacher for a chat to see what might be going on in school. The teacher helpfully suggested grinds and asked what we thought he would get in the Junior Cert itself. An A, we said, and the teacher laughed. Really, he actually laughed out loud! But we knew our son. We got him a grind, just the once, for two hours in total. And in the Junior Cert? He got an A. No surprise to us but a great one to his teacher. So, teachers have 25 students in front of them, parents only have to worry about one? All the more reason to listen to parents when they tell you something about their child. Teachers have something to learn from parents too, because we each sit at a corner of that equilateral triangle.

When it comes to communicating with teachers, I have a whole tray of eggshells to walk on. So if teachers are walking on eggshells with parents too, why don’t we all just wade in and make an omelette? The outcome would be so much tastier than what passes for communication now. The article suggests that parents open the discussion about a classroom incident with "I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me." What?? Is it really necessary for the parent have to give a big preamble? Do teachers need parents to couch a genuine or valid query in these kind of obsequious terms? What’s wrong with just that last bit “could you shed some light for me on what happened in class/yard today as X was a bit upset”? That’s not an attack on the teacher’s integrity, and crucially, nor does it invalidate the child’s. A question among equals.

This article didn’t seem to me to be written for parents at all. It was more a “preaching to the choir” than a genuine opening of dialogue with parents. Its tone was adversarial throughout, as though parents don’t understand teachers while teachers understand every motive of parents and have plenty of helpful ways to correct them. Some of the points may have validity, but they are lost in the implied hierarchy of teacher at the top, parent underneath, and child on the bottom. For my children, I am a resource in their education equal to that of any of their teachers. I don’t like being talked down to, as this article did. I treat every teacher who deals with my child with respect, fairness, dignity and good manners. I expect the same in return for myself and my child, and I expect that modelling this behaviour will teach my child the most important lesson of all, that we are equal.

I should note, that other than the Junior Cert Maths teacher, my own children’s teachers have largely been  excellent. They are approachable and observant, they listen to any concerns we may have and they frequently go over and above what they have to do to engage their students meaningfully. As the article said though, teachers are educated professionals, just as many parents are in different fields,  so I would expect nothing less.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Parents Move Forward with Gifted Ireland


Since 2009 we have been working together as gifted advocates. Our blog was born of this effort and has served as our learning curve in technology, writing styles, social media, collaboration and cooperation. We have consumed copious amounts of coffee and too many buns in our quest for blog perfection! We have had great times with much laughter and the inevitable low points and disagreements along the way, but have grown in the process, united by our shared vision of establishing a support network around the country and advocating on behalf of our children.

Over the past few months, we have met many of the the fantastic parents who have begun to come together around Ireland to offer support to each other locally. This has been truly inspirational. After four years, we are now delighted to move aside and share the stage at last. While the two of us will, no doubt, continue to air our views here as Dazzled and Frazzled from time to time, we invite you all to join the new team at Gifted Ireland.

With this new online initiative, local groups can have a dedicated page where they can post their upcoming events and meetings. As each group is independently run by its members, they will reflect the needs and emphasis of local parents and gifted young people. In time, we hope that groups will be able to share ideas and organise joint events, as we have already done with our Dublin North and Kildare friends.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Are Facebook Groups Really Private?

Facebook is something which some people embrace with abandon. Others just don’t want to go there at all, for fear of privacy issues. Of those of us who do use it, many of us have joined a group or two. These are generally focused on a particular topic and are used to share information, photos, advice etc. They can be extremely useful and enjoyable. Goodness knows, there are plenty to choose from! But, some words of caution:

There are 3 types of Facebook group:

Public groups: The content and membership list can be viewed by anyone and found by search engines.

Closed groups: The content is only visible to members but the membership list is public. If you become a member, this news appears on your friends’ timelines and is shown on your profile. What you share within the group remains private...doesn’t it?

Secret groups: The content and membership list are invisible to everyone except members. Membership is by invitation only.

Members of closed and secret groups can share outside the group, so before you post anything, ask yourself how well do you trust every member of the group? Anything you share can, with a quick copy and paste or a screenshot, appear anywhere online in a heartbeat. The safest policy is to never post anything on facebook which you would not be happy to see in public.

Members of closed groups can add anyone from their own friends list without asking the group administrator, or even the friend they’re adding. They, in turn, can add their friends and so on. So, even a group that starts out as a small group of friends can quickly mushroom into something much bigger. How well do you know the other members of any groups you are in? Have you met them? Do you trust them? You should periodically check to see that you haven’t been added to any groups you weren’t aware of or don’t want to be in.

Before you post, stop and think. Don’t forget, it is very easy for people to create false online personas or even fake profiles. Not everyone online is who they may seem. Most people join groups for genuine reasons, but all it takes is one person with a personal agenda and your group is compromised.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t join groups or share in them. Just be careful.

Further reading:

Facebook Safety & Million Member Facebook Groups Gary Warner, Director of Research in Computer Forensics, UAB

How Private Are Facebook Groups Mark Davies, Social Tech Zone

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Norm Can Blow It Out Its Ear

This post was written by Catherine Riordan in January 2013. It appears on another website, incorrectly attributed to a different author.

Gifted children eventually grow up, but gifted is not a term which adults tend to use in reference to themselves. It comes with many negative connotations and is something people expect you to grow out of anyway. However, gifted is just a term used, usually in education, to refer to those at the upper end of the intelligence spectrum. It comes with various traits, not least of which are the overexcitabilities or intensity.

The problem is that we all compare ourselves and others to the norm. Those who fall to either side of the norm are at risk of being perceived as "abnormal" when, in fact, they are just different to the majority. Below is a summary of a twitter chat which took place in January, including some great articles and resources. Many thanks to those who contributed!

The questions asked were:

1 Is there such a thing as a gifted adult?

1.5 Is there a difference between the characteristics of adult giftedness and child giftedness? 

2 We care that G&T children's giftedness gets addressed. What about G&T adults? Does it matter? Is adult giftedness as relevant as child giftedness in terms of cultivating potential?

2.5. Do you know any adults who discovered as adults that they were gifted? What is your experience of them?

3. Are gifted adults who adjusted to being an undiscovered G&T child lacking authenticity as adults?

4. What problems/issues are likely to present in undiagnosed gifted adults?

5. To what extent do undiagnosed gifted adults try to live their life through their children?

6. What do G&T children say about G&T adults?

7. What do adult friends of gifted adults say about them?

8. What would/should a gifted adult say to their 16 year old self?

9. What affirmations, if any, does your gifted self live by today?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dublin Mini Maker Faire

Looking for somewhere to take the kids this summer? How about the Dublin Mini Maker Faire?
"Maker Faire is the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth - a family-friendly showcase of onvention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the maker movement. It's a place where people show what they are making, and share what they're learning."
Our GAS group is going to use this as an excuse for getting our kids together. It won't be a rigidly organised outing, but we are making arrangements for meeting up and easily finding each other on the day. If you would like to be included, please get in touch. We are hoping that members of other groups will join us. The more the merrier!

For a flavour of what to expect, this video was made at last year's event:

You will find more details if you look around the Dublin Maker Faire website.

AND....The Festival of Curiosity is on the very same weekend, from 25th to 28th. Dublin will clearly be the place to be:
Join us in a curious world of imagination and exploration where you will think, play and make.
Throughout the festival you will experience a unique series of hands-on activities, treasure hunts, workshops, robot building, a curiosity carnival, interactive installations, street games, science busking, interactive theatre and science storytelling –  for all the family.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Parent Challenge

New Zealand celebrates Gifted Awareness Week from 17th to 23rd June this year and we are delighted to join in their blog tour in anticipation.Ours is a very small contribution, but during the week there will be many more posts looking at giftedness from all sorts of angles. We hope our readers will have a look at the blog tour page or follow #NZGAW on Twitter, and be inspired. 

Parenting a gifted child can be a very lonely and frightening role to play. Our kids most certainly do not come with an instruction booklet and, at times, it can seem that no one knows how to help us figure things out.
Courtesy of
All too often, we defer to the wisdom of professional experts. Yes, there are many wonderful experts out there, advancing the fields of gifted education and psychology, and we must be grateful and supportive of them. (Does it ever strike you how many of these people are either gifted or parents of gifted children themselves?) However, the vast majority professionals with whom we come into contact, do not have training or expertise in giftedness and are liable to misinterpret and misdiagnose. Don't ever forget, there is no one more expert in your child than you! We live with these kids 24/7. We see them in all sorts of situations and moods. We know what makes them tick....well, sometimes!

Parents of gifted children come from diverse backgrounds, educationally, financially, and culturally, but we all have one thing in common: No matter what life throws at us, we will always love and support our children unconditionally. Regardless of career opportunities and politics, we will always look for what is best for our children and we will be relentless in our quest.

As a group, we include educators, psychologists, paediatricians and psychiatrists. Others are great leaders and motivators; some make great coffee; some are wonderful listeners; some provide the much-needed light relief when the going gets tough! Each and every one of us has something to bring to the party.

As a group, we have so much to offer and our challenge must be to find each other, to use each others strengths to support each other, to learn from each other and to develop a loud and powerful voice on behalf of our children.

As individuals, we may often feel swamped, unsure and inadequate. As a group, we have the passion, the skills and the expertise to really make a difference. We should not wait about for others to do this for us. Join your local support group and get stuck in. If there isn’t one, start one. We urge you to rise to the challenge.

Many thanks to for permission to use the above cartoon.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Together We Can Change the World
We are delighted to join with our friends in Germany as they celebrate their first Gifted Awareness Week. We invite our readers to visit their website and read the many articles contributed by some very eminent people in the field of giftedness. However, we make no apology for writing as parents. We send our very best wishes from Ireland!

Parenting gifted children can be a rollercoaster. Just as you think you have it all figured out, the unexpected can happen and leave you feeling isolated, scared and frustrated. There is little awareness within the education system, of their needs, quirks and characteristics. Teachers and psychologists, most of whom have little or no training in the field of giftedness, may misinterpret assessments and misdiagnose behaviours. Parents may be left dealing with a bored, frustrated, difficult child with nowhere to turn for help and advice.

This is where parents' support groups are invaluable. Each child and each situation is different, but the one thing which we parents all have in common is the burning desire to do what is best for our children. New members often arrive to their first meeting full of anxiety but, having spoken to other parents of gifted children for the first time, they go away relieved to know that they are not alone and that they are not failing as parents.

Over time, we will all encounter difficulties and a good vent over a cup of coffee is extremely therapeutic! When you are in a support group, this is only ever a phone call or an email away. Between us, we have children spanning the entire age range, so we have a huge pool of knowledge and experience to share.

The only people with an unwavering vested interest in gifted children are their parents. No matter what career opportunities or barriers cross our paths, we will always have our children's happiness and welfare at the head of our agenda. So, it is vital that we not only support each other, but that we also work together to raise awareness of our children's needs and to bring about change within the education system. We cannot sit back and rely on others to do this for us.

Natalie, Deirdre, Catherine and Karen on a sunny day in Bray!
Natalie Butler, Deirdre O'Donovan, Catherine Riordan, Karen McCarthy,  and Michele Pippet (missing above) represent Gifted Advocacy and Support (GAS), a parents’ support group in Dublin and Wicklow, on Ireland's east coast. The group has run meetings and outings for parents of gifted learners and has been involved in advocacy at national level since 2009. Recognising the benefit to parents of getting together to share ideas and support, they are now working towards helping to build other support groups around Ireland and providing a means of communication between them. Through their website, parents can come together to give each other valuable support and friendship as they negotiate their way through the challenging years of parenting their gifted children.