‘Holding the torch’ for gifted and talented students in New Zealand primary schools: Insights from gifted and talented coordinators
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Teaching and Learning
The New Zealand Government recognises the importance of supporting all students in their learning to assist them to reach their full potential. This recognition is inclusive of gifted and talented students. Furthermore, boards of trustees, through their principal and staff, are required under the National Administration Guidelines, to demonstrate how they are catering for gifted and talented students. Notwithstanding this requirement, The Education Review Office (2008) report entitled Schools’ Provision for Gifted and Talented Students, confirms that a major challenge for school leadership is sustaining momentum of gifted and talented provisions and programmes.
Despite this mandated intent, what happens in practice at the school level remains problematic. Teachers and schools welcomed the Talent Development Initiative (TDI), a Ministry of Education (MOE) Initiative, as it held some promise for developments in gifted and talented education. The first round of the initiative ran between 2003 and 2005 and the second from 2006 to 2008. Funding to support innovation and special developments in gifted education has been provided to 38 programmes nationwide. This initiative serviced some schools and educational bodies but a large number of others were left without an extra layer of support beyond their schools’ leadership actions.
This study focuses on the school level, in particular teachers who are given additional responsibility, namely those with a coordination role. Moreover, my thesis is about how work to meet the needs of gifted and talented students can be sustained in schools to ensure the gifted and talented ‘torch’ can continue to ‘burn brightly’ over time.
To gain an understanding of coordinators’ insights on what it takes to overcome the problem of sustaining provisions and programmes, this study adopts a qualitative, case study approach. I selected a purposive sample of six teachers with experience working in a gifted and talented coordinator role. The main source of data collection was individual semi-structured interviews (refer to Appendix A). I asked them questions about their role and how provisions were made for gifted and talented students at their schools. Further questions were asked about the support they received for their roles, particularly professional learning and development to enhance their practice. My findings show the responses from participants highlighted the important connection between leadership and learning. Knowledge and passion to do their best for gifted and talented students, although important, was not sufficient. The leadership actions and support provided by others in their setting and beyond their setting were likewise needed.
My analysis revealed a range of strategies was deemed necessary to support the leadership of learning in classrooms, specifically the need for dialogue amongst teachers about identification, planning and evaluating provisions and programmes. All too often these gifted and talented coordinators worked alone in their roles, in isolation from others, and at times without the support they needed. Thus the success or failure of provisions and programmes for gifted and talented students rested on their ongoing commitment and drive.
My study includes recommendations for practice. These recommendations suggest that provisions for gifted and talented students must be integrated into curriculum delivery and learning areas and be part of schools’ cultures in order for them to take hold and be sustained over time. Furthermore, there is a need to develop clarity of these provisions through job descriptions and for schools to undertake regular if not annual reviews of written documentation to guide ongoing work in gifted and talented education.