An Interview with Dr. Joanne Foster: ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids

Jul 15, 2019 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) Joanne, first, please tell our readers a bit about yourself—your education and experience.

I’m a parent, teacher, gifted education specialist, university instructor, educational consultant, and award-winning author. I’ve worked in the field of gifted education for over 30 years. I have a Master’s degree in Special Education and Adaptive Instruction, and a Doctoral degree in Human Development and Applied Psychology. I conduct teacher development sessions, serve on advisory committees concerning children’s education, and give presentations to educators and parent organizations in local, national, online, and international forums. I also write a column for The Creativity Post, and my writing appears in many other publications around the world. I’ve written five books relating to various topics including gifted education, high-level development, procrastination, and a range of parenting issues.

2) You have just written a long overdue book. Tell us about it and how it came about.

ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child is a unique and beautifully illustrated parenting book. It can be read from A to Z, or readers can select specific letters/chapters that resonate for them. Each letter has a different thematic focus pertaining to supporting and encouraging children’s development. (For example, EEducation; IIndependence; M—Motivation; PProductivity.) The book is written in alliterative style, and it is filled with pertinent bulleted information—that is, to-the-point, reader-friendly segments of relevant, comprehensive material. It features hundreds of up-to-date resources across many different disciplines. Each letter is enhanced by detailed sketches created by talented artist Christine Thammavongsa.

I wrote this book for parents who seek to foster their children’s well-being, interests, abilities, achievement levels, and day-to-day lives. ABCs also provides inspiration and plentiful strategies for collaborative efforts among teachers, mentors, consultants, and others in support of children’s and teens’ development.

3) Joanne, I hate to be negative, but in this day and age of inclusion and mainstreaming, many teachers do not have the time to give a rich robust education to their gifted students or those “at promise.” What is a parent to do?

Teachers are well-intentioned, but they’re stretched in many directions. Unfortunately, there are many kids who do not receive the best possible education. Each learning context, school, or district has a different set of “needs” so there’s no one easy fix. Indeed, I provide teacher development sessions on a wide range of issues—such as foundational strategies for professional growth; understanding gifted/high-level development; programming initiatives; and other topics that address visions for exemplary teaching and optimal learning. Parents are wise to advocate for the best possible educational environment for their children, BUT prudent parents also take responsibility themselves on many fronts—from ABC to Z

In my new book, I discuss Fit and Flexibility of learning experiences; Health and Happiness; Opportunities for development; Questions parents can ask and consider; Tips for working with Teachers; and more. I offer information, guidelines, suggestions, and resources that parents (and also educators, coaches, grandparents, and others) can tap into immediately or as needed.

4)  Using the alphabet as a guide- you have alliteratively allocated pages to a number of topics. Let’s talk A—for Awareness. Why is this important?

Awareness is important because parents who know what’s going on in their children’s lives are better positioned to provide timely encouragement and direction, and also help kids meet challenges and succeed. Awareness involves heeding what children say and do (or do not say and do); asking relevant questions; and listening not only to respond but to understand. Strong communication channels, productive relationships, and a climate of trust help kids thrive.

In the “A is for Awareness” chapter, I use the overarching themes of Attunement, Appreciation, and Action. I discuss the importance of being open, and receptive to a child’s uniqueness (including passions, personality, concerns, talents, and challenges), and how to be practical and realistic about responding to issues that arise. I also talk about Autonomy, Affective development, Adaptations, Assessment, Accountability, Advocacy, and Aspirations—to list just a few of the topics that I address.

When it comes to awareness, wise parents are watchful—anticipatory and astute. They also convey belief in their child’s ability to prevail, instilling confidence and offering support and reassurance along the way.

5) B is for Basics. What do you see as the basics that a parent of a gifted learner has to consider?

At the outset of ABCs (on page 3), I say, “Every home, school, family circle, neighborhood, social milieu, and learning environment has its own particular dynamic and mix of individuals, expectations, advantages, drawbacks, and more.” So what might be perceived as being “Basic” in the way of parenting gifted learners is actually somewhat more complicated. People’s lives are unpredictable and complex, and circumstances are always changing.

It’s important for parents to maintain flexibility, and to pay attention to—and encourage—children’s thoughts, individualism, and aspirations. I convey the following important message (on page 13): “Help children engage their intelligence, creativity, and determination. It will empower them to invest in their own active learning and give them the edge to succeed.” Helping children develop strong appreciation for exploration, play, persistence, and kindness toward others is “Basic”—and foundational—and can lead to fulfilment.

6) Joanne, your C is for “Clarifying Complexities” and you use Johnny Nash’s song” I Can C Clearly Now” as a kind of guide. In my mind, however, many kids need to learn to be courteous, cordial, congenial, and civil. Am I off on this? Or are these things subsumed in your C Chapter?

I agree that being courteous, cordial, congenial, and civil are keys to relationship-building and effective communication. That said, there are SO many important C words that I consider in this chapter that it’s next to impossible to select the most critical. For example, I discuss Collaboration, Compassion, Curiosity, Choice, Changes, Common sense, Competence, and Confidence—all of which are central to children’s advancement. I also address ways to overcome or circumvent challenges (hence the title “C is for Clarifying Complexities”). Coping mechanisms include Critical thinking, Creativity, Courage, Conviction, Control, Counseling and Consultation.

The subtitle of the chapter is “I Can C Clearly Now” because of all the suggestions and resources designed to help parents make meaningful connections. On page 20, I write that connections come in many forms, and they’re important because they “provide links, networks, information, and support” in order to help children cultivate core capacities.

7) Your D is for Development. What sorts of development do you discuss?

In this chapter I divide the material into two areas of focus: “Details” about giftedness (specifics), and also “Dispositions” (ways of thinking.) On page 28, I note that “development, and indeed life itself, is not stable. It’s about change, learning, and possibility.” I go on to discuss a number of defining factors including Diversity (differences in how people develop) and Domain specificity (subject-specific areas of strength and weakness). I dwell on Determination, including the importance of “helping kids appreciate that they can become creators, collaborators, developers, achievers, or dreamers”—with the realization that “determination, resilience, and staying power can facilitate learning, and help make kids stronger and wiser.” I also discuss Dual exceptionalities,and how it’s vital to support kids as they bolster their capacities and develop compensatory strategies. And, I pay attention to Demands, Discipline, Decision-making, Doubts, and more.

I conclude the chapter “D is for Development” with the following two points:

Destiny—no one is born smart. We each create our own destiny, and we become who we are based on how we assemble the many pieces of life’s puzzles, over time.

Delight—share the happiness and pride you feel about your children with them, and help create new and joyous destinies—day by day by day.”

8) I think we will stop here, and leave the readers dangling desperately for more. When will your book be available for purchase, who is the pertinent publisher and what is the price?

ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids is available to order now through the publisher (Gifted Unlimited, LLC), and it can also be purchased from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Hudson’s Booksellers, and other outlets. The list price is $26.95 US. I invite people to visit my website at www.joannefoster.ca to find out more about the book, and to see some of the early reviews.

9) What have I neglected to ask? 

Lots of people ask me how I approached the so-called “trickier” letters—specifically J, K, X, Y, and Z. I won’t divulge the details here (I’ll leave you to guess), but it’s not a secret because I provide a peek at the Table of Contents on my website!

I’m also asked whether this book would be a suitable read for kids. There are many points that will inform and inspire children to be the best they can be, and lots of resources that they will find interesting. So yes—it’s suitable, most especially for older kids–and, what’s even better is if they read and discuss the material with their parents. In fact, I encourage parents to invite their children to colour in the illustrations—thereby making the book even more unique than it already is! Moreover, ABCs doesn’t have to be read from cover to cover; people of various ages can benefit from poking through the pages that interest them, referring back at will. I hope that readers enjoy this book, and I look forward to hearing from them with their thoughts.

Thanks, for giving me the opportunity to share the information in this interview.

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