In chess they consider the end game as being, "The final stage of a game after most of the pieces have been removed from the board." It's sad to realize it, but solving some of the problems we have in gifted education most likely means having to remove some of our pieces from the board. And those pieces are the people standing in your way that keep you from accomplishing what is needed in order to best serve and support our gifted kids.
We have to keep pushing forward with what's best for our gifted children and students across the country, even when not everyone is willing to work on the hard stuff. Even when those who are in positions to help us, or those who have the power or money or influence that could really make a difference, back away, create complications, or pretend they are already doing enough.
There are many people within and around our field who are not pulling their weight. When the push comes to shove, they back up because things get a little too hard: when allowing access to more under-represented students may cause them to have to change policies and re-do forms, or god forbid, make their programs less based on white privilege and piss off the masses of people at their country clubs. There are people who talk a good talk about how important it is to understand gifted characteristics, but then they let their own lack of social skills get in the way- they throw fits when someone doesn't do what they want them to do or they have to work with other people they don't want to work with, which slows everything down and turns our larger mission into personal attacks against fellow soldiers of the greater cause.
There are people who are in teaching, administrative or psychologist roles, or who have advanced degrees in related fields and should really understand what is needed, who actually end up doing more harm to other gifted people with their bad advice, personal vendettas, and even abusive uses of their power in selfish ways that only benefit them. There are as many stories of people who don't get along, within and around our field, as there are stories of amazing friendships and collaboration.
Yes, it's true that when you work within any cause for any length of time, you start seeing these behaviors. But I would like to think that a field based on high intellect would mean less of these sorts of petty and vindictive moves. Yet, I've seen it in every level of engagement, for example:
-as a parent (the parents who don't like it when other kids succeed... Or who want to protect their kids from kids who "aren't really gifted"...);
-as a teacher (the teachers, staff and/or administrators who don't want to change "how things have always been", or who have personal misconceptions about what gifted means and they don't really want to know anything else that may conflict with their beliefs...);
-as a district gifted program facilitator (unfortunately you see even more of what you see as a teacher, only magnified by the control issues and political struggles around you and with other districts and state organizations...);
-as a state gifted specialist working with districts (the district coordinators who don't even engage with the state for support for their gifted services, because they don't have any... Or the ones who fight like hell to keep change from happening because of misconceptions and fears that things may shake up the way they've always done things, or anger their parent groups that already give them a hard enough time...);
-as a state gifted specialist working with other professionals within and outside of the state agencies (the ones who meet with you once to check something off a list, but are too busy to meet again because your agenda was never their priority, even though it should be... or the ones who let you work really hard on something but don't tell you that your next steps won't ever happen because they have other things scheduled that month and your work conflicts with their plans... Or the ones who constantly find reasons to shut things down because it means more work for them, or they throw up so many complicated rules for who can speak to who about what, that it makes the process ten times harder and more adversial than necessary...);
-and as an advocate and board member of organizations (the fellow board members who stir up drama about other members, throw fits in meetings when their biases come out, or who don't pull their weight and let others do the hard stuff while they claim they are working too, or the ones who are afraid to stand up for things that would make the most impact because they aren't sure it will be supported by others immediately.)
I could go on and on. But I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. You've seen it too.
To my good friends and fellow collaborators I've been working closely with, this list does not include you- (don't hate me now for saying all this!) But let's be honest, we all know these people and what they are capable of doing. They are the same people in most organizations, most offices, most homes, who make life harder for those of us who are working hard to actually make things better. They are the people who like group activities because those of us who truly care will do all the work. And the people who will later (when we prove to be successful,) act as if they supported what we accomplished, even after insisting we shouldn't do it when we first started out and dragging their feet through the whole thing. It's not something new in gifted education and it won't go away overnight. But we need to be aware of these people who one of my former fourth grade students would call "fun suckers," and who we formally call obstructionists.
Next, when they show their true colors and we realize who they really are, we need a plan to get past them. Because if we slow down or stand by to wait until they are willing to work with us, we become obstructionists to necessary change too.
So I've come up with some ideas for working around these types of people, and hopefully they can be useful for you too.
First of all, you need to gather your resources and tools and be well prepared to do what needs to get done, including beefing up on the following:
Read up on organizational and psychological issues, like the psychology of procrastination, the people who worry too much about rules and have anxiety about confrontation, or the way healthy organizations work compared with unhealthy ones.
Rules and regulations:
You need the basic tools such as information about working with bylaws and how nonprofit organizations should work... you need to know state laws, district policies and previous legal case law. And you need to know why the rules and policies were created and whether there are areas that need changing. And, know who can influence those changes.
You need to know who you can count on to move things forward regardless of the people currently in your way (friends who will cheer you on, politicians who will back you up, other advocates in Giftedland or involved with related causes, and those who have walked a similar path before...)
You also need to know what the options are and how the different variables interact and create roadblocks or passageways. You need a game plan and to create your plan you need to write it out like a choose your own adventure book- knowing alternate routes for every turn.
You need to know the parts each person in the process will play and who is a strong enough player to remain on the board with you. Throughout life we know some people are more capable of the hard work and the ones who aren't, naturally fall by the wayside. Let them fall, and gather the ones who are playmakers beside you (and I would say, "hang on to them," but they hang on themselves, that's the beauty of true collaborators.)
In every game in life, the true momentum comes from believing in your cause. Know who you are fighting for well, and arm yourself with enough information about why the gifted population needs you to do the work you are doing. So when you hit the snags and you get waylaid by people who try to convince you that the priority lies elsewhere, you are prepared to stay focused and remember exactly what you are trying to do.
Elevator talking points:
The information you know about the gifted education field will keep you motivated, but it's too much to try to explain to someone that you meet for the first time, or to use all of it in an argument. So pick out specific statistics, quotes, and other talking points that you can use in a short amount of time to make a strong point. You may want to categorize your elevator talking points by theme – such as when somebody questions whether eligibility requirements should be changed, and you can argue using a quote from Dr. Donna Ford or Dr. Joy Lawson Davis about the need for services for our underrepresented kids. Or when somebody says that a child is not gifted because they are not a high performer, you are prepared with information about amazing people who did not perform well in school but later became famous for being geniuses in their fields, like Einstein, or Bill Gates. You need to prepare by coming up with multiple categories of potential issues and have supporting statements that can be used quickly, efficiently and effectively to make those most important points.
When working towards equality and improving support for gifted children it's important to figure out who has the appropriate skill-set to tackle each situation. If you do not have a background including publishing books in an area that would strongly support an issue you are arguing, don't keep beating people with your own quotes and statistics, but find someone who has even more information and clout to help you move beyond the surface level, such as one of the national experts. There are many well-regarded experts in gifted education who are willing to stand up with you when they see the greater cause you are working on. Find them, (there are "expert speaker" lists available on multiple gifted organization webpages,) and be brave enough to ask for their help. The worst thing they can do is say no, but often they will still provide you with insight and advice even if they cannot participate themselves. Also, evaluate your own skill-set so you know when it is appropriate for you to be the one making a move or when you should ask for help. Sometimes we underestimate our own abilities and let other people fill in when we actually can be the better person to tackle that situation because we have personal information or knowledge.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to make enemies out of all of the people who seem to be standing in our way (unless they are utterly horrid, which might be the case!) They may make enemies of themselves, and we can't control their actions, but we certainly should not feed their fire and cause further obstruction. The field of gifted education is very small, and people like to talk and exaggerate. Give people a respectable way to get out of the corner when needed, and just move on and find someone else to work with. It's not worth causing more drama or exerting your energy on disliking someone when there's so much else to get done. Find soldiers who are strong and willing to work with you, and when you find that someone is weak or allows their own personal vendettas to get in the way, move around them and keep going. When you get bogged down on power struggles nobody wins and you start spinning in place. When you think your voice is no longer being heard by someone, find someone else to be the voice and choose something else to work on that still moves you forward.
Even if someone seems like an ally in your journey for a while, there may be times when their priorities and your priorities diverge or converge. When you see a gap widening, don't get sucked into believing that if you work with them on their cause for a while, they will come back to caring about yours. That may or may not happen, but give them space to do what they need to do while you work on what you need to do. Sometimes we all work on different pieces and it comes together in the end. Sometimes it doesn't come together at all. So be careful and constantly reevaluate what's going on. And be skeptical, while still being kind, respectful and hopeful, because something that looks bad may not actually be, and something that looks great may actually have issues. We don't really know how all the moving pieces will go together in the end, so be skeptical while staying focused.
Sometimes our passions can be overwhelming and that is why gifted people are considered intense! Balance your work with downtime with your family and friends. Don't let what we are trying to do to improve the lives of children and families get in the way of you being there for yours. By staying balanced and not becoming a one-trick pony, you will continue to have the support and encouragement from your loved ones that you need.
And in the end, no matter how well prepared you are, people will still sideswipe you and you will have moments of stress and frustration about lost friendships, working relationships that are one-sided and do not benefit gifted kids as you once hoped, and people who will otherwise let you down. So the most important thing is to just know that it happens to the best of us, and sometimes what you encounter further emphasizes the need for you to continue to speak out and be an advocate for those who do not have the ability to do so for themselves. That's why we are all in this – and that's why in the end you still win because you didn't back down or get in the way of progress like those other people do. And really, if you stay focused and use your sense of finding others who are serious about helping, you will show that you are willing to move past the negative stuff because of how much you care about helping the kids, and as we all can agree- the caring is the most important part.