Three dynamics distinguish a great teacher from the mediocre and a great parent from the ordinary. Like the wind these qualities are invisible, but their effect is readily evident.


One definition of discernment is perceiving without pre-judgment to find intuitive direction and understanding. It is the process of creating a profile of a child based not on preconceived notions, judgments or methods, but rather on sensitive insight. Discernment comes as seeds of genius and greatness are perceived through personal interaction and relationship. It involves taking the time and making the effort to understand who the child is at this present moment rather than imposing who we think the child should be.

Discernment is demonstrated in the ability to judge well. It recognizes the strengths of personality, character and motivation by which the child moves forward confidently instead of focusing on weaknesses and remediation.

Discernment requires astuteness—the ability to accurately assess a situation, detect how the child is responding to it, and then find the key that turns the situation to advantage, i.e. turning bad to good; good to better. Where remediation is necessary, discernment applies the child’s strengths to the process instead of focussing on and belaboring his/her weaknesses.

Just this week I was coaching Reggie (not his real name) who was preparing for his Third Grade year-end exams. Reggie made it clear that he was bored with school, that he didn’t need to study because he already knew everything, and that he wasn’t pleased that his mother had arranged this session. His question, “How long is this gonna take?” said it all!

I discovered Reggie had a keen mind and really did know much of the material he was to study. (This very likely was the reason why he was bored at school). Clearly, Reggie’s problem was emotional not academic. How could I help Reggie break through that wall?

Somewhere in the session, Reggie mentioned that he didn’t need to study Creative Writing, one of the subjects in the exam, because he was “really good at writing”. That piece of information almost slipped by unnoticed.

That’s it! The bells and lights went off inside my head. Reggie just threw me the key, and I almost missed it. (Some of his boredom had rubbed off on me and de-sensitized my discernment.)

“Reggie, here’s your assignment.” I told him. “Imagine there is a new student in your class who has absolutely no clue about what we just studied in Social Studies. He’s bored and just wants to go out and play football, but he has to study for a dumb exam. Write a Grade 3 Social Studies Study Guide for Dummies for him. Just tell him what he has to know in a way that he can get it and pass the exam.”

The idea caught Reggie off guard, but he thought he could do it.

“It might be too much work though,” he countered on second thought.

Oh well, perhaps I wasn’t able to knock down the wall completely, but I think I see it cracking!


Imagination is actively forming new ideas, images and concepts of possibilities that are not yet present to the senses. Taking the seeds of genius and greatness discerned while profiling, imagination creates mental images of them in full bloom and fruitfulness. As genius and greatness mature, they move the child—now a young adult—into positions of power and influence. The possibilities are limitless.

With clear images of possibilities in mind, teachers and parents can create a learning pathway that will nurture the seeds of genius and greatness towards destiny. (It must be kept in mind that these are possibilities—they may change as the child develops. Nevertheless, they set a target by which to plot a course.

There must be plenty of room on the pathway for curiosity, spontaneity and serendipity. These fuel the child’s motivation to learn. With imagination we can embrace these ‘interruptions’ as simply ‘taking the scenic route’. The mind shift will free us to be creative and resourceful on the journey. 


Compassion keeps discernment and imagination in perspective. It keeps the focus on the child not the program and reminds us that programs should be designed to serve the child rather than the child made to fit the program.

Compassion is prepared to step outside-the-box and beyond methodology with personal action in order to unlock genius and facilitate forward movement. If necessary, compassion takes sacrificial action—learning is, after all, about the child, not the teacher or parent.

Compassion also creates a secure space in which mistakes can be made without judgment, recrimination or punishment. Research affirms that we learn most effectively from mistakes.


As we endeavor to engage these three dynamics in our teaching and our parenting, we do well to remember that we are not perfect. Nor do we need to be. Children have the amazing capacity to accept our ‘human-ness’ as parents and teachers. They forgive us when we are humble enough to admit our short-coming. Children thrive when we respect them for the unique, gifted persons they truly are.


Image courtesy imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net