I can still remember my first day of teaching at the middle school level. The students seemed very excited about class. After the bell rang, all but one student—who was dealing with a personal problem—walked out of class. My conversation and subsequent meeting with this student set me on a journey to discover all that I could about the social and emotional characteristics of students. It led to a master’s degree in counseling and a doctoral degree in psychology with a concentration in counseling guidance. Soon after that, I developed the Autonomous Learner Model, a learning model that focuses on the “whole gifted child.”
As I complete my fiftieth year as an educator and reflect on the concepts and ideas that seek to strengthen the social and emotional development of our children, I believe there are six essential qualities that gifted educators can instill in their students to benefit the “whole gifted child.”
- Unconditional positive regard: The ability to accept people as they are, not as you want them to be.
- Development of self: A strong sense of self is necessary for successful involvement with others, as well as the confidence that you are positive as a person.
- Emotional, social, cognitive, and physical development: If one of these domains is missing, there will be a deficit in the student’s well-rounded progress instead of a positive approach to life and learning.
- Passion learning: Learning what others want you to learn is important, but being able to pursue what you love is called “passion learning.” This is the highest level of learning because you can become totally immersed in an intellectual pursuit. Time stands still, you miss meals, you become sleep-deprived, but you generate great new ideas and products.
- Working together: Major skills that are necessary for success include communication, consultation, and collaboration with others.
- Seek to better the world: Our future is now in the hands of our children. They can visualize a better world, and they need our support as they develop new solutions for our world’s problems.
Clearly, research on and interest in the affective needs of students has increased in recent years, and while there are many organizations and educators who see the “whole” child, no one has attended to gifted children specifically. As president of NAGC, I’ve worked hard to address this. I have developed the “Whole Gifted Child Task Force” under the leadership of Dr. Angela Housand and seventeen other practitioners, university professors, and researchers.
Our goal is to discover, synthesize, and disseminate knowledge and research on the whole gifted child. We evaluate his or her needs, development, and the importance of providing alternatives for his or her ongoing growth in the school, home, and community. To that end, the following questions will be addressed by the task force: Who is the gifted child? What are the comprehensive needs (cognitive, social, emotional, and physical) of the gifted child? What must parents, educators, and communities do to support the gifted child? What outcomes are there for the gifted child who receives this set of comprehensive support structures?
The fields of counseling and psychology have taught the basics that are fundamental for the growth of the whole child. In gifted education we are experts on gifted students’ cognitive needs. We have conducted research and developed applications using that research that are extremely valuable. However, a more concrete understanding of what practices are needed is at the forefront of our task force. The task force shared initial work at the NAGC sixty–third Annual Convention in Florida, and it will release more results in the months that follow.
George Betts is the president of the NAGC Board of Directors.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Teaching for High Potential (November 2016).