Teacher Spotlight - Jayne Selwa
Meet Jayne Selwa
I’ve been with Laurel Springs School since 1997, and I was one of the first Academy teachers when the program was first established. The Academy has grown and changed over the years, and continually improves in the ways we provide opportunities for students.
Before teaching at Laurel Springs, I taught in a traditional school environment and also worked in a special education setting for a time. Most of my teaching experience during the last twenty years has been online teaching.
How the Academy provides a distinctive positive experience for gifted students:
Let’s start with flexibility, which the Academy provides in a few ways that are important for gifted students. First, the time flexibility allows for multi-gifted learners (that is, students who are gifted in both academic and non-academic areas) to pursue their passions outside the classroom. These students have the ability to explore all of their gifts instead of being in a traditional classroom setting for so much of the day.
Also, because Academy teachers work on such an individual basis with our students, we have more power to differentiate instruction for them based on their unique learning styles as well as their areas of giftedness. Sometimes we forget that kids who are gifted in one area might not be gifted in all academic areas, so to expect them to have the same standards in all subjects isn’t always realistic. I can enrich Academy courses to provide more of a challenge involving critical thinking and synthesis of ideas for a specific student, but maybe not push them so much in a different area where they aren’t as gifted.
The fact that Academy teachers can interact with each student one-on-one allows us to develop relationships and further enhance the student experience based on those interactions, rather than working with a group of students where we have to find something that’s going to work for every student in the class. Even among gifted students, there are different levels of giftedness and fascination among topics.
Many gifted students have very strong academic skills. I teach both math and science. I have had students who are truly gifted in math but do not have good executive function skills, and may be disorganized or have trouble organizing their work. The fact that they haven’t developed these executive function skills can hamper their development. But if the student’s Academy teachers know that they are struggling, we can intervene and help them.
Many gifted students have a tendency toward perfectionism. Academy teachers know that if students are struggling and they’ve gone silent or aren’t submitting work, it might be because they are reluctant to ask for help or may not know how to ask for help. We can work with them about how to develop those skills.
How the new advisory period and teacher professional development will make a difference for Academy students:
The advisory period will be so beneficial for students because it will allow Academy teachers to support students in other domains, such as executive functioning skills and social-emotional development. For example, some gifted students can experience anxiety and depression related to perfectionism. They may have a very easy time in school for years, but then hit a wall at some point. This can cause them to feel stupid because they are unfamiliar with the feeling of not being able to understand a new concept easily. Some gifted learners have never had to study. Therefore they need to learn how to learn and need to learn how to study. We can help them learn how to face a concept they don’t understand, and figure it out. We can remind them that they might fail, and that could be the right time to ask for help.
One significant aspect of our professional development at the Academy is that we learn how to help gifted students move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Academy teachers can explain this concept and show students how apply it to their own lives so that when they hit a wall when working with new material, they know that they aren’t stuck. As their teacher, I can reassure them that it’s okay to fail because it’s part of the learning process. I use analogies that relate to things that I know they love (for example, tennis or ice skating or music) to help them understand that it’s okay if they don’t get it right away when it comes to school. I tell that it’s just like how they might need some extra time with a coach to learn a new tennis serve. It might be the same with trigonometry: they might not get it right away. It’s an ongoing conversation I have with individual students; I remind them of the growth mindset concept so that they don’t feel stuck.
How socialization can work within the Academy:
We have the Academy symposium, which is a big part of social life at the Academy. It provides a venue for gifted students to hang out with their peers. In a traditional brick and mortar school, they might feel a bit isolated or might not want to stand out as being the smart kid. However, in the Academy Symposium, these students can be themselves and feel accepted for who they are, even be appreciated for the gifts they have.
In addition, Academy students can take part in clubs and iClasses. For example, I’m the advisor for the environmental club. Several members of our club are Academy students, including our club president. The clubs at Laurel Springs give students the chance to interact with each other—my club is very student-led. We have a different topic for each meeting, and the club members choose the topics. During each meeting, students present information about the selected topic. One recent club meeting was about trying to reduce our use of plastic, and the students presented a challenge of going without plastic for a week. They decided to invite all Laurel Springs students to participate in the challenge (called “Plastic Is In the Past Week”) , and it became a big LSS event. The club members felt very proud of themselves for making a bigger impact.
Our clubs provide students with opportunities to develop leadership skills. In my club, students can also develop their communication skills and advocacy skills, which they can bring to their families and local communities. This gives them a chance to engage in something that they’re passionate about that they wouldn’t have an opportunity to do otherwise.
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