Growing great specialists in gifted education

Issue: Volume 102, Number 11

Posted: 24 August 2023
Reference #: 1HAbbs

Two recipients of Awards for Teachers of Gifted Learners and Gifted Study Awards kōrero about their specialist study, the ripple effect of knowledge and skills for other staff, and how together, they are better supporting the needs of their ākonga.

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Giftedness could be across a range of areas, including the arts.

Gifted learners have specific needs when it comes to their learning and wellbeing and kaiako could benefit from professional learning and development to better understand and work with these ākonga.

The Ministry of Education offers two types of direct support to educators in this area. Firstly, they provide access to Learning Support Study Awards for the Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching offered by Massey University.

Secondly, there are Awards for Teachers of Gifted Learners, which can support kaiako and teachers in enhancing their skills so they can better support gifted learners.

Tania Plaisier and Melissa Powell have been fortunate to receive both a personal Learning Support Study Award in 2021, graduating this year, and an Award for Teachers of Gifted Learners at the start of 2023, with a focus on school development.

Tania Plaisier

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Tania Plaisier and Deb Walker at their graduation in 2023.

Tania is the associate principal and special education needs coordinator (SENCo) at Maungawhau Primary School in Auckland.

Tania’s interest in gifted education originated from two main experiences: firstly, when she got the opportunity to work in a Year 7–8 extension class, and secondly, as she supported her twins’ educational journeys – one gifted and the other twice exceptional.

“I found out really quickly that the students in the class had very specific needs that I felt I needed to upskill on in order to meet their needs.”

In her current roles, Tania noticed that teachers in her school were unsure about how to identify and cater to the needs of gifted learners and that they needed support and guidance in this area.

Although she was confident in her educational practice in this field, she felt the best way to lead her staff was to ensure she had a sound grasp of the theory and was current in her thinking.

Study as a pivot

Tania began her Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching in 2021 and felt she was immersed in new ways of thinking and learning and was immediately able to put these to use.

Over the past two years, she has successfully applied much of her learning by mentoring staff on the subject of giftedness, creating Individual Education Plans (IEPs) including strength or talent-based goals, and integrating her knowledge into the school’s foci on promoting depth and complexity in learning and supporting the social and emotional needs of all learners.

To elevate the recognition of and support for gifted learners, Maungawhau School has actively involved the community in discussions about the significance of giftedness, especially from a cultural perspective.

This approach has resulted in greater awareness and identification of gifted students within the school plus new opportunities that are being shared widely across her kāhui ako.

“It is important to have specialists in this field to upskill other teachers and to support those learners. I’ve really noticed an ongoing impact on our staff as a direct result of the study awards I have received.”

Impact as an incentive

Tania strongly believes that her specialist teaching study not only boosted her confidence in supporting both kaiako and gifted learners but also played a crucial role in shaping her career pathway. It has opened doors to opportunities she had never imagined or considered before.

“There’s been a lot of amazing opportunities that I’ve been able to be a part of. I can see it’s made a huge difference in my school. But I’ve also been able to use my expertise to support gifted learners in other schools, which is really exciting.”

It ultimately led to the school applying this year for an Award for Teachers of Gifted Learners which was used to work with their junior school around identification, supporting talent development and increasing depth and complexity in learning.

They are using the award to contract specialist mentors from GEMS Aotearoa who deliver workshops and 1:1 mentoring to kaiako to target specific areas the school wishes to develop.

“Feedback has been really positive around the new initiative, so much so the remainder of the school now wishes to get on board.”

Melissa Powell

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Melissa Powell with Deb Walker at their graduation in 2023.

Melissa is the kaihautū toi/head of the faculty of arts and kaiarahi ākonga/teacher in charge of student leaders at Rosehill College in Auckland.

Melissa’s interest in this field began from her personal experiences as a mother. One of her children achieved learning milestones at a very early age. This resulted in an unintentional lack of intellectual stimulation in class and led to her child feeling resentful towards school and teachers.

“I became more and more aware of the lack of learning opportunities she was experiencing, and this increased my awareness of what I was doing in my own classrooms.”

This growth in awareness became the driving force behind Melissa applying for a Learning Support Study Award and entering the postgraduate programme in 2021.

Involvement in study

“Massey University gave me an opportunity to do a deep-dive into my own practice and equip myself with the knowledge and experiences that would allow me to support others. One aspect I really enjoyed was the encouragement to learn with, from, and about others right across the education sector, as this made me think far broader about support and impacts.”

Melissa acknowledges the decision to undertake postgraduate study has greatly extended her ability to support gifted learners within her school setting.

She has personally trialled several different approaches with learners and has been able to apply her new skills and ideas directly into her teaching practice.

“Engaging with the Specialist Teaching Programme enabled me to make a huge variety of connections. It both forced and enabled me to grow in my own practice, boosted my confidence, and ultimately opened up further leadership pathways for me within my school.”


With her newly acquired expertise, Melissa has been able to deliver professional learning within her school and her kāhui ako.

She also has had the opportunity to present a webinar for Gifted NEX and became a mentor for GEMS Aotearoa. In addition, she has kept her link with Massey University by becoming an Ākongi Hoki, a programme graduate mentor for current students.

“This journey has opened opportunities I had never thought of. It has stretched me as a practitioner and as a leader, and I am incredibly grateful.”

This year, Rosehill College received additional support in the way of the Awards for Teachers of Gifted Learners.

Melissa and her colleague, Anita Minton, who is currently undertaking the postgraduate diploma endorsed in gifted education, have used their study and the award to undertake additional professional learning and development, visit schools and interact with their community to develop a new programme of learning, enrichment and extension (LEAP) that will be implemented in their junior school in 2024.

“What began as a quest for knowledge and for tools to add to my kete, has turned into an adventure for our kura. I can already see the difference in myself and look forward to being part of the Specialist Teachers of Gifted network, making a positive impact for the gifted learners across our country.”

A worthwhile investment

The Learning Support Study Awards are designed to invest in teachers by providing them with specialised knowledge.

Currently, the programme offers eight endorsements: advisor on deaf children; blind and low vision; complex educational needs; deaf and hard of hearing; early intervention; gifted; Te Kaupapa o Te Kōhanga Reo plus learning and behaviour.

“Becoming a specialist educator in any field provides depth to your skill set and can potentially challenge and grow your career path. However, the ultimate benefit is to any set of learners who need to know they are supported by not only educators who care, but educators who know how to care,” says Deb Walker, specialist teaching programme coordinator (gifted) at Massey University.

“Participating in opportunities where you interact with others who have expertise and experience to support your journey can only be a win-win situation.”

The 2024 round of applications for the Learning Support Study Awards opened on 1 August and closes on 30 September.

Awards for Teachers of Gifted Learners are for teachers currently working in early learning, primary or secondary schools in Aotearoa New Zealand, to support them in enhancing their skills so they can better support gifted learners. Applications for 2023 open on 2 October and close on 5 November.

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St Mary’s College students in Wellington are previous recipients of the Ministry of Education’s Awards for Gifted Learners which is separate from Awards for Teachers of Gifted Learners and Gifted Study Awards. For more info, visit

For more information

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:10 am, 24 August 2023

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