This morning I overheard a conversation a woman in church was having with my wife regarding my daughter. She was commenting on how my oldest daughter did a good job reading in church and mentioning the times she has played piano. All very good things, and I am very proud of my daughter. However she said, your daughter must be gifted and talented.
I think my daughter is an amazing young woman. She is a voracious reader, plays piano and just began lessons to learn how to play the clarinet. While I am very proud of her, I cringed at the idea of the label of gifted and talented. Upon hearing her comment, I immediately found my mind flashing to other conversations I have had about the concept of gifted and talented and the impact that label can have on students. Many people have discussed how telling students they are smart, or good at something puts pressure on them to be afraid to fail. They feel like they have to live up to the label and if they aren't successful they must not be smart or good at something. I have already witnessed these struggles with my daughter. She gets very frustrated when she isn't able to play a song on the piano the first few times she attempts it. I on the other had took years of guitar lessons and can't play a song.
The idea of labels doesn't just impact students who are perceived to be good at something. In my years of education, I have seen more often the labeling of students who struggle with learning concepts. We have labeled students quickly and these labels impact the way students view themselves. There is the alphabet soup of labels that have been used to identify students for decades. These labels while intended to help educators provide appropriate services for students, has in many cases replaced the student's identity. When students and teachers see the student as their label and not a person with unique talents and needs we have negatively impacted that student's ability to be successful.
Labels dehumanize the individual. It lumps them into a group of characteristics or qualities that we assume everyone with that label has. If we see students and people as labels we miss out on their special qualities, their individual talents, interests and potential. Labeling is something we do in society to help us understand something that is complex. However we should know that the this doesn't tell a complete story. That is like thinking everyone who is American is the same. We know that isn't true as we come from diverse locations, have various experiences, and see the world very differently. The same is true for our students.
Students are more than labels. They need to be nurtured, and supported to meet their potential. Students have talents and areas where they need assistance, but we must see them as amazing people first. The idea of labels has unduly put pressure on some students, while diminishing the belief of success in others. Students have unlimited potential if we take the role of being their greatest supporters and cheerleaders. We must never be the reasons they stop believing in themselves.
My plea to you is stop labeling students and your own children. They will often live up to the labels, and unfortunately our labels are of extremely low expectations. Instead see them as someone who will make a difference in this world and it is our job to help them reach that potential.