Mary St George sends greetings to members of the gifted education and advocacy community all around the world. She hopes that you will find some exciting ideas that you can apply to your own settings during this inaugural International Week of the Gifted.
The gifted education movement in New Zealand has been lobbying politicians for a long time. We used to stick to the traditions and conventions that I assume are part of lobbying in other parts of the world. When my eldest child was attending One Day School, more than a decade ago, newsletters came home about bringing gifted education to the attention of our government. Parliamentarians were encouraged to attend public meetings with parents and teachers to discuss their education policies, with a view to establishing where gifted education fitted in. Parents were encouraged to write to their MP’s about gifted education, particularly in election years. Purveyors of tea, coffee and postage stamps probably did fairly well out of this lobbying based on letters and meetings. I have no doubt that progress was made, but it was difficult to gauge from the distance of the small rural town where I lived at the time.
Moving forward a few years, New Zealand’s efforts at raising awareness of the needs of gifted children took on a new flavour when The Gifted Education Centre launched our first Gifted Awareness Week. Gifted Awareness Week is a crazy, busy, fun-filled time, now celebrated by all our major providers and associations serving gifted children and their families. Before Gifted Awareness Week, we brainstorm about how to spread the gifted awareness message to teachers, parents and the wider community. The open nature of brainstorming has also brought about some new ways of interacting with our elected leaders; it was on one of these brainstorming lists, among suggestions about gifted awareness sausage sizzles and talking to the media, that I first read something like this:
Ask your Member of Parliament to write about gifted education on his or her blog.
Now, I am a vigorous and optimistic supporter of things that I think will work. The rest of the time I am a cynic. I did not ask my MP to blog at the time, because I did not think it would ever happen. Fortunately, I was wrong, and in 2009, Heather Roy became the first New Zealand MP to blog about gifted children and their educational needs.
The world turns, and we find ourselves doing what we least expected. Teaching online has led me to a broad exploration of how online communities work, and through my involvement in Twitter’s #gtchat community, I discovered blog tours. Christine Fonseca was using blog tours to promote her books on giftedness, and through following these I realised that a blog tour could be a useful addition to New Zealand’s Gifted Awareness Week.
I now convene the #NZGAW Blog Tour, so I have become one of the people who encourages our Members of Parliament to blog about giftedness, and who works to ensure that their blog posts are widely read. I also host blog posts from politicians who do not maintain a blog of their own, as my unmet goal is to have a post from every elected political party each Gifted Awareness Week.
This year, our New Zealand blog tour included posts on giftedness from Members of Parliament within four of our political parties. One of our bloggers wrote in his role as Associate Minister of Education, possibly incorporating the views of a further two parties who did not write posts themselves. We currently have eight political parties with seats in Parliament, so it was pleasing to read blog posts representing at least four parties’ views this year.
Blog posts from our Members of Parliament give us an insight into their current understandings (and sometimes misunderstandings) about giftedness. I very much value their willingness to share their ideas in this manner. We learn more about the Members’ thinking on giftedness than is usually evident in their party manifestos, and in most cases we have the opportunity to comment right there on the blog. Readers willing to make informed comments can be part of the process of creating political awareness and positive change, even from most rural locations, without the inconvenience of getting to a meeting in a larger centre.
We still don’t have the level of understanding and support for gifted education that we would like. Many of our specialist teachers of gifted children still work for charitable trusts outside the mainstream, funded by parents or other benefactors rather than the Ministry of Education. However, our blogging politicians are showing up and being part of the conversation, online where it is widely accessible. I believe that this has to be a step in the right direction.
After the blog tour, many will sit down and snail mail their MP’s about the quality and speed of rural internet connections, but that is another story…
A note about the images
These images have been added to the Gifted Education PhotoQuotes project, a growing repository of Creative Commons licensed images that was initiated in support of the first International Day of the Gifted last year. There may be images that you could use, or you may like to contribute images of your own. We’d love you to visit this image collection.