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being gifted: burden or blessing?

March 10th marks the beginning of the week of the highly gifted, so some attention is appropriate.
A widespread prejudice is that high intelligence in children automatically makes them successful in development and learning. Research and practice show that this is not always true. Moreover highly intelligent children are not always recognized or acknowledged as such. In this scenario gifted children may develop a negative self-image, fear of failure or inadequate learning strategies under the influence of alienation, isolation or lacking challenges. This is how underachievers are born. I call this the paradox of the highly gifted.

High intelligence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for giftedness. You may compare it to a Ferrari in a traffic jam, or a child with wings that is not allowed to fly. In order to develop successfully the child needs to be challenged at its own level, needs to develop emotional and social skills, and needs to express these skills, or rather: interact. Successful interaction doesn’t come automatically, it has to be learned (in Dutch: interacteren moet je leren). Smart kids have the disadvantage of using mainly cognitive strategies, smart thinking will be their first choice of coping, which may lead to underdevelopment of other skills. Their talents will not fully be expressed and the parents will feel rather worried than proud. The children will have to deal with problems at school, and the parents will see the risk of their child becoming a lonely and strange nerd. More a burden than a blessing. The great promises of giftedness will wither.

In my coaching practice I meet some very intelligent students. Sometimes they are not aware of their exceptional intelligence. They show false modesty, they act ‘normal’, to avoid exclusion or being regarded as stuck-up or arrogant. They have no realistic self-image, they may be insecure or cannot develop a positive connection with others. They may be ambitious but they lack self-confidence, skills or learning strategies, which causes stress. I have also seen students with feelings of shame or depression. In these cases recognition and acknowledgement from the coach and the student are important for a successfully balanced development. To balance out qualities and personality traits in a safe environment may make the giftedness develop and manifest itself as a lifelong personal and societal treasure.

millennials

Being born between 1982 and 2002 makes you a millennial (generation Y).
Whether you like that or not depends on your perspective. Simon Sinek tells us that these young people were dealt a bad hand and that they have been misled about life and about themselves (you are special). They got addicted to social media and gaming. They want the summit, but they won’t climb the mountain. Their education has led to feeling entitled, to impatience and eventually to a lack of social skills and selfconfidence. For in real life there is no instant gratification and nothing comes for free. Some students think Sinek is overgeneralizing, but he may point out a trend.

In my coaching I meet students from this generation. I think they are promising, and young too. In this complex and competitive world they seem to need more time than previous generations for growing up. More time to socially mature and find their direction in life. Some have little selfconfidence, and little awareness of the impression they make upon other people. Selfreflection and feedback are relatively new to them.
As a coach I am basically non-judgemental, I am mild and patient with students. I invite them to reflect upon their thoughts and behaviours, ask ‘nasty’ questions and give them tips, directions, exercises and assignments. I stimulate them to breathe coherently, to relax at times, to live a healthy life, to play outside, to discover their emotions, and to share experiences, even the difficult and vulnerable ones. This enhances their selfconfidence and resilience, and they learn to deal with stressors more effectively.

I also work with them on developmental tasks for young adults, such as identity development, independence, mature relationships and sense of purpose. I don’t make things easy for them, since I think they are promising. And if they were dealt a bad hand, this is the right time to develop and learn. This development is not done after eight or ten coaching conversations. For in real life there is no instant gratification and nothing comes for free. But with a slight change of course now they may eventually end up in a different world.
At least I am very glad with their steep learning curve, and they are glad with the giant steps they make in such a short period. After all they are the generation that will shape the new millennium.

trial and error

At last I can publish my website! And it was quite a trick to create it. Creating a website sounds simple nowadays, but since I am a computer illiterate for me it was quite a challenge.
In short: lots of frustration and little successes. I watched instructions on YouTube, found ‘simple’ tutorials that I couldn’t even read, let alone apply. Clumsy as I am I struggled my way through, with a lot of trial and error.
Of course I could have outsourced the whole project, but I am a stubborn man and besides that would be very expensive. So I continued my struggle, fell many times, got up one more time and had a few small successes. In the end I asked my cousin Arjen to solve the remaining obstacles. For him it was a piece of cake!

The American researcher Brené Brown in one of her speeches referred to TED-talks as the failure conference: every speaker failed many times, and had to rise stronger many more times, before manifesting the final triumph. It sounds common to me: you accept a challenge, have to endure the pain and frustration of struggling through unknown territory and eventually create a succes upon the foundation of multiple failures.
I recognize that in ‘my’ students also: they want quick results in all areas. And they are not always aware of the resilience they need to reach a distant goal, neither how they toss their own problems. But if you give up too soon, or don’t share your experiences or find the help that you need, you may not get the results. Studying nowadays is top-class sport, and sportsmen and -women usually have a coach. A coach supports you in expanding your talents, improve your fitness and to update your limiting beliefs: together you reach further.
That’s how this website was created, with patience and persistance and with the help of a few friends. Thank you Elena for the beautiful picture of the white Berlin peacock. Thank you Marieke for the picture of me as a coach. Thank you Maarten en Miriam for your solid feedback on the first draft. Thank you Arjen for the layout and the bilingual plugin. Thank you students for your testimonials. After all hardship I fully enjoy the result!