Calling out giftedness (classroom, community)

One of the most powerful and memorable experiences for me in my K-12 school career was my 8th grade teacher taking individual time to name some of my gifts and encourage me to develop them. What an encouragement and boost it was to me! I am absolutely convinced that this “naming” and “blessing” is critical for our students and one of the joys and satisfaction points we have in our work. It also reminds us to look for the good in each student and see them as God sees them – a marvelous creation, made in His image.

This summer I had the opportunity to teach a workshop on student faith development. One of the excellent papers I received as part of the course requirement was from Jane Hilbrands from Grand Rapids Christian and follows below:

As a high schooler, John was above average academically, well known through sports and well liked. The high school counselor looked at his grades, summarized the results of the standard career interest survey, and gave him some suggestions of careers that matched him. He became a college freshman with a declared major that he dropped during that year, and then later he followed the crowd into a business major. He received little to no guidance as to how his unique set of spiritual gifts and talents could be utilized in God’s kingdom within his major. He now is a successful business man who has questioned his career path and wished to find personal passion in his vocation for the last ten years.

Janine was similar to John in high school, being successful academically, athletically and socially. She completed a spiritual gifts survey in Sunday School and again later in an adult small group at church. Janine and her parents noticed that her “waiting” gifts discovered earlier had now become her stronger gifts. After her freshman year in college Janine felt drawn to a major that matched many of her spiritual gifts and is looking forward to starting those classes.

Justin is a high schooler with no solid ideas for the future. He enjoys athletics and receives tutoring help in the school support services. During his sophomore year he was considering taking a vo-tech path and spending time in a skills program instead of taking college prep classes. His tutor surprised him by noticing and telling him what a gift of the spirit he possessed in his ability to not look down on or be judgmental of others and in his exceptional ability to unconditionally accept others. “Very rare in teenagers,” she told him. She mentioned she could see him being a great special education or middle school teacher, especially because of this gift and because he is so social. Justin was rather flabbergasted at the thought of being a teacher, but he began pondering his future and decided to stick with his college prep classes for now.

At the Googling Youth Conference at Calvin College, many speakers discussed topics concerning teenagers, faith formation, culture and identity. Many of them addressed the importance of “calling out” spiritual gifts and talents in individual teenagers; in other words, to notice and name the unique radiance of God’s spirit in a person and sometimes to imagine vocational applications for those gifts of the Spirit. Claudia Beversluis described the narrative of creation to restoration which raises issues of belonging, purpose and identity. It is the age old adolescent questions of “Who am I?” and “Why am I?” When asked during a panel discussion how much we should limit media consumption, Quentin Schulze responded by professing the importance of knowing kids’ unique talents, naming their gifts, and letting them appropriately pursue their passions. Denise Isom defined identity as “becoming who we are” and emphasized the need of youth to see themselves. Doug Kamstra challenged us to take the time necessary to see young people as significant image bearers of God, which would include their individual giftedness. Lew VanderMeer encouraged us to give youth visions and goals for “growing up.” Dan Beerens asked us to be able to describe youth, including their potential vocations, spiritual gifts and evident “fruits”.

The search for self has always been central to the adolescent years. For youth, understanding spiritual strengths – the touches of heaven where God radiates in you brighter than in others, and the more measurable talents in academic, physical, social and emotional skills can give teenagers a sense of purpose and belonging, an identity. Even knowing weaknesses is part of the puzzle of self. With a secure concept of identity, adolescents feel less misunderstood or alone and more passionate and motivated. Having giftedness “called out” can be a crucial turning point in an adolescent’s emotional state and their concept of personal responsibility to actively engage in their world. Self identity gives purpose, which in turn creates passion. However, calling out giftedness is not simple.

Jane’s oldest son is a new teenager in middle school. She’s seen his ups and downs since the “terrible twos.” Although she hopes that as his mom she would be able to call out his spiritual gifts, she feels that perhaps her vision is limited, and she sees too much of the past and not enough of the quickly changing present. She hopes that other adults will see more sides of her son as he interacts more and more with peers and other adults in settings outside her sphere, the home. She hopes he will find his place of passionate work in God’s kingdom.

As youth director, Jeff feels great responsibility to guide his church kids in a growing understanding of God’s character, Christ’s example and our worshipful response. Jeff fervently prays for his kids and their daily faith walk. He sees his youth group almost weekly, and he slides between Bible study, rowdy crowd control, prayer requests, and whipped cream eating contests. He’d like to give as much guidance as he can to many life questions including “Who am I?” and “Why am I?” but he also feels limited, seeing only pieces of a person’s whole picture. He’s just not up to speed in a number of their areas of giftedness and talents.

Julie thoroughly enjoys her students in her high school English classes, and even though twenty-six different students walk into her classroom world every fifty minutes, she feels she knows them, although some better than others. Some students have definite talents in her classroom: creativity, organization, assimilating ideas, public speaking, verbal dexterity. But she realizes this is only the tip of the ice berg of who these kids are and how complexly God has gifted them.

Who is responsible for or able to call out giftedness in youth? Who is spending enough time with each youth to clearly see them? Who is able to see their many sides? In what ways must adults grow in their understanding of giftedness to be able to call it out in youth? How do you call out giftedness? Is a career interest survey comprehensive enough? Do church-based spiritual gift inventories allow for enough uniqueness? How can we create an effective model for calling out giftedness that collaborates between home, church and school that also creates compelling visions of the future for an individual?

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5 Comments

Filed under classroom, curriculum, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart

5 responses to “Calling out giftedness (classroom, community)

  1. Sean Lambert

    I think that it is so important for parents and teachers to affirm children by telling them how unique they are. When I was in eighth grade, my math teacher sat down with me and told me that I had certain attributes that would help me is successful in high school. He also said that I needed to work on developing other qualities as well.
    As a future teacher, I know that it will be imperative to instill confidence in my students. This will motivate them to do their best. Also, it is equally important that I encourage them to work on whatever weaknesses they might have. I believe that praising students on their strengths and helping them overcome their weaknesses will be vital to academic success.

  2. Brian Hansen

    As a believer and follower of Jesus Christ I trust and know that I have been created in the wonderful image of God. Knowing that the creator of the universe took time to create and bless me with different atributes overwhelms my comprehension of this but it also sets me on fire to spread His good news. One way of this is to help others realize their God given blessings and talents. It is amazing to think back to high school and replaying the conversation I had with my guidence counselor. I wanted to pursue a career in business–hotel management and hospitality. I love people–working and interacting with all types is fascinating to me. We all have a story and it is amazing to learn about where someone has come from and been through in life. I had my heart set on this career and could think of nothing else I would ever want to do. Then came the talk with my counselor. He challenged me to think about the choice I was making and if it would really be using all of the gifts that he had noticed that I had had. Hearing this made me wonder what it was that he was talking about and made me look at myself in a different way than I had ever done before. It was because of him that I realized the hospitality field would not be for me but rather I wanted to become a teacher. As a future educator it will be my challenge to stretch my students into thinking about themselves and their gifts in ways that they may never have thought of before. When one does this the true learing begins. Living each day utilizing the God giving gifts and talents out ways a hefty paycheck from a 9 to 5 job that one hates to get up for. It is my prayer that my students look at their talents as a true gift from God and strive to use them in the most appropriate and useful way possible.

  3. Rachel Bultema

    I hope that i can be as helpful someday as a teacher. You never know what your students are thinking about. Sometimes it is hard to tell when they need a little boost of confidence. This confidence and strength you give them, as we see in this article can last forever.
    I think it is really important to collaborate between, church, home, and school. When these things work togather, they will have wonderful results and plans to benefit the student.

  4. Vivian Vanderhoek

    One Monday morning at staff devotions the teacher leading us in devotions announced that she had been very moved to see how each of her young charges was “built up” by the blessings of their grandparents on our special Grandparents Day. In response to that experience she had decided to “bless” each of us, her colleagues by naming a gift we brought to our task as teachers. I will never forget that experience. We sat rather anxiously awaiting her benediction. What would she say? How would it compare to what she said about others? Would it be meaningful or just a “filler” because she couldn’t find anything better to say? Yet, when the descriptions came, they were like treasures we would never lose. Even today, several years later, her words of “blessing” on that morning remain precious to me.

    This little story affirms to me the tremendous value of naming gifts we see in our students. Some of the questions we as teachers had that morning will also be playing on the minds and emotions of our students as we engage in the practice of blessing our students. Given the wide variety of students we work with, being truthful and yet sensitive to the feelings of each student requires a great deal of wisdom and an openness to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

  5. Heidi Gropp

    I believe that God has placed certain people in our paths for certain chapters of our journey to know him more and so that He may reveal through other people) “Our calling” “purpose” and “gifts”. As a parent, teacher, or youth leader; it is our job to encourage, build, and challenge the young people in our lives. God showed us unconditional love (and always does) and we are called to do the same to our brothers and sisters. Encouraging others and building them up does not just have to be through words and verbal affirmations, it might also be through our actions, generosity, giving of our time, etc. Make the individuals in your life who feel ordinary—EXTRAORDINARY!

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