The importance of promoting gifted youths’ psychosocial skills & providing insider knowledge

Subotnik, R. F., Olszewski‐Kubilius, P., Khalid, M., & Finster, H. (2021). A developmental view of mentoring talented students in academic and nonacademic domains. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1483(1), 199–207.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Research shows how beneficial teachers, mentors, and coaches are for gifted students’ academic & non-academic success. 
  • This paper highlights the importance of differentiating the roles of mentoring & teaching and describes the significance of applying a developmental lens for examining mentoring.
  • A developmental approach underscores how mentoring is increasingly emphasizing the importance of promoting psychosocial skills & sharing insider knowledge.
  • Examining mentoring within the context of talent development requires people to acknowledge how mentors’ support corresponds with their mentees’ domain of talent as well as the developmental stage of talent their mentees are in.
  • Professional development training and incentives are needed in order to encourage more teachers to go beyond their teaching roles to support youth.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

The role of mentors for talented students varies according to developmental level and domain. Domains differ as to when they begin, peak, and end. Therefore, mentoring at the beginning of a talent trajectory may take place in middle school for a science student and in elementary school for a violinist. In the later stages of talent development, mentors are more likely to select their protégés than to be organizationally matched with mentees. As mentees gain the requisite skills and knowledge, mentors place more emphasis on modeling and coaching for psychosocial skills and insider knowledge (access to networks of information, attitudes, and behaviors rewarded by gatekeepers) that allow their mentees to stand out and, if necessary, endure pushback derived from proposing creative ideas or performances that challenge the status quo. The conclusions reported here are derived from studies of mentoring talented students, with an emphasis on identifying similarities across domains, and recognition that mentors’ provision of insider knowledge is particularly important for low‐income children and youth.

Implications (Reprinted from Implications)

We need more mentors for children and youth in all valued domains. In response, we may be able to harness the talents of more teachers to take on roles beyond instruction for achievement and general well‐being. This would include sharing insider knowledge that is relevant and appropriate for their mentees’ stage of talent development. The implications of this move to recruit are (1) a need for professional development, (2) incentives for teachers, and (3) care that their role does not trespass into the realm of professional psychologists, counselors, or coaches.

Professional development for teachers would include mastering the outside‐of‐school world of talent development in domains, such as clubs, competitions, and internships. The curriculum would include exposure to outside‐of‐school programming opportunities that they could direct mentees to, identifying excellent teachers and programs at the next stage of schooling in the local region, as well as creative outlets, like journals, science fairs, or apprenticeships.

Also included in such professional development can be discussion and practice in guiding students toward reducing distractions and anxiety, and resisting academic and social comparisons. At more advanced levels, teachers can learn to make professional connections for students, steering them toward domain‐focused networks and opportunities to engage with professionals. Finally, teachers can serve as intellectual sparring partners for their students’ work.

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