These are unprecedented times. As the coronavirus wreaks havoc across the globe and things become increasingly difficult, we look to leaders for hope and inspiration. We don’t know who they might be or from whence they might come. They are raised variously and have wide-ranging experiential backgrounds, yet they develop a passion to be at the forefront of the fray. What drives them? In this piece, I share my thoughts…
Grappling with Questions about Advancement
This article on front-runners is not about marathons. It is about children who CAN and DO succeed, and why and how that happens.
Front-runners. Who are they, and what makes them front-runners? What are the issues? The misconceptions? How can parents support their kids? These are the four questions I address here.
Of course, not every child is a front-runner, nor do they have to aspire to be one. However, for those who are or who strive to be—and for their parents and, too, the broader community who look to our young people to help safeguard and fortify the future—-here are some insights.
Front-Runners: Who Are They?
I’m through accepting limits
‘Cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I’ll never know.
“Defying Gravity” from Wicked, by Stephen Lawrence Schwartz
By definition, a front-runner is a leader—someone in a number one position. (In other words, the one to beat. or possibly look up to.)
The concept of being a front-runner is a reality for many individuals who excel in some manner or who strive to be the very best they can be. When children exceed expectations, accelerate, or harness their ambition and find that they are ahead of their age peers in one or more area, it might be said that they are front-runners. It is not a formal identification or label (like gifted). Rather, it is an informal descriptor of self-positioning in the context of succeeding.
Front-Running Kids: Issues
The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.
Excellence is not a given. Children who are front-runners do not necessarily reach end goals first or in the finest or most efficient manner. Kids may need guidance and direction as they find their way. This is especially true if they’re traversing new or uncharted pathways—and in any case, paths have a way of diverging. And, whether it is in relation to academics, athletics, creative expression, the arts, volunteerism, or other forms of involvement, it can be difficult to keep pace, let alone set it. A child may not have the fortitude or desire to take and retain a lead or a leading edge. Those who do are quick to act, react, and adjust their steps, and they’re determined to stay on track. They are tenacious, and they stave off fatigue and distractions. Children like this are tough.
Or are they?
They are, after all, still children—maturing and learning and, to some extent, vulnerable. Is toughness the driving force that fuels these front runners? Is giftedness?
Impact of Giftedness: Possible Misconceptions
The pathways to exceptional achievement are complex, diverse, and socially constructed, varying across individuals, developmental periods, contexts, and cultures.
~ Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids,
Labels can be uplifting but they can also be faulty, divisive, or demoralizing. Labels have value when used to clarify learning needs, otherwise labels belong on packages, not people. An individual can get lost behind the expectations, misconceptions, biases, or suppositions that can accompany a label. Moreover, a person’s development is always in flux; therefore, any label may be in flux, too. (There’s an old adage, “The knife that is sharp today can be dull tomorrow.”)
Over the course of decades working within the field of gifted education, I’ve encountered many people (from all walks of life) who think that children who have gifted/high-level abilities are undoubtedly front-runners. This is not necessarily so—and, in any case, no two kids are alike, and children should not be pigeonholed or lumped together. Giftedness is domain specific. It develops step-by-step over time with the proper supports and opportunities to learn. A child may be advanced (or potentially become a front-runner) in one area and not in others. Asynchrony dictates that areas of strength and weakness can develop at different rates and times.
Moreover, beware assumptions. It is as flawed to assume that all children who are not identified as gifted are not front-runners as it is to assume that all those who are so identified are front-runners. A gifted identification is not a trophy, nor is it an automatic pass to the front of the pack.
How Can Parents and Educators Encourage Front-Runners?
Help children learn to set reasonable objectives, ones that are realistic, timely, and affirming, and encourage them to strive to reach their goals.
~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 55
Consider the following four suggestions. Each is a fundamental point that deals with an attribute that parents (and teachers) can encourage and reinforce to help children become, and stay, front-runners—if that is their desire.
- Effort – Ensure that children understand that hard work is required to make progress. Help them learn to gauge and take pride in their accomplishments, to be resourceful, to maintain a sense of purpose, to stretch themselves, and to persevere. (For more on this, see my article Ambitious, Purposeful Kids [In an Increasingly Chaotic World] in my column at The Creativity Post. There is also an informative piece entitled Gifted/High-Ability Learners.)
- Inquiry – Emphasize that learning occurs as a result of effective communication and meaningful dialogue. This includes asking questions, then acquiring answers, and reflecting and acting intelligently upon them.
- Connectivity – Support children as they develop alliances, create teams, make friends, find “cheerleaders,” and foster other supportive relationships.
- Resilience – Front-runners may encounter obstacles. Help kids appreciate that if they have to take a few steps sideways or backward, that is part of the learning curve. And, if they stumble, they can pick themselves up and regain their footing.
Research is shedding light on new neuroscientific understandings relating to differences among gifted learners, including physiology, implications, learning, mental health—and cautions. The body and brain work together as people experience life, and therefore both must be considered when supporting children’s development.”
~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 101
Be attuned to your child. Listen. Observe. Guide. Model. Motivate. Reassure. Advocate. Become informed. Be available when needed—whether children are in the throes of front-running or not.
And help them welcome challenges. The best way forward is one that instills confidence, enabling a child to see the big picture beyond the here and now, and the power of possibilities across the horizon.
Foster, Joanne. ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child. Giftedness Unlimited, LLC, 2019.
Matthews, Dona and Joanne Foster. Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2015.
Additional material is accessible on the Resources Page at www.joannefoster.ca