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Ch Ch Ch Changes: The Pandemic and Helping Gifted & 2e Kids Be Their Best Selves

The pandemic sucks. It's not "school appropriate" for me to say so. It's also not news you need to hear from me, but I think I need to hear myself say it. While I'm out here at the edge of propriety, I'm giving myself permission to say that the learning curve and stress have been particularly massive and demanding for school leaders, including me. Difficult and unpredictable things have also happened in my personal life; I have lost people and things I've long loved and relied on. I'm not alone in this, I know. I'm adapting. We are adapting.

I have been lucky so far. Privileged, more accurately. Why, then, do I feel liberated by the possibility that my so-called luck in the pandemic could run out at any moment? This can't be a normal feeling, but I can make good use of it. I can speak my mind in the moment more often, because I may not be here when I'd scheduled myself to speak my mind next week in Google Calendar.

While I'm at it, I can stop waiting for others to catch up, behaving as expected, explaining things five times in five different ways, pretending I don't know what something means, looking confused, slowing down when someone tells me I'm talking too fast, making nice when someone unintentionally offends me, playing dumb when I think it might be useful, being a girl in a dress on field day and not doing cartwheels, postponing anything that is "just" important to me and me alone, seeking approval, wearing a mask I think suitable for a particular occasion, or allowing myself to be silenced. I am 56 now and I am 17 now. I am not normal; I have never been normal. It's late, and it is time to wake up.

For most of us, our big and little pictures have shifted during the pandemic. It may have started imperceptibly with microdecisions, thoughts we weren't aware of. Perhaps small changes in our routines. Then all at once, we arrived someplace new, perhaps overnight, looked around at the new arrangement of big and little in our homes and asked ourselves Is this my life? Is this who I am? From where we live and work, to what we value and whom we trust, we are changing our minds and lives in all kinds of ways to be more authentic, more resilient. Because that's what crisis gifts us if we manage it well.

We need to start thinking differently about education, too. A decade ago, there was exactly one K-12 school anywhere for twice-exceptional kids: Lang. Now, there are perhaps ten schools catering to 2e kids. Turn any corner and you're likely to meet an expert plying their new or not so new wares to the parents of 2e kids. What does this mean? It means that twice-exceptionality has arrived as a market. What this doesn't mean is that any of these professionals are the well-informed 2e specialists they claim or believe themselves to be. On what body of research are they basing their assumptions, recommendations, practices, or predictions? Ask them.

More really needs to be said. First, there is almost no research on twice-exceptionality. Second, when people talk about best practices in 2e education, that doesn't mean those practices are research-based. When I started Lang, I invited three luminaries in the 2e field to sit on the school's board to show me the way. I put my faith in these people just as blindly as I had in the credentialed educators I'd handed my son over to when he was in kindergarten and first grade. The lesson he learned those years was that when he refused to do something he didn't know how to do, he'd be rewarded by easier tasks.

By November of Lang's first season, the one-trick pony, the self-promoter, and the aspish spin doctor I'd invited onto my board told me to step down because, they said, I didn't have the credentials to run a 2e school. Let the experts do this work, they said. Thank you for your service, though, to the 2e community in starting this school, they said, as though the gifted 17-year-old ADHD girl with an anxiety disorder who dreamt up Lang while having a panic attack in the halls of her well-heeled high school wasn't the beating heart of Lang. Me. The lesson I learned? Don't believe in experts. Believe in research.

So, who are the real 2e experts? You and your child. Problem: your kid doesn't yet know what's best for them. Solution: be their parent. Listen to your child, but don't let them be in charge just yet.

The good news is that many educators and education consultants now see that twice-exceptionality exists. We are no longer invisible or impossible or broken to them. It is not at all agreed, however, that 2e students have a distinct set of educational and social-emotional needs, that being "gifted" trumps exactly nothing in the growing up years. They don't yet see that normal will never fit 2e unless our children wear a mask. 2e kids and adults are driven to lead exceptional lives, need exceptional friends and life partners. We defy expectations, not because we want to, but because we can't help it.

That magical thing that each of you as parents saw transform your kiddo inside of a week when they started at Lang wasn't just the compassion and ingenuity of our teachers. It was your child discovering they were not alone. 2e kids need affinity and ability peers. That is not something that readily happens in the mainstream. Mainstream is where gifted kids go to hibernate. Because it's not easy being gifted. It's not easy standing out. It would be so easy if I had more friends. Who didn't think this at 12 or 14? And were we right? On Glassdoor, the thing former employees criticize about me the most is that I act like I'm the smartest person in the room. That's your kid without a mask.

One day, our kids will turn around and, if we are who and where they need us to be at just that moment, they will ask us to remind them who they are. And we will tell them stories. So many stories, starting from how they reacted to music or movies or laughter in utero. To their first words and first steps and where they happened and what were they reaching for. How did they handle falling down? We will tell them who they have always been, and they will remember.

I'm here to tell you to be your child's parent. You're the only one watching them all the time. Be their mirror and be in charge. Help them see and recognize who they've always been. If we do our jobs right, one day, our 2e kids will wake up and be themselves.

Good morning.

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