From the 2e Center for Professional Development

2e Center News

About this Column

The 2e Center is located on the campus of Bridges Academy in Studio City, California. In this column, we share what’s happening at our center and report research findings, teaching ideas, and parenting suggestions we have found to be successful in helping 2e kids thrive.
— SB

We at the 2e Center continue to support the evolution of Bridges Academy’s interest-focused, strength-based, and talent-optimized approach. This school year began with our annual “Getting to Know You Days,” where students participated in assessment activities purposely designed to identify current interests, personality profiles, talents, and learning preferences. Building on that information, teachers offer enrichment clusters and problem-based learning opportunities that engage 4th- through 8th-grade students and allow them to develop and apply their talents in authentic ways.

We are proud to announce the pilot phase of our Badge Program for 10th-grade students. Partially funded by a Malone Foundation grant, students are defining areas of interest, setting goals, and developing proposals for rich explorations that will earn their chosen badge. An accumulation of these badges will result in individual students developing expertise in specific disciplines. The program will be implemented throughout the high school starting next fall. The 2e Center is systematically documenting the implementation and impact of the program on both students and faculty.

Through its research conducted at Bridges Academy, the 2e Center has uncovered six factors that are critical in building a strong foundation for twice-exceptional students:

  1. Tolerance for asynchrony
  2. Positive relationships
  3. A psychologically safe environment
  4. Respect for time
  5. Talent development
  6. Strength-based strategies. 

These factors are important for all children, but are particularly critical for students with exceptionalities. Our last column discussed the first factor, tolerance for asynchrony. This time we’re looking at the second, positive relationships.


Factor 2: Positive Relationships

What Parents Want to Know

My daughter is extremely sensitive and easily hurt. She has always had problems making friends. Now, in her highly competitive middle school, she’s not only a loner, but she’s also dealing with teasing and is clearly suffering. Are there any strategies that might help?

Harvard-trained child and adult psychiatrist, Dr. Shimi Kang, noted that the warmth of one’s relationships has a major effect on health, happiness, and success, no matter if the relationships are with friends, family, peers, teachers, coaches, or mentors.  Students are much more likely to do well in school when they feel they belong; however, the socially appropriate behaviors that are the basis for positive relationships frequently do not come naturally or easily to twice-exceptional students. Too often, students who appear “different” are subjected to bullying and ridicule, either because of their intense interests and focus or because of learning differences that set them apart from their age mates. 

Teachers, frustrated by the extraordinary needs of these students, can find it difficult to enjoy them in the classroom. Parents, who see their child come home troubled and with few or no friends, may become fiercely protective and thus demanding or adversarial with the school. Instead of positive partnering between families and schools, the relationship can become strained and difficult. Many students and families entering Bridges Academy report these problems.

In our research (Baum, Schader, Hébert, 2014), we found the theme of relationships recurring throughout interviews with Bridges Academy students, faculty, and parents. New students commented on their concerns about fitting in — discussing themselves in terms of their disabilities and differences (having tics, being shy, being unable to do expected work, losing their tempers, etc.). Over time, these students began to notice that each of their classmates had particular abilities. Finally, they realized that everyone at the school had unique combinations of abilities and challenges. At this stage they opened the door for relationships with one another and the broader school community. As one student commented, being at this school “makes you feel like you belong.” Students also experienced being with teachers who embraced their roles as mentors. In an interview, one young artist described how her art teacher’s encouragement, instruction, and understanding were paramount in her development. 

Resources

These books provide a good starting point in learning how to help children forge positive relationships.

  • The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids — Without Turning into a Tiger, by S. K. Kang, Penguin Group, 2014
  • It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success, by Richard Lavoie, Simon and Schuster, 2005

Each of us builds social competence through positive relationships with different types of people and in a variety of situations. When we are in a community of others with whom we identify, we can relax and be ourselves. But how do we find and nurture that community for 2e students? Here are ideas for home and school that can encourage positive relationships.

  1. Find “interest peers.” Because 2e students can be socially out of step with their classmates, it’s important to search thoughtfully for others who share a student’s interests. These youngsters may or may not be the student’s age peers, but they are individuals with whom the student can share activities related to interests, collections, strengths, or passions. Engaging in these activities will, over time, allow 2e students to share their knowledge, be valued for what they bring to the situation, find common goals, and experience success by contributing to the accomplishment of goals. Some examples of activities that can serve as the foundation for building new relationships are astronomy, bird watching, model building, robotics, chess, and history. (Note: Several of these activities may be one-on-one, which often allows a wonderfully safe environment for honing social skills that can then be extended to group pursuits.)
  2. Provide cognitive coaching while students pursue their interests. With the help of cognitive coaching, students can learn social skills contextually. For example, they can practice listening, taking turns, managing anger, cooperating, being assertive, and so forth. Small group activities such as theater, improv, debate, or music ensembles provide excellent possibilities.
  3. Find mentors who genuinely like the qualities of 2e students. After building trust, these adults can serve not only as role models, coaches, and advocates, but also as invaluable partners for practicing relationship skills.
    Model relationship skills. Parents provide role models for relationship skills such as showing patience in turn-taking, being willing to entertain alternate perspectives, etc. In addition, they also are important helpmates in setting the stage for building positive relationships.
  4. Encourage teachers to contact parents when they notice positive behaviors. Families need to know that teachers see the good in these students, not just the problems. Parents are then more likely to collaborate with educators in supporting work in the child’s challenging areas.
  5. Provide inspiration through examples of others who have survived difficulties in social settings. The website achievement.org is a “museum of living history,” with searchable interviews and biographies of people who have had a positive impact on our world. Many were loners and many were painfully shy. Without discussing a child’s social issues directly or pointedly, aim for uplifting conversations and connections that focus on the range of ways people have found to make a difference.

A dependable, positive relationship — just one — provides a safety net. It can reenergize and refresh one’s spirit when a day has been rough. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships — the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.”

Consider the Hidden Curriculum

In his book It’s So Much Work to be Your Friend, author and consultant Richard Lavoie talks about the Hidden Curriculum. He recommends helping children uncover the unwritten, unspoken rules at school and in their community. He states:

Students with learning problems often lack the observational and conceptual skills to comprehend the Hidden Curriculum of their school. They may have few friends who can coach and counsel them about the school’s culture. As a result, they unknowingly violate [it] and that results in rejection, isolation, embarrassment, and humiliation. It is critically important that we teach the Hidden Curriculum with the same commitment and planning that we present the standard curriculum.

Lavoie goes on to describe what it takes to In uncover unwritten and unspoken rules. “Identifying and analyzing a school’s culture,” he states, “requires an exploration similar to an anthropologist’s examination.” Lavoie gives examples of cultural phenomena on which to focus:

  • The physical plant (e.g., Does the child know the layout and shortcuts?)
  • The schedule (e.g., Is the child comfortable navigating each day’s schedule?)
  • The social scene (e.g., What are the sign-up procedures for extracurricular activities; what’s “in” and what’s “out”; etc.).

[For more information, see coverage of a conference session that Lavoie did on this topic from the July, 2007, issue of 2e: Twice- Exceptional Newsletter.]

Reference

Lavoie, R. (2005). It’s so much work to be your friend: Helping the child with learning disabilities find social success. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. 251-269.

Reference

Baum, S. M., Schader, R., & Hébert, T. P. (2014). Through a different lens: Reflecting on a strengths-based, talent-focused approach for twice-exceptional learners. Gifted Child Quarterly, 58, 311-327.

 

Robin Schader, Ph.D., is a member of the Executive Board of the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development.  

 

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