Counselor Takes Counsel

After attending an inspiring workshop on the socio-emotional needs of gifted students, Clara Hayes, a resource teacher at Burnside Middle School, tries to initiate a collaborative partnership with Mary Barnes, the school counselor. Excited about the possibilities and determined to make a difference, Clara is surprised by the resistance to her ideas.

Specific academic programs and services are offered to students at Burnside Middle School through a resource room managed by Clara Hayes. But the school provides no specialized services addressing the socio-emotional needs of gifted students.

Burnside is the only middle school in this suburban district. With approximately 1100 students in grades 6-8, almost 19% meet the state criteria for gifted education services. Identified students are offered differentiated academic and extracurricular services. Students might be placed in honors classes in addition to participating in mathematics, science, and writing competitions at state and national levels. There are no differentiated counseling and guidance services for gifted students.

Clara Hayes, a gifted resource teacher, works with students on special projects, independent studies, or in extracurricular programs and competitions. Clara also works with the school counselor to make recommendations for student placement in courses each year. She completes all building-level paperwork and assessment activities related to the gifted program. Sometimes, Clara works with students and their families to explore acceleration and dual-class enrollment options. Although she feels appreciated by her students and their parents, Clara feels somehow that she is not doing enough for the gifted students in her building. Unfortunately, she is not sure exactly what else she should do.

The primary focus of the guidance and counseling program at Burnside is to help prepare students for college. Like most guidance counselors, Mary Barnes spends the bulk of her time scheduling students’ classes, working with parents, and dealing with typical student problems, including study skills deficiencies, time management issues, and failure to complete assignments. On occasion, Mary helps students and families deal with troublesome personal issues. Her job is more reactive rather than proactive.

Although she works with Clara several times a year to manage student files and process applications for special programs such as talent searches or summer enrichment programs, Mary does not consider gifted education a major part of her job. She occasionally meets with gifted students and their parents to discuss course placement or to help a gifted student whose academic performance has slipped, but she does this for all of Burnside’s students, gifted or not.

Clara leaves an inspiring workshop on the socio-emotional needs of the gifted with a sense of purpose.

As Clara leaves a one-day workshop on guiding the socio-emotional development of gifted adolescents, she is full of energy, enthusiasm, and determination to develop a plan for more specialized guidance and counseling services for gifted students. Clara has never focused on guidance and counseling services as part of her job. However, many of her efforts related to academics have addressed the socio-emotional development of gifted students. She thinks it is time for her to begin to proactively engage in guidance and counseling activities necessary for healthy adjustment and development of the “whole” gifted child.

See one-day workshop agenda below:

Prior to the workshop, Clara had seldom given any thought to the meaning of the term “socio-emotional development.” At the workshop she learned that social refers to the development of relationships and interactions of individuals with one another, while the development of emotions and self-perceptions deals with how the individual feels about oneself. Clara listened attentively as the workshop presenter explained the differences between normal adjustment and maladjustment, terms used to describe healthy and unhealthy social and emotional development.

Clara realized that the gifted are as different socially and emotionally as they are intellectually. One quote from the workshop presenter particularly struck her: “Giftedness is a greater awareness, sensitivity, and ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences (Roeper, 1982).” Clara realizes that intensity or advanced capacity in any single area of development is related to intensity elsewhere. For example, cognitive or intellectual complexity is related to emotional intensity. The range of emotional response is greater for gifted learners than for other learners of the same age.

Although it makes sense to her now, Clara had never thought about the advanced socio-emotional development of gifted learners that parallels their more obvious cognitive or intellectual development. Clara has often seen the advanced socio-emotional characteristics of gifted students firsthand. For example, students who investigated the lives and times of famous persons often related not only to their social lives but also to the emotional stability and positive adjustment of famous leaders, inventors, and geniuses.

Clara could recall many instances of advanced social or emotional intensity and sensitivity. Once, when she was helping students select science fair topics one of her students seemed particularly interested in the issue of genetics and the ethics of cloning. Although the project dealt with the more academic nature of the topic, clearly the student was also reacting to the topic emotionally. Again, both the intellectual and emotional intensity of the student were beyond the norm for her age.

After the workshop, Clara spends most of the evening highlighting the most significant issues essential to guidance and counseling efforts for gifted students. She finally settles on four major goal areas, each of which she briefly describes in a written plan.

See written plan below:

Clara approaches Burnside’s guidance counselor, Mary Barnes, ready to collaborate on specific initiatives for gifted students in grades 6-8.

Mary stops by Clara’s classroom after school.

“I’m so glad you could come by,” Clara begins. “I just went to the most amazing workshop about gifted learners.” She describes the workshop to Mary in detail and presses for gifted counseling services.

Mary smiles, “Sure, it would be great if we had the training to differentiate our counseling for gifted students. But most of us don’t.”

“But,” Clara says, “from what I heard, you could just focus on peer relationships, emotional and social adjustment, stress management, underachievement, school/work relationships, and family relationships.” She ticks off topics on her fingers. “We definitely have the need. The most critical times are in early adolescence, when achievement and affiliation conflicts intensify, and during transition from one type of school programming to another. If that doesn’t describe middle school, I don’t know what does!”

“I’ll think about it,” Mary replies. “Let’s get together again. How about next week?”

Before Mary walks away, Clara hands her a copy of the proposed plan she has written and asks Mary to read it.

The next day Clara gets a disappointing e-mail from Mary. Clara wonders if Mary’s reluctance is due to a lack of resources—or to a lack of knowledge.