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Why Gifted Education Matters for Every Teacher

Dona Matthews, Ph.D. and Joanne Foster, Ed.D.

“Enough already! I cannot POSSIBLY become an expert in gifted education, too!”

“The kids with problems need me. The smart ones will do fine on their own.”

Why Gifted Education Matters for Every TeacherIf we had a dime for every teacher who said things like this to us, we would be very wealthy. Our response is that if they invest time in understanding how giftedness and talent develop, they’ll do a better job of working with the high-ability learners in their classrooms, they’ll energize everyone, and they’ll also recharge their own professional enthusiasm. In fact, in our opinion, teachers can’t afford NOT to become experts in gifted education!

Michelle Obama recently told teenage girls at a school in London, England, “If you want to know the reason why I am standing here, it's because of education…I never cut class. I loved getting A's, I liked being smart. ... I thought, 'Being smart is cooler than anything in the world.’"

Based on current research on teaching and learning, we know she was right to suggest that being smart is not only cool, it is also attainable.

President Obama said something similar in his inaugural address in January 2009: “Greatness is not given. It must be earned.”

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This attitude, that hard work and persistence are the keys to high achievement, makes intuitive sense to every teacher. However, it is sadly missing from most conventional wisdom on what giftedness is all about.

Contrary to what many people believe, people are not simply born smart. They BECOME smart. In fact, there is considerable evidence that giftedness develops one step at a time, with effort and practice, where there is the right mix of support and challenge. 

Teachers can help by:

  • Providing students with many and varied learning opportunities
  • Finding innovative ways to be collaborative and flexible
  • Encouraging motivation, sustained effort, and high-level outcomes among all learners
  • Taking advantage of professional development opportunities and solid resources in gifted education  

We’ve found that too often, thoughtful educators are confused about how to support the high-ability learners in their classrooms, feeling uncertain about who might be gifted, and how to meet their diverse needs. In Being Smart about Gifted Education we look at what sparks high-level development, we discuss giftedness as an educational mismatch that requires differentiated curriculum, and we respond to teachers’ concerns, including offering lots of practical strategies to help them make good and informed decisions with and for their students.

More on the Importance of Gifted Education

We have written elsewhere about the importance of these perspectives.

Open Letter to Michelle Obama in Roeper Review

Gifted Education International frontispiece, Summer, 2009;

Being Smart about Gifted Education (2009)


For more on this topic, see Carol Dweck’s Mindset (Random House, 2006)

For some great resources, visit