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Gerry ChidiacI often tell my students that there are more ways to be smart than how we’ve traditionally measured intelligence in the classroom.

If you’re good at reading, writing and mathematics, you generally have little difficulty effectively navigating our education system. The problem is that many of us struggle in these areas.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not brilliant.

According to psychologist Howard Gardner, we can also be gifted athletically or in interpersonal skills, we can have tremendous insights about ourselves, be talented with music or art, have an understanding of nature, or be gifted in grasping the deeper mysteries of life itself. 

Gardner’s theory became popular more than 30 years ago and has been expanded on by numerous educational theorists. Others have been somewhat critical of his work. The general consensus, however, is that we’re all different and that needs to be celebrated.

In many ways, what Gardner is talking about is a healthy understanding of the principle of humility. We often consider the humble person one who thinks they’re less important than others, but the word has a more profound meaning as well. One wise person once told me that humility is simply understanding the truth about ourselves and others.

I may be highly intelligent in several areas, yet struggle in others. For example, I’m very comfortable reading and synthesizing new information to use in my classroom but I struggle to sing in key. I’m able to serve others in many ways but I need to ask for help to perform tasks I’m not good at. This helps makes life beautiful. No one is an expert at everything. We really do need each other.

One of my children taught me how different our talents can be. When working on a simple building project in our home, I was amazed that he didn’t need to use a level to make straight lines. I didn’t know such skills existed and he found my amazement bewildering.

The truth is, we all have extraordinary gifts we tend to think are nothing special.

As a teacher, I’ve never met a student who isn’t amazingly gifted. The challenge is getting students to recognize and celebrate their abilities.

There are many tools we can use to assist us in the areas where we struggle. At times we’re reluctant to accommodate others, fearing we’re giving them unfair advantages. It’s important to remember that we all use tools to assist us in our areas of difficulty. I need to use a tuner if I have any hope of playing my guitar in key. Is this any different from a person needing to use a computer program to assist them with their writing?

One of the great things about our world is that we’re finding better and better tools to help us do the things we want to do. Educational technology has come such a long way since I began teaching in the 1980s. It’s wonderful to see these tools allow a young person to develop and draw out their giftedness.

Each of us is brilliant, yet we all have our struggles. Sometimes technology allows us deal with our challenges and sometimes we need to ask for help from our neighbour. Being able to recognize this and embrace it is one of the joys of life, and it is the celebration of true humility.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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