Maria Kennedy on What’s Needed & What’s Next in Supporting 2e Students
During this conversation, we’ll talk about how the definition of giftedness in some countries keeps gifted students from getting into gifted programs, the importance of appreciating every child’s unique strengths and value, and ways parents can advocate for their children’s unique learning profile, even within their existing school systems that may not be designed to support or understand neurodivergent learners.
Maria likens the work she does to being on a crusade and I have to say, I am here for it!
About Maria Kennedy
Maria M. Kennedy first joined the Bridges Academy staff as the director of the Phoenix Program. After successfully growing the program each year, she has taken on the position of director of the Bridges Educational Group.
A speaker, author, and advocate, Maria has been featured on “Bright and Quirky,” as a panelist and educational expert. Several schools have used her webcast, ‘Strengths, Challenges, and my journey as my son’s advocate,” for teacher training. An educator for almost 30 years, Maria received her B.Ed. and M.Ed. in education from Manchester University (U.K). She earned Advanced Teacher Status from the Manchester Department of Education for her ability to develop curriculum and her skills within the classroom. She traveled internationally, teaching students and training teachers how to tap into the strengths of their gifted and challenged students.
As a result of her work she has received several awards: “Teacher of the Year,” in North Carolina, “Golden Apple, Elementary Teacher of the Year,” in the Cayman Islands, and “New American Hero, an award for teaching and leadership excellence,” in Louisiana. Maria believes that to be an effective educator you must continue to learn and grow as a person. With this in mind, she constantly reads and works closely with leading educators in the field of 2e education.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- How the definition of giftedness in some countries prevents gifted students from getting into gifted programs
- Why we should lean into widening the scope of what giftedness means so we can properly identify everyone’s gifts
- What appreciating everyone’s unique value can bring to a child’s education and development
- What the roadblocks are for our educational system to be more open to embracing the changes needed
- How parents who are navigating a traditional educational system can advocate for their 2e children
Resources mentioned for supporting 2e students
Bridges Vision & Leadership in 2e Education Symposium (March 12, 2022)
- Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman
Special message from our sponsor
Forman School, located in Litchfield, CT, is a coeducational preparatory boarding school for students in grades 9-12. Forman educates bright, motivated students with learning differences, such as ADHD, dyslexia, and executive function delays. Through a diverse curriculum and individualized learning, students are empowered to understand how their brains function and how they learn. Here, students embrace their differences and build a foundation for their future.
Learn more about what sets Forman apart at formanschool.org.
Debbie Reber 00:00
Forman School is a Connecticut coed college prep boarding school for grades nine through 12. dedicated to empowering bright students with learning differences like dyslexia, ADHD, and executive function delays. Get more information at Foreman school.org.
Maria Kennedy 00:18
If we never talk about the strengths of the child, we miss out on more than half of our human beings. We are not all the things that are wrong with us. We are not all the things that we cannot do. We are all the things that we can do and they need to be celebrated.
Debbie Reber 00:38
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host Debbie Reber. My guest today is Maria Kennedy, director of the Bridges Educational Group at Bridges Academy and host of Crucial Conversations on Cognitive Diversity produced by the Bridges 2e Center for Research and Professional Development. Maria is also a speaker, author and advocate and has been featured on Bright & Quirky and has received several awards for her teaching and leadership. Maria is passionate about working with twice exceptional students and training teachers to tap into the strengths of their gifted and challenged students. During this conversation we will talk about how the definition of giftedness in some countries keeps gifted students from getting into gifted programs, the importance of appreciating every child’s unique strengths and value, and ways parents can advocate for their children’s learning profile even within their existing school systems that may not be designed to support or understand neuro divergent learners. Maria likens the work she does to being on a crusade and I just have to say I am here for it. But before I get to that, I want to give a quick shout out to Lindsay McFadden, Elizabeth O’Tuckermanty and Helen Hughes. Thank you so much for being a part of my Patreon campaign and helping me cover the costs of producing this show. If you get a lot out of this podcast and want to join Lindsay, Elizabeth and Helen in supporting it, you can sign up with Patreon to make a small monthly contribution. To learn more visit patreon.com/tiltparenting. Also, if you’re newer to Tilt Parenting, I want to be sure you know about my book Differently Wired: Raising an Atypical Child with Confidence and Hope. Differently Wired is part manifesto, part how to navigate the unique journey of parenting a neuro divergent child. If you haven’t read it yet, I invite you to download the first chapter on my website at tiltparenting.com/book. And because there are so many new members of the Tilt-verse, I thought it might be fun to hold a virtual book club for people who haven’t yet read Differently Wired or who have read it, but would like to go through it together with me and a group of other readers. I’m thinking five weeks with weekly Zoom calls, a downloadable workbook and plenty of time for q&a and discussions. I don’t have all the details yet. But if you’re interested in learning more, or you want to just download that first chapter and have a read, you can sign up at tilt parenting.com/book. Thank you so much. And now here is my conversation with Maria.
Debbie Reber 03:29
Hello, Maria. Welcome to the podcast.
Maria Kennedy 03:32
Hi, Debbie, thank you so much. It’s such an honor to be able to hang out with you today.
Debbie Reber 03:38
I know I wish I could do this in person. I think we’d have a lot of fun. But we’ll have to be on our respective coasts for this conversation, at least. I would love it if you could as a way to get started. Just tell us a little bit about your story and maybe your personal why for doing this work and how you got into doing the work that you do.
Maria Kennedy 03:57
So yes, most definitely. So I’m an educator by profession. And I got into education, because I wanted to be a lifelong learner and my mother encouraged me to do it. I’ve always worked really well with children and had worked with children with special needs. Down Syndrome children is where I had started originally. And then I got into elementary ed. And then I had a small person of my own, my amazing younger man, Aaron. And what we discovered was like his mother, he’s gifted, at the age of three, he was doing single digit addition with carrying, he was obsessed with numbers, wanted to know everything there was to know about everything, and had an amazing memory. So if you read a book to him once he would read it back to you verbatim. So this amazing young man goes to school and gets into trouble at school. And I’m going to, child’s three, what could he possibly be doing to be getting into trouble and being sent out of class at the age of three. He was sent out of class at the age of three because He refused to sit and draw circles around the number three. And I said to the teacher, I’m not understanding what we’re doing here, because well, they’re all three. So they’re circling three bats, three balls, I’m going, the child’s doing single digit addition with carrying, he can count beyond 100, forwards and backwards in both English and in French, which he was learning at the time, he writes all of his numbers, he’s not gonna circle three. She said, yeah, but that’s what they’re doing. I said, then just give him a sheet of sums, he’ll happily complete them. So that was the first instance, then the next one came out when she said, he won’t read. Now, this is a kid that walks around with a book and a basketball, right? He was never parted from either one of those things. I’m getting what you mean, the child doesn’t read. So she says, no he won’t read and the rest of the class is reading and he won’t read. So I said, Well, how many words are on the page, why this child won’t read. And she goes, Oh, there’s no words on the page. As I read, you’re talking about, because one of the books with pictures, and the children are supposed to make up the stories. I’m going, I’m sorry about my, I didn’t even know such books existed. And my son won’t do that. So just read him a story. And then he’ll be blissfully happy, he’ll reread that book, whatever. He kept on getting sent out, he was pushing the fold. And my mother said, kid’s got ADHD, he’s hyperactive. So obviously, I’m going, I don’t want to be a parent in denial. So if there is something that my son needs, then I need to go get him tested. So obviously, we took him to get tested. And the therapist said, the psychologist said, the kid’s just gifted and in that environment, he’s not going to be able to be successful. And we needed to take him out. And I had always been, you know, stalwart about public education and kids being in public ed. And that’s where they should be, and we shouldn’t be sending them to private school. Yeah, so poor me had sent my child to private school, because that was the only place that his needs could be met. And the place where people would be flexible enough to give him what he needed. So as a result of that, working in public school, I’m going these kids need the same access that the kids in private school have. And so that has kind of become my mission. What do my kids need? And what are they not getting in their education, and one of my students, a seven year old, I was teaching and he again, like my little man, was a math wizard. So at seven, he was doing long multiplication and long division. And what absolutely terrified me was when I was bragging on this kid, and how amazing he was, the teacher who was going to get him in two years said to me, I must stop teaching this child at this level. And I looked at her and went, excuse me what you mean? She goes, Well, when he comes to me, what will I teach him? I wanted to cry, I’m going, you’ll take him from wherever he is, to the next level, because but that’s not what we’re doing. And you’re already teaching him stuff that he’s not supposed to get till he gets to me in two years. So the crusade began from there.
Maria Kennedy 08:05
So as I have traveled, I have been really, really blessed and fortunate to not only teach in the UK where I’m from, but I was also able to teach in the Caribbean. And coming over to the states, I’ve taught on the East Coast, and then there’s Bridges Academy, where there are all these amazing people who believe the same as me, that we should take children from where they are to the next level. So find out what they’re good at, work with their strengths, and then move them on. And also, one of the interesting things was, in all of my travels, I have met children who are not your typical gifted child, so they don’t excel in everything. They have struggled in areas. And for me, it just made sense to me that they just needed help. So we supported them where they were, we help them with the things that they struggled with, I came up with creative ways to do things in the classroom, so that they didn’t feel that they were stupid, and not able to do but that was just kind of second nature to me. But I’m, as I’ve traveled, I fought with people who were very, very rigid in their thinking and believing that education is only taught in this way. I mean, no disrespect, but I was completely blown away when I came to the States and teachers actually taught from a teacher’s handbook and actually read a script. I couldn’t understand how you could stand there with 20 little babies in front of you and read the script from a book. I’m going, the people who wrote the book don’t know your 20 children. How are we only teaching this specific text? And so I threw those things away.
Debbie Reber 09:51
I love that you use the word crusade and the fact that you have experienced you know, working in different countries, in the UK, we have a very international audience for this show. And when I launched it, I was living in the Netherlands. I have a sense of what’s happening in the Netherlands with regards to neurodivergent learners. Not much is what I’ll say. But I’m wondering what the scene is like, you know, in some of the other places compared with what you’ve seen in the US, because I hear from listeners who live in the UK who are really feeling stuck in those systems as well. So can you kind of give us a bit of the landscape?
Maria Kennedy 10:30
Yeah, unfortunately, I mean, basically, it’s like banging your head into a brick wall, they have yet to recognize that there are multiple needs, and that neurodivergent children even exist. And so unfortunately, the predominant philosophy in the United Kingdom, even today, is that often when a child doesn’t conform to the norm, is that there is a problem. And so, my friends who are still there, are working with children who have been identified as having behavioral problems. And what they try to do is to control the behavior of the children, right, and so, so despite the fact that the child may be may be on the autism spectrum, may have ADHD, but they may be really, really gifted and talented in an area, they might get one pullout class, they might get one activity, but nobody as yet is looking at the strengths of the child and moving them forward. What they’re literally doing is despite the fact that the 2014 Education Act, talks about mainstream education in the classroom, as the preferred way to, to educate neurodiverse students, we still have, like, you know, scores that are solely for special needs. But the focus on the students is that deficit model. So they are still looking at what can’t they do? How do we get them to that level where they can test? Well, and probably the worst thing, and the thing that’s most scary for me, is how do we control their behavior so that they’re compliant, because that’s basically what they want. They literally want our children simply, for one of a better word to be little Androids, the little robots that sit in the classroom and don’t cause a problem. And so anybody that is a divergent thinker, anybody who does not conform, is then looked upon as a problem. And the work done is to make them conform. So it’s not to explore any strengths. It’s not to teach them how to, you know, to be creative, and how to perform outside of the box, whatever would that box is, it’s more to, to control, you know, so how do we make everybody just the same. And for those of us who have traveled and have been fortunate enough to be in the States, and in places where people do think differently, we recognize that there is far more needed. So when I was in the Caribbean, again, it was definitely the deficit model. And part of the problem I felt, particularly in the Caribbean, was that there is a stigma about your child being identified as being different. And so yes, if your child can get into a gifted program, so if they can get the gifted label, then that’s wonderful. And everybody celebrates that. Unfortunately, getting the gifted label in the Caribbean is a very, very difficult predicament particularly because there’s this limited scope. And so the definition of gifted in the Caribbean islands that I was working in, you had to be schoolhouse gifted in English, mathematics, and science. And so if you didn’t test well, in all three areas, you didn’t get the gifted label. So my son is a math genius, almost. I use genius loosely, because you know, but in my opinion, boy’s a math genius, right? I’m a proud mom. But he’s really, I mean, amazing at mathematics. He was also amazing in science, reading, like I said, at the age of three, but couldn’t get into the gifted program in the Caribbean, because his writing skills weren’t at the same level. Now, his writing skills weren’t at the same level because he hated to write. It was something that he found tedious, didn’t interest him, and he did the minimum required. And you know, you just couldn’t encourage him to do it any other way, because of the way that the boy didn’t want to write a five you know, the five paragraph essay with the data, data data. It’s not that he can’t do it, the child’s just just completed a master’s degree in Human Resources, so he can do it. But it was just at the time, this is not what he wanted to do, because he didn’t want to do that. Because he didn’t perform at the level they required, he couldn’t get the gift of definition. And for me, as an educator, that was frustrating, I was desperately trying to convince people that a child shouldn’t have to perform in three areas to be deemed as gifted, they should be able to be gifted in whatever they’re gifted in, right. So whether they’re athletically gifted, artistically gifted, musically gifted, or academically gifted, and going, we need to broaden the scope of the word gifted and really explore where these children are at. So then we can use those gifts and talents and educate using those strengths. But that was another battle that I fought in the Caribbean. Similar problems. And then of course, like I said, up, I’m over here, where thankfully, because of the culture here, I’m now able to share what I’ve learned, and found my tribe, as we say, over here, because it was, it was really, really comforting to actually finally realize that I’m not the lone voice shouting in the wilderness. You know, I’ve felt like there have been times when I felt that maybe I’m crazy. And maybe because my child is gifted, maybe because his mother was gifted, maybe we were just so far off the scope, that you know, that there were no other people like us, right. And so, coming over to the West Coast, being able to work in this amazing environment, and being introduced to the 2e community, which I feel everybody needs to know about, has enabled me to realize that, yes, I am not crazy. And there are other people like me, but we definitely need to empower everybody and share that message so that people understand that their children can just be gifted in one area, and be neurodiverse or have an area of challenge. But they should be supported. And not like we do in the UK, kind of shoved in a cupboard and hidden away, I still feel that we do that at home, when I was growing up, if you were neurodiverse, basically went to a special school, and people had you and they ignored you. And that was how come I ended up working with kids who were Down syndrome, because they went to a special school. And I went out of my way, because they were not allowed in my school. You know, they were kept away, and I’m going, but there are other people who do different things. And I need to know them and learn all about what they do. Because they’re slightly different to me. And I feel that it’s important that if we’re going to live harmoniously in the world that we all know about everybody, you know, and can understand each other. So, so yeah, I had put myself in a different position. And I consider myself really blessed and fortunate to be able to travel and work with lots and lots of different people.
Debbie Reber 18:11
Yes, and that feeds into your lifelong learning value there. And as you were talking, I was thinking that we have a mutual friend in Scott Barry Kaufman, and he wrote the book Ungifted and what you’re speaking to is just, listeners, if you haven’t read that book, or I did an interview with Scott a couple years ago about that book, but it is it’s just a different way of thinking about what gifted means. And there is a lot of unlearning, I think that so many people have to do in order to change and reframe their definition there.
Maria Kennedy 18:45
Definitely. Yeah, I think we’re, I think we’re limited. One of the things that’s always aggravated me is that often people aren’t open to something new, because they’ve always done it this way. And I’m going just because we’ve always done it this way, doesn’t mean that that’s the only way or the right way. You know, as I mean, years ago, we didn’t have the worldwide web, we didn’t have computers, so should we not have them now, we now have the technology. And I’m going education needs to move in such a way that we broaden our definitions, and that we definitely reach out and meet those needs of those children that have been underserved. I was at an online conference — it was the Stamford one. And there were lots of people who were talking about the fact that they hadn’t been identified as neurodiverse until they were in their adulthood. For a lot of them what had happened was was as they were taking their children through their struggle, right, and things were being pointed out that their children were having issues with, they recognize that they too would had those issues and a guy in his late fall Ortiz, finally was identified as having had ADHD his entire life. Another guy was dyslexic. And he goes, Well, if I had only known, my life could have been so much easier. Had I known these things earlier on. So yeah, so I’m going, we just got to widen the scope, I think, and celebrate neurodiversity. I think part of the concern for me is that stigma about people being different, and they’re not wanting to be different, and I’m going, but we’re all supposed to be different. If we all look in the mirror, we don’t all look the same. So we were all designed to be different. And there’s nothing wrong with that, our differences should be celebrated. We all bring gifts to the table, however, you want to use the term gifts, but I think everybody is good at something. So we all bring something to the table. And if we can broaden the way we educate, so that everybody can identify their strengths, and everybody can use those strengths, and everybody’s strengths can be celebrated. I think we’d have more successful people in general, not just children, but more successful people. And so that’s one of the things that I am trying to help people do.
Debbie Reber 21:13
Yeah. And a society that works better. I just interviewed Cathy Adams earlier today, Cathy Adams, that episode will have come out. By the time this episode airs, she wrote a book called Zen Parenting, and we were talking about dignity and the importance of parenting with dignity. And that’s really what we’re talking about is recognizing that we all have value in everyone in who we are.
Maria Kennedy 21:38
Exactly, I think celebrating the value of us all is crucial. And if we can start from there, you know. And so if we can start with the fact that we all have value, and everybody is here for a reason, we all bring something to the table. And as educators, if we can find what that is in each of our children, and build on that, and if as parents, we can instill that self worth and self value in our children, and let them know that, yes, of course, we love them. But also, we’re really happy that they’re here, and that they’re adding to the world. You know, I keep telling my little people, I’m good, I need you to look after the planet, because old people have messed it up. I need you to be the people that know what’s going to be good for the ozone layer, and all of that good, good stuff. If we’re not encouraging people to think, and celebrating their ability to think, then we won’t move forward. You know, I love to tell people I’m going if you were waiting on me to build an iPad, or to build a computer, we’d never have them. We won’t have cars that fly if you’re requiring me to create them, because I don’t know how to do it. But I am sure that there are children coming up, who are going to be able to create flying cars and goodness knows what else, but not if their education is stifled. Not if they’re led to believe that that they’re stupid. And one of my kids when I was teaching on the east coast at a charter school, so he had ADHD, hated school was always a behavior problem. And we did a project for Black History Month. And we did a wax museum. And what I encouraged my kids to do was pick somebody, right find out about them, and then become that person. So they got to dress up as that person. And they had to create some form of speech to tell people who they were. It could be a minute, it could be two minutes, it could be three, it was really up to them. They could take pictures, and this little boy whose name I won’t repeat just in case his parents were there. But he was terrified of doing that. And I’m going well, what do you want to say? And so I scribed for him, and we practiced together. And he had his little cue card. And on the actual day when people were coming around the gym, they would come up to the kids and there was a little button on the floor that said press and you put your foot on it. And then the kids would start talking, it was the cutest thing on the planet. And this little kid of mine when the first person came up, pressed, and so he read his card, and then they congratulated him and said how wonderful it was. And he ran over to me and told me that you know, he had said it script. So I’m going, well done. That’s awesome. You’re going to do it again. Yes, sure. So he went back to his spot. He came back later and was no longer using the card because he knew what he wanted to say. And he knew this person because we had done some research and watched videos and stuff. But nine people had come and shared with him what he knew about his famous person, and he was so proud of himself. his parents came, they took pictures of him dressed up in his costume. And he talked about this for weeks, it was an opportunity for him to present in a different manner. So he didn’t have to write, you know. And, for him, talking, he was very good at talking. He could talk all time, things we would say in classes, could you just stop for a second? Right? So but we used his gift, we used that strength. And he recognized that there was value in that. And then in other lessons, he was able to draw on that ability and was encouraged to talk about what he knew, you know, and that was a real turning point and a change for him. So that’s why I know when we work with our children’s strengths, when we encourage them to see the value in themselves, then we completely change their lives. And we can then change the life of Gosh knows how many more people in the entire world in which we live, which I’m super excited about. It is exciting.
Debbie Reber 26:05
And now a quick break for a word from our sponsor. Forman school is a Connecticut based coed college prep boarding school for grades nine through 12. Forman educates bright motivated students with learning differences like ADHD, dyslexia, and executive function delays. Through a diverse curriculum and individualized learning, students are empowered to understand how their brains function and how they learn. There are abundant opportunities for students to explore in the classroom, on the field in the arts, and more, you can find additional information at Foreman school.org. That’s foremanschool.org. And now back to the show.
Debbie Reber 26:50
I’d love to hear more about your work at Bridges. So you’ve landed that obviously, like the right place for you, and I’m sure there’s probably a mutual love thing going on is my hunch. Tell me more about the work that you’re doing at bridges, and what you’re really excited about.
Maria Kennedy 27:08
More or less excited about almost everything. So I lucked out. And I tell people constantly … a friend of mine was over here some years ago, during the summer during a science program, and discovered this amazing school and told me about it. And so I came originally and I worked. I was the director of the Phoenix program, which is the division for our fourth through sixth graders. And, and that’s phenomenal, I get to work with truly amazing people, we created some additional programs, and after school programs, some outreach stuff, some extra extra stuff that the children were doing. But as a result of that, they’ve been kind enough, because I want to do more outreach. They’ve been kind enough to allow me so I’m now the director of the educational group. And I do outreach. So I have a webcast called Crucial Conversations about Cognitive Diversity, that the amazing Scott Barry Kaufman started, and I have now taken over. And so that’s a monthly opportunity for me to have conversations with people in the field, we’re also going to be talking with parents and 2e people, so that we share information. And that’s really what I want to do. I want to share information with educators because I believe educators are the key. If they cannot see children as more than just a test score, then they’re not going to help them. And so Crucial Conversations is all about empowerment, and sharing of knowledge. And then I’m working with a few other people to reach out into the community to find out what parents know. With that in mind, I’m working with our graduate school, we’re going to have a symposium in March, which will be phenomenal. So it’s going to be on Saturday, March 12. It is online. So you can tune in from anywhere in the world, which will be super exciting. And it has two strands. It’s aimed for parents to introduce them if they don’t already know, to to IE, and then to give them some skills and some tools, certain some terminology that they can use in conversation with educators to get their needs met of the of their students, with therapists and doctors and with the local education authority, if they’re having to go to appeals with IEPs, etc. But also the second strand is for educators and we’ll be looking at what we over here called the four pillars, which is the great structure that we now have for how we do education here at Bridges and the first pillar that we’re going to be looking at is your differentiation. Because we know it’s very difficult for people within the classroom to really hone that skill, and to make things different for the children that they’re working with. You know, often, Susan says that one of the things she quoted, she says, Oh, well, somebody said to her that the kid enjoyed music. And so their definition was, well, they play music in the background. And she’s going well, that’s not what we mean about your differentiation, we’re looking at how we are allowing children to demonstrate their knowledge? How are we enabling them to access the knowledge in the first place, right, and whether they’re auditory or visual learners, you know, what you structure and make available makes a real difference for how they even access the curriculum. And then, as I mentioned with my son, how you encourage them to share what they know, makes another difference for how you find out whether or not they’ve learned anything, but also how they engage with the curriculum itself. And so during our symposium, we’re going to be helping our educators identify those needs. And we’ll have a few giveaways. But they’ll need to check into our website, which will be to e center.org, forward slash to E dash symposium. And if they check that there will be lots of information about the symposium. And then later on in the year, hopefully, we’re hoping that around in November, we’ll be actually able to have an in person symposium, so people can actually come over to this amazing place bridges, and see what it is we do, and get a taste of the bridges life, which we’re trying to help other people learn those skills, because we firmly believe that, you know, once you found something good, then you shouldn’t keep it to yourself, you definitely should share it, and allow other people to, to access those things.
Debbie Reber 32:11
First of all, I’m super excited about the symposium and listeners, I will have the link in the show notes page. I highly encourage you to register to be a part of this, I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the last live symposium, which was in November 2018. And it was hands down the best event that I had ever been to. And I remember calling my husband and just saying, oh my gosh, I finally like these are all my people. And I never felt like I belonged anywhere, you know that in that way ever before in my life. And it’s really exciting the work that you’re all doing. And you know, I know there’s a Bridges school, the second Bridges school was meant to be opening in Seattle, where I used to live. So exciting.
Maria Kennedy 33:04
That’s right. That’s right. So it will open in the fall of this year.
Debbie Reber 33:09
Wow. It’s so exciting. And I love that, that you are spreading the wealth, you’re sharing the resources, and really, you know, not just keeping this to yourself, but trying to support educators and other school systems to really embrace some of these approaches that you found to be so successful. I’m wondering if you could just tell me what you see as being kind of the biggest roadblocks. What’s standing in our way the most from other school systems being open to making these kinds of changes to their approach?
Maria Kennedy 33:41
I would say it’s that belief that a child cannot be gifted and have a learning difference. Lots of people that I have met, still are struggling to get their head around the concept of neurodiversity. Right. I think for the longest time, we have only spoken about gifted ed. So gifted dd has been a separate topic all by itself, right? So you have your mainstream children. And then if you’re really lucky, you get to go to gifted dd, if you’re really smart, right. And so that creme de la creme that top five 10% of the population are in gifted ed, right. And then most people are in mainstream. And then of course, if you were in special ed, you know, they looked down their noses at you, they hid you away to the side, you were almost a mistake. I mean, these things are just awful. I mean, so many of the children have come into bridges, and their parents have been traumatized by their experience. And one of the things that I have said to parents when kids come is that your child is not broken. It is not my job to fix your child because your child is not broken, your child is just not understood. And that’s where we have to start, we have to start by understanding. And so because of that lack of understanding of those two tears, Susan talks about kids being blue and yellow, at the same time. So because they have the gift, and because they have an area of challenge, they hit two completely different places. And those entities have been separate fir forever. But our 2e population actually combines both the gift and the challenge. And people need to be able to recognize that just because the child, but one of my favorites is just because the child may talk a lot, and may give you contrary arguments or reasoning, right for something when you present something, they’re not necessarily being argumentative. Being able to debate is actually a skill. And maybe if we could be more open to looking at what we have deemed first to be negative behaviors, if we could stop looking at them solely as negative behaviors, and start looking at them as skills. So does this child come with a skill for conversation? Does this child come with the skill for thinking and being able to give justifications and reasons, right? So they’re able to debate and they’re able to speak? Maybe they’re good orators? Right? Maybe they can look at something and see what’s wrong with it. Maybe this is a skill. And so let’s not just instantly jump to the conclusion that this child is badly behaved, because they don’t fit your particular perception of what an eight year old is supposed to do. I mean, I’ve got eight, nine year olds who hold full on conversations with adults know stuff that I didn’t even learn when I was in high school, had some weights on got to college to discuss these things, can hold full on conversations, and then later on can throw a temper tantrum like a two year old. Right? So what got them there? What happened? What are our worries? I mean, a lot of my children have anxiety, but people don’t stop to understand what’s actually going on. So when a kid is panicked that their parents have left, why are they panicked? Are they concerned, when you talk to some of my children, you discover that? Well, they know about the amount of accidents that happen on the road. And they’re quite concerned that maybe their parents may have an accident, because maybe they were involved themselves in an accident. And therefore, they’re very aware of what happens, or they witnessed an accident. And people dismiss that as something that we shouldn’t worry about, and you’ll be fine and stop worrying about it. But Hello, it’s real people have accidents every day, you know, you don’t leave your house planning to have an accident. But these things happen. And it’s called an accident because it’s not intentional. So you know, so there is a realistic sense of fear there. I mean, lots of us are scared of little things that crawl around. And those fears don’t make any sense. Because obviously, you could squash the bug if you wanted to. I’m not saying that lots of my babies love bugs. But you could. So why are you scared of it, but being worried that something bad can happen to somebody that’s actually a realistic fear. And so maybe if people could understand, to explore what’s going on with our children to talk more in depth to them to find out what they’re thinking, and where their, their their stressors are, then we will, you know, will better be able to, to serve these children’s needs, and expose them to things and just like, Oh, you’re so good at holding conversations. So let’s use that skill. Let’s set that up. Let’s do some skits. Drama is phenomenal. Lots of my high schoolers here at Bridges, when you talk to them, because they’ve been allowed to be in the drama production, they’ll tell you that they came alive, being able to learn about somebody else, and then to be them on the stage. And it gives them an opportunity to step away from themselves and to explore things. You know, some of my kids now have done like shows and they’ve been stand up comics. And before they wouldn’t say boo to a goose, and you go in Wow. And we’re blessed to have an amazing music program. And one of my students when he was in Phoenix barely spoke to anybody. They did a coffee house the other day, and he was the lead singer of a band. I can’t tell you how proud of him I was. My heart just swelled because I’m going oh my god. witness, he’s gone from this frightened person into somebody who can stand up in front of people and sing. But that’s because he’s been supported in an environment and then been able basically to find his voice and been encouraged to do something that possibly in another environment, he wouldn’t have been encouraged to do. So I think it’s our, our requirement to put limits on people prevents us from truly seeing who they are. And if we can open our eyes and look deeper into and be prepared to find out who these children really are, then I think that what we can then offer them will be greatly changed.
Debbie Reber 40:45
So good. And I love that story. And yeah, I mean, it goes back to what you were saying about compliance. And what are we really doing here? Right, we’re raising humans, we’re not raising these kind of neat little robot children who just do as they’re told and don’t think critically and don’t learn how to really tap into to their gifts and their strengths for a parent who’s listening to this just as a way to kind of wrap up, because so many parents are not able to send their child to a school such as Bridges, and they are navigating this in a probably a more closed minded system, do you have any advice for a step they could take or things they could focus on as they tried to effectively advocate for their 2e kids?
Maria Kennedy 41:31
Most definitely, the first thing you’ve got to do as a parent, in my humble opinion, is to find out who your child is, because you cannot advocate for a human that you don’t understand. So your first job is to find out what makes them tick. Here, we say what turns the light on in their eyes? What is your child really passionate about? So as I told you, my small person was into numbers, he used to sit down and write down numbers from the catalog and add things up numbers made his brain go crazy, he loved it, right. So we did lots of things with numbers. So as a parent, you need to know what excites your person, and then encourage that. So you know, so take them out, have lots of experiences, where they can become experts about the things that they like, once you know what that is, then you’re in a much better position to then talk to the people who are educating your child about what your child’s passions are. And you’ll then also know what to look for. So, you know, there’s nothing to say that your eight year old can’t be taking some course that’s being offered at a college at some and something that they’re interested in. Or even at a university in the UK, we’ve had a nine year old who was at university, right. So they may not be emotionally ready to do a whole university classes, you know, be there all day, every day. But there are courses that are being offered all over the place. And so once you know what your child is passionate about and what gets them excited and interested, then you want to feed that passion, and encourage that passion. And then encourage the educators by sharing that passion, and enable your child to share their passion as often as possible. You know, so give them opportunities to share that passion with their relatives when they come round, but not in a negative view, you must perform, but you know, encourage them to share. So for instance, if they’re artistic, then have their artwork out so that people can see it. Most people use social media, so you’re on social media all of the time. So then share some of the stuff, the cute things and the wonderful things that your child is doing with your friends and family. So that there is that conversation, that celebration, so that your child can feel that what they’re interested in is of value, because then when they have self confidence in what they’re doing, then they’ll share it better. And then when you then go into those meetings with educators, then you’ll be able to talk about it. If your child does have an IEP, and you’re in an IEP meeting, then you’ll be able to talk about your child’s strengths. And you have to get that conversation in IEP are notoriously all about your child’s deficits. If we never talk about the strengths of a child, we miss out on more than half of our human beings. We are not all the things that are wrong with us. We are not all the things that we cannot do. We are all the things that we can do and they need to be celebrated. So as parents and educators, we need to know what it is that our children are great at, what they can do. And then be able to share that and empower our children to feel good about themselves. So that when we come to tackling the things, the areas in which they struggle, they don’t start life feeling that they’re a failure. They don’t start out branded as the kid that can’t do anything. You know, it’s cool to be a nerd.
Maria Kennedy 45:23
In some aspects, right? So let’s celebrate those things. Right. So let’s celebrate whatever our children are good at. And as parents, it starts with you. So you have to be encouraging them and celebrating and finding out what their skills are. And then sharing those and being proud of them and being positive about what they do well, and then those areas of challenge, then have those conversations and ask the educators, is there a way that we can utilize what my child is good at, to help them in those areas that they’re being challenged in, I taught my brother to read, I taught my brother to read, but because he needed to make a kite. And so we got a book about making a kite. I taught a seven year old kid in my class to read by reading comic books, because the books didn’t regular books didn’t work for him, we read comic books. And when it clicked for him, when he could see that connection and make that connection, he then went on and was able to read newspapers, he was able to transfer that. But it took a desire and a passion, we had to find something that interested in that he wanted to read the hymn to be prepared to try and learn how to do it, you know, so look for those passion things. Because when your child has a passion with something, you’ll be amazed at how using that passion can encourage them to learn anything else that they need.
Debbie Reber 46:53
100%. Maria, you definitely sound like you’re a woman on a crusade and I am here for it. I love the passion you bring to this work. And yeah, I just really appreciate everything you shared such great advice, good food, for thought for all of us listening, who are trying to help our kids really become those self actualized adults who know themselves so well and know how to create the life that they want for themselves. We’ve shared this symposium, is there anything else anywhere else that you want listeners to go check out online? Certainly listening to the Crucial Conversations podcast, but where else do you want people to go?
Maria Kennedy 47:34
We have 2e News. So it’s a newsletter. And we have a quarterly Variations magazine. So if they go to our 2e News website, and register, they’ll get all of the articles, we are so blessed that people from around the world. There’s just amazing people who contribute to 2e News. And so there is a wealth of information that is provided there. And on our page, also information about events, and other conferences and things that people might find useful. And of course, they can always email me, I want to be a resource and a conduit for anybody that needs help. So they should feel free to email me either directly, Maria firstname.lastname@example.org, or through our Crucial Conversations link from the website. Either way, so questions about stuff, email me. I’m going to be starting a blog, one of the things that I want to do is even people email me questions, then I’m going to find out answers and post those in a blog. Because I’m just thinking of how else I can help people. So if people have questions, and they share them, what I don’t know, I am so blessed to know so many amazing people like you, Debbie, who I can go to for information. And I just want to be able to share that with people. So you know, so just get in touch and any way that I can help. I am definitely prepared to do that.
Debbie Reber 49:12
That’s fantastic. And listeners, I have links for all of these resources in the show notes. And I get to 2e News. I get Variations. And yeah, there’s such great in-depth articles. There was one episode I’m thinking of or one issue I’m thinking of. There’s a 2e expert in the Netherlands that I had never heard of before that I got to do a deep dive. So anyway, wonderful resources for sure. So check those out. Maria, I hope the symposium goes wonderfully. I look forward to attending that. And yeah, just thank you so much for everything you shared today and for the work that you do in the world.
Maria Kennedy 49:47
Thank you so much. It’s just been an absolute honor and pleasure to get to hang out with you again. You are truly amazing. Thank you so much Debbie.
Debbie Reber 49:59
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