Education Opinion

Your State Gifted Association

By Tamara Fisher — April 08, 2009 7 min read
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Well, it’s that time of year again! I’m chin-deep in conference-organizing, as our state gifted conference is coming up in a couple of weeks. It’s a considerable undertaking, but it is always well worth the effort. Each state has its own process for coordinating their state conference and we here in Montana are in our second year of trying out a new method.

Because Montana is geographically gigantic, our conference rotates each year between our five regions so that at least once every five years the conference will be relatively close to home for everyone. (That would be using a Montana driving distance definition of “relatively close”!) It used to be that if you were the Regional Representative on the Board the year the conference was scheduled to go to your region, then you were in charge of the conference. (And everyone else issued a silent breath of relief, “Glad it’s not my year...”) The last two years, though, we have experimented with a new organizing format. Having coordinated conferences under both systems (the first when I was a Regional Rep back in 2006), I find myself singing the praises of our new format.

Now, the Regional Rep and I (as President-Elect) are conference co-chairs, and every Board member (even the one who lives 535 miles away) has her own task to complete to help coordinate and organize the conference. Essentially, each person takes charge of a PIECE of the process and then the pieces all fall into place as the conference unfolds. Last year, for our first time trying this method, I’d say we had about a 95% success rate of everything falling into place, and that 5% where things didn’t quite go right were all rather tiny, minor issues that were easily resolved on-site. This year we have the added benefit that most people are taking on the same task they did last year, so they are that much more well-versed in what to do and how to do it, now, too.

We have one person who is coordinating all of the vendors, another person who is collecting and coordinating the table decorations and door prizes, another person who is making all the nametags, another person who is collecting registrations and keeping track of who’s paid and who hasn’t yet, someone who is the contact person with the hotel where the conference will be taking place (securing rooms, determining the menu, etc.), someone to coordinate and collect items for our silent auction (which raises money for our scholarships-for-kids fund), someone to contact speakers and organize a schedule/program (me!), someone to organize the awards ceremony where we give various awards to kids from around the state, someone who is in charge of publicity (which involves contacting every superintendent and principal in the state), a person who is in charge of getting a packet together for each attendee (including a copy of the program, coupons from local businesses, a map of the town, etc.), someone who will grade all the papers so we can offer our conference for credit, someone to coordinate the renewal units process for those attendees who want to earn CEU’s, and someone to coordinate and organize the Saturday Sessions for Kids that we usually manage to offer, too. And then some. (whew!)

Obviously, all of this requires some communication between Board members! In fact, I think that’s been one of the extra benefits of this process. We used to see and communicate with each other just three times a year (when we had our Board meetings and the spring conference), but now (especially from October-May, prime conference-organizing time), we communicate with each other a lot more frequently, which in my opinion has helped the Board members come to know one another better (which in turn lends itself to better Board working relationships). And modern technology helps a lot, too, given that we live hundreds of miles from each other.

I first attended (and presented at) an AGATE conference as a college student back in 1993 when I (and a couple other students) went to talk about the Mentor GATE program we had created. I even attended the Board meeting that afternoon simply because I was curious. (Okay, Sis, I can admit it... there’s something a little strange about me...!)

I love attending our state gifted conference. Being a Gifted Specialist in Montana is a rather solitary role (there are only 40 FTE of us here... not even a whole person per county), so I treasure being able to get together with others from my state who do what I do and who are equally passionate about helping other Montana schools get something going for their gifted students. It’s also exciting to see so many regular classroom teachers at the conference who are also eager to learn what they can about reaching the gifted students in their classrooms. (Our conference attendees are about 80% regular classroom teachers, plus some parents, counselors, GT specialists, and the occasional administrator.)

[Okay, random, though related, tangent story because I think it’s funny... Last fall I gave a keynote at the KGTC conference in Kansas and I asked the audience how many of them were Gifted Specialists... expecting the smattering of hands that I would see raised to the same question in Montana. But about 90% of the people in the room raised their hands!!! I was so stunned a feather could’ve knocked me off the stage. I stood for a moment to take in that beautiful sight of a packed room full of Gifted Specialists. Other than at NAGC, I had never seen so many of us together in the same room before. I needed a moment to let my paradigm shift! Suddenly the dream of having that many of us in Montana seemed so much more possible...]

Montana AGATE was officially founded back in 1980 (after two years of laying the groundwork...), the same year I was a little one in “Project Promise.” As a matter of fact, my GT teacher’s name is on the roster list of AGATE’s charter members. (Thank you, Mrs. Sexton, wherever you are...) Two other founding members are still current AGATE Board members to this day! How’s that for dedication? (Kudos to Stephanie Smith and Shirley Olson!) And another charter member will be one of our keynote presenters at this year’s conference, Jann Leppien (I imagine many of you know her or at least know of her, as she has been an NAGC Board member, has written a few gifted ed books, presents and consults frequently, runs Edufest, and is generally a rock star in the field. We’re quite proud of her back here in Montana :o)

Besides put on a great conference each year, what else does AGATE do? We advocate individually, locally, and statewide. We have resources available for schools, teachers, and parents to borrow. We provide scholarships to kids. We help coordinate the publication of Signatures from Big Sky, which consists entirely of artwork and writing by K-12 Montana students. We coordinate the SAT Challenge (similar to the Talent Search in other states). We publish a newsletter for members. We outreach with other Education organizations in the state. And we are currently piloting a new project: mentoring a Montana school through a two-year intensive process of learning about, implementing, reflecting upon, and improving use of differentiation strategies. (It’s been a fabulous process so far and we hope to expand this in-depth opportunity to other schools as the money and time to do so become available.) And as Board members we also field a lot of queries from teachers, parents, administrators, Education majors (i.e. future teachers), and others from around the state.

So the point of my rambling post here today (were you wondering if there was a point? ;o) is to encourage you to not just join but get involved with your state’s gifted association. You can find a link to it here. (Or if you are from Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, or Wyoming - states without gifted association websites - click on your state in this map to get the email address of a contact person.) And for my international readers, consider the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children or your home country’s group. If one doesn’t exist, find some like-minded folks and create one!

Benefits of being a member of and being involved with your state’s gifted association include knowing what’s going on in gifted education in your state, having opportunities to positively impact the gifted learners in your state, being connected with others who are also passionate about this topic, becoming more easily aware of the various learning opportunities offered in your state (i.e. conference, workshops, etc.), and - frankly - making a difference! Plus it’s fun :o)

I’m also curious to learn what benefits you have found from being involved with your state gifted association. Also, what great projects is your state organization involved with that others might enjoy learning about?

Well, I have a conference program to go put the finishing touches on so that it can be sent to the printers this week. Happy Spring, everyone!

The opinions expressed in Unwrapping the Gifted are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.