Beethoven's music teacher would refer to him as "hopeless," and Robert Frost regularly got tossed out of school on the first day of classes because he was unhappy there. Einstein quit school at fifteen. These scenarios don’t come as a shock to most parents of gifted learners. This is because for as much as the world has benefited from the contributions of gifted individuals, the academic population least likely to learn and achieve its potential is the highly gifted.
Yet with some high ability learners, their gifts manage to grow. Such was the case with Frost, Beethoven, and Einstein. Lucky for us, they and others like them beat the odds. But not every gifted child does. Why is this?
Statistics show 85% of public school educators agree that more needs to be done for gifted students. Yet it seems that most school budgets for gifted children are becoming continuously thinner or disappearing altogether.
Ironically, for as much as the world has benefited from the contributions of gifted individuals, it is disturbing, to this writer, to realize that the population least likely to learn and achieve its potential is our gifted learners.
If not properly nurtured along the way, by the time high ability learners reach college age, their potential can already be seriously impeded. The snowballing of information, processing, skill, capability, motivation, delivery, and reward that we all hope occurs with the gifted learner as well as all others may be seriously diluted. But because of the extreme lack of need-based academic programming for these individuals, they seem to be most affected.
It seems unreasonable to expect to reap the benefits of gifted children's contributions if we don't nurture their minds along the way.
Since 2010, I have written a range of articles on gifted youth, addressing a wide variety of needs in terms of the children themselves, but also parental needs as well as needs within our public education system. The response to these articles has been widespread, heart-felt, and insightful.
As our discussion on this important concern has continued to grow, I managed to cross paths with Dr. Trevor Tebbs, PhD, whom I believe adds several new and important pieces of information and understanding to the picture.
This article is the first in a series based on my interview with Dr. Tebbs in an effort to bring to the table perspectives on holistic education and how a holistic approach might facilitate gifted children, as well as the general student populations. Our discussion will move from Defining Holistic Education, to Holistically Parenting Gifted Kids, and then onto the subject of Core Curriculum and Gifted Children. With this, I am excited to introduce to you, Dr. Trevor Tebbs.
Trained in both the U.K. and the U.S., Dr. Tebbs, PhD, has held a variety of positions in a wide range of institutions, including a stint as vice-principal in an English special school for children with severe cognitive and physical disability and on our side of the Atlantic, as Assistant Director of the University of Connecticut (UConn) Honors Program. He has in addition taught a diversity of college courses in the area of educational psychology as well as courses in Arthurian myths and realities in ancient texts and historical places in England and Wales, Art Education, Critical Thinking, Curriculum Development, Drawing and Sculpture.
Currently Dr. Tebbs is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Castleton State College, Vermont and he offers evaluative services at Giftedness Matters (soon to be called Chandelier© Assessments) in Vermont.
As a cognitive behavioral psychotherapist registered in Vermont, he addresses the educational and social, emotional needs of gifted and talented children, their parents and teachers in a number of different ways, including evaluation and counseling.
In the clinical context, he helps clients – pre-school aged children through to adults – examine their potential for personal transformation and experience the psychological healing that accompanies a raised awareness of self. Emotional and other forms of intensity are often associated with giftedness. In this regard, Dr. Tebbs extols the work of Kazimierz Dabrowski, whose two theories, OverExcitability and Positive Disintegration, he considers exceptionally insightful when considering the development of full intellectual potential and emotional well-being.
I met Dr. Tebbs around one and half years ago. His layers and depth of experience exude from his Vermont brand manner – showering you with a sort of calm, honest, compassionate, skillful presence. As I pulled onto the stretch of road that led to his clinic, I could see a rainbow arced across a drizzly, snow-burst sky with Vermont’s Green Mountains in the background, a welcoming scene, especially since it was then the end of December.
There are many ways in which holistic education has been defined by a myriad of individuals, institutions, and texts over the years. Most of these include some reference to a spectrum of knowledge covering such areas as cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and artistic learning. Some definitions include learning about one’s self, the sum totals of one’s personality as well as deeper self, and an empathetic understanding of the self of others. Other definitions and world traditions view holism as the interrelated and inseparable cultivation of the body-mind-spirit – educationally speaking: the skills, learning, and practice involved with this personal understanding and growth. In this latter sense, holism includes the moral, emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual (nondenominational) dimensions of life in as they relate to whole person development.
“The notion I have in mind,” explains Dr. Tebbs, “when I think of holism is one I have found described in the Oxford English dictionary, i.e., parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independently of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole, which is thus regarded as greater than the sum of its parts (Retrieved http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/holism). So it seems to me that my own understanding of the holism and its real-world realization does not differ greatly from that held by others.”
Tebbs adds, “I concur with the notion of education being the art of cultivating the moral, emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the developing child. I also believe it is vital that a child is enabled to perceive and understand the various contexts that shape and give meaning to life. Transfer of learning is an essential element of critical thinking and so I see no lasting purpose in a child experiencing an education that does not help the child learn about himself or herself, associate with others at various levels for healthy and beneficial reasons, develop and maintain emotional health and the psychological stamina to face the exigencies of life in whatever context they may occur.”
Dr. Tebbs cites his educational psychology training at the University of Connecticut, in the context of individuals with the potential of gifted behavior, as having served as preparation for what has become a passionate involvement in the two intimately connected worlds. These are the worlds of education and social-emotion, especially, though not exclusively, as they relate to young people. With respect to both fields of study, clearly a holistic approach is preferred and supported.
“I do not feel in any way on a limb with regard to my interest,” says Tebbs. “For example, I have found APA’s Principle Ten supportive (American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force – Revised 1997 - Developmental and Social Factors). The Principles overall are specific to educational psychology, but are especially important in the context of this conversation. Principle 10, in particular, describes how the progression of all individuals through stages of physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development is powerfully influenced by the circumstances of life determined by unique genetic and environmental factors.
Moving from academics and into clinical work Tebbs has a lot to say, “With respect to my interest in clinical work with highly able and creative children and young people:
Over the past six years I have been using and have refined a personal methodology for evaluating my clients. The methodology now goes by a rather elegant, picturesque name, i.e., Chandelier[i] ( The Chandelier© approach with all explanations and other matters pertaining are registered in accordance with Title 17, United States Code. The registration number is TXu 1-799 – 790, March 2012) methodology.”
“For me,” Tebbs continues, “the chandelier metaphor evokes images of the ‘many points of light’ employed in my endeavor to understand often complicated issues pertinent to a particular case. These many points of light emanate from the various elements of holism as it pertains to educational and social emotional aspects of a young person’s life, e.g., academic and non-academic considerations such as the unique genetic and environmental factors; prior schooling, home, culture, and community factors; moral, emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions; and cognitive, emotional, and social development.”
To help envision this a little better, I need to mention that the holistic structure of Tebbs’ methodology, beyond theory and practice, is supported by a dynamic and innovative computer-aided software program created by Dr. Tebbs in conjunction with colleagues associated with the Institute for Gifted Child in Kyiv, Ukraine.
“The structure central to Chandelier© methodology,” explains Tebbs “comprises four core areas of focus, namely, predispositional, behavioral, psychometric and, or modifier. All four areas are energized and supported by the Chandelier© program, which facilitates the gathering and aggregation of rich data obtained by way of such means as mental measures, surveys/questionnaires and interviews.”
Tebbs believes his method has contributed powerfully to his own understanding of the exceptional needs of this population of young people[ii]. “From the perspective of holism” he explains,
“The degree to which an individual may be impacted by any constituent of one or all four core elements has the potential to negate the promise of high ability and, or creativity. In my opinion – based on experience and observation – the realization of any potential for, as Renzulli might say, gifted productivity, Dabrowski might say, development, others might say talent, is severely compromised.”
Tebbs adds, “To expand on this point a little and to paraphrase Alan Kaufman, we are not a number.”
“Sometimes,” he says, “Parents hear from teachers, Sorry, I just don’t see it [high learning ability]. Other parents hear things like: If her IQ is so high, why can’t she do the homework?”
Tebbs comments, “I have heard this, or something similar, all too often from teachers, parents, psychotherapists, guidance counselors, school psychologists and other professionals dealing with certain children. This is when a holistic view is absolutely essential because there may well be many reasons why this highly able and creative individual can’t – or won’t - do her homework and thus it is imperative – I would say our professional responsibility - to examine multiple factors that answer the question “Why?”
So the ‘chandelier’ helps shine multiple lights in looking for answers – offering a holistic view of the whole child. Tebbs explains, “To rely exclusively on psychometric data, or, using the chandelier metaphor, by allowing a light to shine on the issues from only one direction, may actually create more shadows than shed light. Just in these last few days I have had a counselor and a principal question a student’s inability to complete homework. Their questioning implies a total reliance on light coming from a set of numbers relating to academic engagement. On the face of it, the question may seem simple and reasonable, but what hides in the shadows?
I have found that by using my methodology I am enabled to peer into those shadows as if with night glasses. I see potential answers to the question as points of lights coming from all four directions. For example, I might find evidence of a multiplicity of academic and non-academic facets each capable of impacting learning and this young man’s motivation in school. I could reasonably address the question from perspectives such as, personality type, learning style, resilience, grit, emotional intensity, passions, executive function, transition, emotional control, special skills, differences in teaching style, misaligned curriculum, poor school environment, divorce in the family, a recent accident, a death in the family, poor performance in academic activities linked with time/speed, more reflective learning and processing style, a visual spatial preference, practical intelligence and so forth.
Each facet is essential in terms of uncovering the mystery, increasing understanding and metaphorically reducing the gloom. Yes, it is a far more penetrating, holistic view. And being able to more clearly discern probability of cause promises a far more accurate, meaningful, effective set of strategies for addressing the problem. “
Diagnosis that is unsound will not fix problems. In fact, it can do further harm. To this end, Dr., Tebbs believes it is essential to understand that the difficulties experienced by an individual suspected of being ‘bright’ or ‘smarter than most’ are to be found “beyond” the pages of the DSM-V or ICD-10. And this is where a more holistic approach has its benefits.
He offers an example: “The etiology of depression in highly able and creative children may be multi-dimensional. Parents may not understand certain behaviors presented by their ‘overly’ sensitive and emotionally intense offspring in school, and, along with school officials, jump to some conclusion that the child is sick and ultimately in need of medication.
If a holistic view had been taken regarding the situation at school, any one or all of the following examples could have been found to exist: levels of challenge in one or a number of realms of study were inappropriate; children were teasing and bullying an individual who they perceived as a ‘know-it-all’ and who really did not fit into the class; constant repetition of already mastered information both at school and in homework; and a teaching style entirely predicated on speed and competition.”
Tebbs feels this aforementioned example typifies scenarios in schools with which he has had some association:
“If a holistic methodology and an eclectic approach had been applied in this situation, a number of possible realistic antecedents would perhaps have been discovered and managed without recourse to a potentially dangerous drug therapy based on the assumption that there is something wrong with the individual. For example, had levels of cognitive ability (well above average) been investigated, if executive function had been examined from the perspective of teacher and parent ( clear discrepancies between home and school environments), if school /classroom climate had been observed (strict structure, little time for reflection and, or creative activities), if personality had been reviewed (extravert v. introvert), then reasons for the depression experienced by the individual might have been understood and treated in an alternative, entirely different - healthier- wiser- way.”
“In addition to the immediate benefit of knowing better,” he adds, “and having a different road to travel, if such an alternative method of examining the needs of an individual was to be undertaken, many other benefits might accrue for the child and other children with similar concerns. These would include:
Please stay tuned for coming posts as we continue our discussion of Holistic Education and Nurturing Gifted Children with Dr. Trevor Tebbs.
Notes: Here are some resources you may enjoy that have been shared with me:
[i] The Chandelier© approach with all explanations and other matters pertaining are registered in accordance with Title 17, United States Code. The registration number is TXu 1-799 – 790, March 2012.
[ii] It is imperative to understand that Chandelier methodology and the supporting software is not restricted to use with highly able individuals. The Chandelier system has a wide utility in the context of psychoeducational and other fields of interest.