Advocating for Your Gifted Student at School

You know your gifted student will flourish with support, so how do you work effectively with your child’s school? An expert at Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University explains.

As parents, we strive to support and guide our kids as they grow — and that’s natural. Children who are advanced learners, or are demonstrating potential for advanced learning, need opportunities for their talents to be developed, so how should parents approach that conversation in a positive way with the child’s school?

“Talent develops differently across varying domains,” says Eric Calvert, associate director for the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. “When a parent recognizes that their child has an emerging passion for a particular subject or topic, it’s important to nurture that development through opportunities inside and outside of school.”

Parents often recognize signs of advanced ability in their student before schools and teachers will, says Calvert. The standard grade-level curriculum may not be the best fit, which can have a negative influence on a precocious student’s desire to continue learning and to challenge themselves.

While the school will be providing age- and grade-appropriate curriculum for many students, most teachers recognize the value of adjusting classroom instruction in response to students’ needs. To aid in that process, it can be helpful for parents to talk with teachers to share their insights about their child’s learning strengths, challenges, and interests.

These conversations and advocacy are particularly important when students’ academic abilities differ significantly from their chronological age and grade or when students are learning English as an additional language or receiving special education services.

“Advanced academic needs may not always be met if teachers aren’t able to provide appropriate challenge and support,” says Calvert, “but parents interested in positively advocating for their children will have greater success in doing so by first understanding that teachers are usually trying to act in the best interest of the child, too.”

One size does not fit all

Calvert compares the vast differences in children’s cognitive development with the natural — and expected — differences in size and height per age range. No one would expect all 7-year-olds to fit into the same size T-shirt, pants or dress, or even shoes, for that matter. The same goes for talent development for a gifted student in school, he says.

“We would never expect all kids of a certain age to wear a size medium shirt because we know there will be students who need an extra small or a large, and cognitive development should be treated the same way,” Calvert says. “And when it comes to positively advocating for their kids, we need parents to help support their child’s talent development at home and through collaborative approaches with educators.”

Teaming up with teachers

Calvert suggests parents approach teachers as supportive partners when broaching the topic of talent development for advanced learners.

“It’s important for parents to know that teachers should be supported and approached as professionals,” he says, adding that most pre-service teachers do not receive training on how to recognize or work with gifted students. “In fact, many teachers are not introduced to or inspired to focus on developing talent until they’ve identified a gifted student in their own classroom.”

“We want to support constructive parent-teacher relationships while supporting the talent development of the child,” Calvert says.

How to positively advocate for your gifted student

Parents can begin the conversation with a teacher by making sure they are considerate in tone and approach, Calvert says. After all, you’re the expert in your child, but they are also trained professionals. The ideal is for parents and teachers to see each other as collaborators and partners in developing students’ talents. Getting there requires building relationships of mutual respect.

“A parent might say to their child’s teacher that they are not there to tell them how to do their job but to share information so that they might be able to work together,” he suggests. “Always ask what you can do as parents to support continued talent development at home and show the school that you are engaging as a partner.”

But how do you first broach the subject of possible giftedness in your child with their teacher? With concrete examples and documentation, says Calvert. Put your smartphone to good use with notes on their hobbies, interests, and the book titles they read outside of school.

Calvert also encourages parents to share their child’s after-school activities with teachers when those activities may be a sign that the student is developmentally ready to be challenged more academically. Mixed-age group activities like scouting or sports are good examples.

“Documenting the child’s success in mixed-age groups can help a teacher feel more comfortable in accelerating advanced learners,” says Calvert. “We know that learning only happens when there is appropriate challenge. We can’t learn what we already know. We need to struggle some to grow, and so do our kids. Learning only happens when we are engaging at the edge of our competence.”

Learn more about the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. Visit



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