As Head of Imaginarium, I am so fortunate to have the scope to be creative in my role, leading and developing the programme to provide opportunities for high-ability gifted girls, and to dream about how the Imaginarium could support their development through holistic courses.
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 divergently and creatively, and learn through real life, hands-on experiences, the light in their eyes glows brightly. Their conversations are rich and full of excitement; 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, to 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, as 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 one of my dreams, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once the feeling of shock started to wear off, an immense gratitude overwhelmed me. This led to excitement as the opportunity will further equip me with knowledge, strategies and tools 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 and reliance, teamwork and goal setting through their own curiosity and imagination.
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) start forming, I had to think about the big picture. In the scheme of life, was this going to alter my development as a person? 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 and rich conversations started. I looked at the key concepts, pedagogy and education buzz words that were being used and researched these 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 quite 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, when facing challenges their self-concept and self-efficacy diminishes. 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 like-ability peers, where the gap is not so noticeable, where the content becomes more challenging and they may face failure. Take a scientist, for example – failure is primarily part of their career, conducting multitudes of experiments and investigations before a successful result may be found.
While I encourage the girls to reach for the stars, to dream and dream big, the most important part is to allow them to see that failure is normal, not a means to an end, and to persevere in the face of challenge. To have a healthy idea of what ‘success’ looks like, feels like and sounds like in our lives and the recognition that failure can often lead us to new opportunities we may not have dreamed of.