As Head of Imaginarium, I am so fortunate to have the scope to be creative in my role and to lead a program to provide opportunities for, and support the development of, gifted girls of high ability. Over my years of teaching, the ability to dream and be creative was such an important aspect when designing cognitive experiences for students.
When students are given the opportunity to explore their curiosity, ask big questions, think creatively, and learn through real-life, hands-on experiences, the lights in their eyes glow brightly. Their conversations are rich and full of excitement and their questions can differentiate between fast and inquiring, to deep and considered.
As a lead educator, one of the most important roles I have is to inspire students. I must demonstrate through my own actions and applications that dreams are important and, through a positive mindset, hard work, zest, and perseverance, they can become reality. I can attest to this.
On Tuesday morning an email popped into my inbox, awarding me a staff mentor scholarship for the International Space School in Houston, Texas. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one of my biggest dreams.
Once the feeling of shock started to wear off, an immense gratitude overwhelmed me, followed by excitement. I know the opportunity will further equip me with knowledge I can continue to pass on through the Imaginarium courses – strategies and tools to empower girls and young women to take on change and develop self-motivation, reliance, teamwork and goal-setting.
What would happen if I didn’t achieve my dream? If my application came back unsuccessful? How would I continue to inspire students in their own personal development when I hadn’t been ‘successful’ myself? I wonder, what do we deem as ‘success’?
Earlier in my career, I applied for a Professional Learning Scholarship to attend one of the world’s best educational conferences. I was not successful and was therefore disappointed – very disappointed. At a time when Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS) started forming, I had to think about the big picture – in the scheme of life, was this going to alter my development as a person or as an educator? Only if I let it.
Instead, I thought creatively about how I could learn without attending the conference. I followed the conference on Twitter, which led me to a range of resources and allowed me to reflect on the big questions posed through participants’ accounts. I connected with some attendees through Twitter, starting rich conversations. I looked at the key concepts, pedagogy and education buzz words that were being used and researched them on the internet.
I found a way to learn from the conference without being at the conference. The interactions and learning I was experiencing through a different approach fostered Performance Enhancing Thoughts (PETS), increasing my own self-concept where I felt like I was flourishing. This is what I deem to be ‘success’.
In my role, one of the most important aspects is to support gifted girls to flourish, to build their character strengths and tool kit to counteract ANTS with PETS when facing challenges.
Gifted students are often expected to know what to do, how to learn, and how to work through challenges. While gifted students often complete their work in the classroom with ease, their self-concept and self-efficacy diminishes when facing challenges.
This can happen when gifted students move into ability classes where they have changed from an environment where they were at the top of the class, to a class where they are with their peers of similar abilities. All of a sudden, the content becomes more challenging, the gap is not so noticeable, and they may face failure.
While I encourage the girls to reach for the stars and to dream big, the most important part is to allow them to see that failure is normal, and to persevere in the face of challenge. To have a healthy idea of what ‘success’ looks, feels and sounds like in our lives helps us to recognise that failure can often lead to new opportunities we may not have dreamed of.