The Changing Role of the Gifted Education Specialist

Article excerpt

The challenge for professionals who are interested in meeting the needs of all students lies in integrated, long-range curriculum planning. Collaboration among special, gifted, and general educators, along with administrators, counselors, and school psychologists, is necessary to ensure that individual needs of students are not compartmentalized. (Van Tassel-Baska, 1992, p. 237)

Gifted education is a dynamic field, changing to more adequately reflect the new knowledge gained in various other fields of study, as well as current philosophies of education in the United States. For example, researchers have broadened definitions of giftedness to include new theories of intelligence (Gardner, 1983, Sternberg, 1986); and gifted programs have reflected these new definitions in their identification and placement criteria.

The wave of educational reforms in the 1980s has brought many instructional strategies that were once the domain of gifted programs into the general classroom, including problem-based or project-based learning and emphasis on critical and creative thinking. Once the domain of pullout programs, these teaching strategies are being infused into the general education curriculum (Schack, 1996). As gifted education changes, so too must the role of the gifted education specialist (see box, page 41, "What Does the Research Say?").

A School District's Redefinition

One school district, which I will call the Johnson School District, has been wrestling with these new dimensions of gifted education and new roles for the gifted education specialist. I worked with this district as an advisor as they moved from a total pullout program to a more elaborate, expansive, and integrative gifted education program. This process directly affected the way the district defined their gifted education specialists.

With an advisory committee representing the administrators, teachers, and parent constituents, we designed a 3-year plan that gradually increased gifted education personnel from one full-time resource teacher to 3.5 gifted education resource specialists.

In passing this plan, the school board demanded to know how the resource specialists would have a direct effect on gifted students in their school district. Inherent in this plan was a redefinition of gifted education.

The redefinition of gifted education deemphasized the notion of gifted education being synonymous with a gifted program and emphasized plans to encourage the talents and strengths of all children. School people labeled services as gifted, not the children themselves; and collaboration became the rule, not the exception (see box, page 42, "What Is Gifted Education Redefined?").This article describes the role of the gifted education specialist as it relates to each component of the newly designed gifted program in the Johnson School District.

A Redesigned Gifted Education Program

The Johnson School District's 3-year plan had six components: philosophy, identification/continuous assessment, opportunities for acceleration and enrichment, guidance and counseling, evaluation and professional development (see Figure 1, page 40). Each component has inherent and explicit roles for gifted education specialists.

Philosophy

The Johnson School District philosophy is to provide an opportunity for each student to develop a positive attitude toward self and learning, as well as the ability to think creatively and critically, to communicate effectively, to welcome diversity in people, and to contribute to society. The district recognizes the multifaceted dimension of intelligence and the varying conceptions of giftedness. Students with strengths and talents in various areas of endeavor-including academics, athletics, social skills, and the arts-must be given opportunities to develop and nurture their talents.

Gifted education in the district offers a variety of programs and opportunities both within and outside of the existing curriculum. …